There is something kind of surreal about driving into a snow storm. It’s beautiful and engaging. The speedometer says you are moving but it feels like the car is standing still, like you’re sitting in an IMAX movie theater watching 3-D wind and huge flakes of snow pelting your windshield. You can’t see past the faint illumination of ice-covered headlights, a warm glow glistening with white flurries. There are no lines on the road, only occasional and sparsely spaced tire tracks digging deep ruts. It’s as if you are the first car to ever travel along this highway. The heavily snow laden and frozen windshield wipers click, click, clack against the glass like a metronome, numbing your mind, and clearing small patches of visibility so you can watch the rear lights of the car in front of you. Their red glow in the night your only guide. Then the white knuckle, muscle aching grip on the steering wheel reminds you that you are really driving home in the middle of this storm with your 12 year daughter in the back seat. The silence broken only by the occasional deep breath as you pray that the car in front of you doesn’t slam on their brakes or decide to take the next exit and you lose your guide.
When I left home Sunday afternoon the sky was grey but clear. The drive to the airport to drop off my baby brother and his wife was swift and ice-free. It had been rumored that a snow storm was coming about mid-day, but there had been no signs indicating its arrival. I anticipated a light snow and possibly some sleet. It was unfortunate that I had to take them to the airport so early, but I had a concert to perform. Luckily, I got a text minutes before reaching the auditorium that they were able to catch an earlier flight and would be heading home soon. That was a relief since just as I approached Ann Arbor the snow had started. The roads were already getting slick and traffic had slowed down. Surely by the time our concert was over everything would be salted and cleared.
Three hours later, The Tortoise and I were scurrying to the snow-covered car. I didn’t think to bring my snow boots and was carefully trodding through the deep snow in dress shoes and stockings. My feet were wet and numb instantly. The Tortoise graciously offered to remove all the snow and ice from the windows as I warmed up the car. She worked swiftly from window to window, brushing and scraping, her cheeks turning bright pink. I realized about half-way around the car that she didn’t have any gloves and tried to hand her mine, but she didn’t hear me and in the process I only managed to dump a roof’s worth of snow into the driver’s seat and floorboard. Now my lap was wet. My phone rang.
“Have you left yet?” asked DW’s concerned voice.
He was on his way back from Kalamazoo (a two-hour drive from our house) with The Hare. She had a gymnastics meet that same day, so we were split up.
“No, heading out now. How are the roads?”
“The roads are manageable, but be careful of the drivers. There’s a lot of people in ditches because they are being careless.”
The Tortoise and I gingerly hit the road. The snow was falling lightly but the accumulation was great. Unfortunately it had rained first and ice lay hidden under the snow. As we approached the highway, there was a long line of red tail lights slithering inch by inch. Slow but steady. The first 15 minutes were tiresome, but simple, but about half-way out-of-town as we traveled more north the snow picked up and the wind blew across the car in sideways gusts, greatly reducing our visibility. I could barely see the cars around me or where the edge of the road met the embankments. But as long as the headlights and windshield wipers remained ice-free I felt confident that we could safely make our way home. What other choice did I really have anyway? DW wasn’t home either.
Forty-five minutes later I had to turn off the radio. My stomach was in knots as waves of nausea rippled through my body and my hands ached from gripping the steering wheel. The Tortoise had been silent for miles.
“You doing okay back there?” I tried my best to sound confident.
“We’re almost home, I promise.”
Actually, we weren’t anywhere close to home. Or maybe we were, but there was no way to tell because at this point all visibility was gone. The cars had become one single line to avoid slipping into the ditches. We inched along at about 15 miles an hour. Ice had started forming on my windshield wipers and only about the lower half of my windshield was clear. The shortened length of light in front of the car suggested that there was also ice on my headlights now. But there was no way to stop. I couldn’t see the edge of the road or any upcoming exits. We just had to keep trucking along. My thoughts continually thought about The Hare and DW. How far from home were they? If we ended up in a ditch how would we get out? I’m not in regular communion with God. I respect that He is present in all things, but over the last few years I’ve sort of just taken a break from all things religious. My heart acknowledges that there is definitely something greater than myself out there, and I believe in God. I have faith that Jesus exists, but beyond that, it is all just a mystery that I’m okay with not having the answers.
In that moment, with the sound of my wipers clanking against the glass and my tires pushing through the slush, I had but one thing to say to Him,
“Just get us home, please.”
Suddenly my phone rang, breaking the silence. The hands free system picked up and the car was filled with DW’s deep voice.
“We made it to town and are having sushi. Do you want me to bring you home some food?”
Food? Not exactly what I was thinking about in the middle of this frozen journey, but hearing my husband over the speakers made me melt.
“I can’t talk to you right now,” I snapped.
There was a short pause.
“You’re almost home. I’m right behind you.”
And that was all I needed, some assurance that this would almost be over. The minute we pulled into the neighborhood all visibility was gone. We couldn’t see past the edge of our own light. There are no lights in the neighborhood either, so I had to go by memory of each curve of the streets. We bumped a couple of curbs and barely missed a few mailboxes. Suddenly the glow of our front porch light came into view. Our driveway was right in front of us.
The Tortoise quickly got out of the car as soon as we parked in the garage.
“I’ll go let the dog out,” she said, “and I’ll give you a hug when you’re inside.”
Tears streamed down my face as soon as I was alone. My fingers throbbed and flexed to release the tension. In the dark I said “thank you”.
DW brought me sushi.
*My brother and his wife didn’t make it out until this morning either. They had to stay the night at an airport hotel. Everything was shut down. Needless to say, this is definitely a pajama day.