Her hands gripped the steering wheel like it was her only anchor to reality. The sweat was forming on her palms, already making this seemingly impossible task more difficult.
“You’re ready,” he told her.
No, I’m not!
She screamed internally at her husband, calling him every swear word she could think of inside her head. Part of her knew he meant well, knew he wanted to see her succeed, but another part of her felt like a wild, cornered animal, ready to lash out or flee at the first opportunity.
Her hand left the wheel and inched towards the door handle.
“Stay in the car,” he told her gently.
She snapped her hand back to the wheel, taking a deep breath to steady herself.
“Turn the key.”
The engine revved to life beneath her, revving her anxiety in the process. Her stomach tightened and her heart beat painfully hard against her chest. It was the first time she had driven since the accident. To anyone else, this was a trip to the store. To her, she was Amelia Earhart beginning her journey across the Atlantic.
“The street is clear, you can go.” The leather seat squeaked as he swiveled to check the sides of the driveway.
You have to do this. You cannot avoid driving for the rest of your life.
She slowly reversed the car down the sloping pavement, inching closer to the street.
“I’m pretty sure we were just outstripped by a passing butterfly,” he teased.
She glared at him momentarily before pressing her foot on the accelerator. The car jumped and she immediately slammed on the break. Her husband threw out his arm to brace himself against the dashboard. He looked at her, eyes wide and exasperated. Was she a teenager learning to drive all over again?
“Alright, I’m going,” she groaned.
The car smoothly pulled out onto the empty street. There was no turning back now. She shifted into drive.
The memory came out of nowhere, not unlike the way her son liked to jump out from behind a wall to terrify the living daylights out of his younger sister. It was sharp, piercingly accurate and utterly heartless as it burst to the forefront of her consciousness. In her mind’s eye, she was back in the intersection, the image of the street in front of her clear as crystal before it was literally shattered.
Though there were no cars around her, she could feel the sudden jerking impact all over again. Imagined her body wrenching to the side as the seatbelt cut into her neck.
“You’re safe. You’re doing great, sweetheart.” His voice pulled her back to the present. Her heart was pounding. He reached out a hand and rubbed it reassuringly across her shoulder. His touch gave her strength.
She approached the intersection and eased the car forward; the great, green orb of light telling her it was safe to go while her instincts told her something different. The click of the blinker felt like drops of water pinging her forehead and slowly torturing her into madness.
“Wait for the traffic to clear and we can turn,” He told her.
“I know,” she said through gritted teeth. She was stretched taut like a rubber band. There were no openings for her to turn, no break in the traffic allowing her safe passage.
It happened very quickly. The light turned yellow, the car behind her honked impatiently, and the rubber band that was her self-control snapped.
The sheer panic that had been waiting, just below the surface, reared its head in full force. She was stuck in the intersection, too afraid to turn in front of the oncoming traffic, yet the light turning about to unleash the bulls waiting at their own red light.
“I can’t!” she screamed.
“Go!” he yelled at her “Go now, it’s fine!”
Her mind was somewhere else, watching through a different windshield from another time when the world had flipped upside down. Flashes of different images fought for dominance. Crawling out of the smashed window. Trying to rip the door open, unable to reach her daughter as she screamed. The smell of burning rubber, a smell she would never forget for the rest of her life. An off-duty firefighter diving in through the broken window to retrieve the toddler from the car seat. Seeing her daughter’s tiny, frightened face as she crawled over broken glass to her waiting arms. Holding her tight and praising God they were both unharmed aside from minor scrapes and bruises.
Back to the present, she turned the wheel and safely made it through the intersection, but pulled the car to side of road. The tears flowed and she shook with sobs she couldn’t control.
“Shhh. I know. I know.” He leaned over to pull her in. She let herself fall apart in his arms. The images burned into her like embers and she wished she could flick them off.
The car that had honked behind them gunned past, the impatient driver yelling and gesturing. Whoever it was had no idea. No idea how insurmountable the task of driving was to her now. His lack of sympathy or care chaffed against her already raw confidence. Someone’s molehill is someone else’s mountain.
“How am I supposed to do this?” she asked her husband, desperately pleading for answers.
“We will do it together. I don’t know how, but you will not have to do this alone.”