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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Looking for Firewood

I was singing along to the radio, going eighty on the highway, when the white smoke began pouring out of the hood of my car.
"Mommy don't sing!" yelled Ruby."You're not good at singing! It hurts my ears!"
"You sound like your dad," I told her, then I noticed the smoke. I glanced at the temperature gauge, which was all the way on "H".
That's probably not good, I thought.We had just spent 1200 on the car, which has a Blue Book value of 1200 dollars.
Shit.
I pulled over onto the shoulder of the freeway. It was only after I'd stopped the car that I realised we were on a pretty shallow shoulder about 100 feet from where traffic was merging.
"Damn," I told Ruby."This doesn't look very safe."
I called Jeff, then AAA for a tow. Then I opened the door. We were next to some railroad tracks and I thought we might walk over to a fallen tree and collect some sticks for firewood. I'd already snuck over to my neighbor's yard and scavenged all of his sticks for kindling. I'm always on the lookout for sticks.
I didn't mention any of this to Ruby.
"Come on!" I told her brightly."We're going to get out of the car before someone hits us and we go Boom!"
But when I opened the door, freezing 28 degree wind whipped through my thin sweater.
"Nevermind," I told her."I'm sure it's fine."
"Mommy, did you break the car? daddy's going to be mad, put you in Time Out."
I was worried about all those cars merging so I kept my eyes on the rearview mirror. Why I did this I don't know, it's not like watching the cars was going to help me prevent them from crashing into us, but I felt compelled to at least look.
Two or three minutes later a truck tried to merge, not seeing the car in his blind spot, and swerved into our shoulder, not seeing us. At the last minute he swerved back into his original lane.
I almost had a heart attack.
"All right!" I told Ruby."Out of the car!"
She didn't have a coat, but we couldn't stay in the car anymore.
"Jeff will be here any minute," I thought. "I'd rather her spend ten minutes freezing than get crushed by a crazy driver.'
She began to cry immediately from the cold. I led her about a hundred feet from the car, down and embankment and sat down cross-legged,wrapping her up in my coat and keeping her somewhat warm with my body.
"Mommy I'm scared. i want to go home."
"I know baby. Daddy is on his way."
As I rocked her back and forth, singing to her in the grass, hundreds of commuters whipped past us going 90.
I'll bet we look crazy. I thought.
I could imagine the 911 calls going out from drivers cell phones up and down Mopac.
"911,emergency?"
"There is an insane woman rocking a toddler back and forth in the grass on the side of the freeway." they were saying, " Looks like some kind of postpartum freakout"

Ruby grabbed my thumb and dug in with her nails. It was really, really cold.

"Mommy, when are we going to look for wood?" she asked. I had never mentioned that possibility, and looking for wood is something I've never done with her.

"Why would we do that?" I asked.

"I thought you were going to make a fire.'

"Nope," I said, shivering."It's too cold to get up."

We waited for what seemed like a long time. Not to make too big of a deal out of this, Jeff was on his way and we weren't in any actual physical danger, but I was reminded of millions of mothers who came before me, wrapping their arms around their children to shield them from harm, to comfort them. It made me think of how I would sacrifice absolutely anything for her well being, and I was glad we weren't in the car next to the speeding traffic anymore.

Jeff pulled up behind us, finally, although it had probably only been ten minutes.He got out of the car and walked over to where we were huddled on the grass. He had that badass-protector- emergency mode thing going on that makes me want to serve him dinner in pearls and heels or some other 50's housewife activity. The alfa male took charge of his offspring.

"Get her in the car and go home, I'll take care of this." he said, all business, his face serious."It isn't safe here."

Just then an SUV pulled up behind us. I saw the man at the wheel first.
Serial killer, I thought.
Then I saw the woman on the passenger side.
"How cool, they stopped."
He pantomimed the "are you okay?" hand gestures. I gave him a thumbs up. I loved these people, they had to have exited, swung around and turned around again, then driven back for us, slowing down and pulling over at a dangerous spot in the highway. I loved them.
I wanted to blow them a kiss, express my love, but that made me feel creepy, like fake Marilyn Monroe so i just waved again.
"Jeff look! People stopped for us!" I said.
"That's a no-brainer. Woman and a baby on the side of the road in the freezing cold. I'm surprised no one else stopped."
Just then a police cruiser went by, slowing down and peering at us, deciding we were okay and speeding up again. I guess I was right about those 911 calls, anyway.
The tow truck driver pulled up and loaded the car up.
"That truck is eating our car!" ruby said with delight.
Jeff hopped in.
"He said it looks like a cracked radiator,' he said."That's going to be another thousand dollars."
But we were cheerful as we drove home, me and Ruby singing for Jeff, glad to have just a cracked radiator, glad that car hadn't hit us, happy to be travelling home safe to make a fire and watch Spongebob.
It's all in how you look at it.

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