Black ice redux
If you have ever driven a car on black ice – if you have lived through the white-knuckled tension that slams you into your seat while you rocket forward, free-floating over the surface, rubber skimming the road…you know that, even in the best of circumstances, it is a shit-your-pants experience.
It’s a little like hydroplaning. Your tires are not connected to the earth at all…your tail end shimmies, rejects all your attempts to command. You may be the driver but the vehicle is indifferent. You feel like you’ve swallowed a rock; gripping the wheel, breath shallow. You can’t let the panic surge because if you do, you will lose it all.
That’s how it feels right now. The mind’s eye is photographic: no matter how much you want it, there is no unseeing what has been seen. I see them through the window, home early. One belongs there, the other does not.
Driving on black ice is this: you plummet inside a machine of metal and fiberglass, no control – that’s a stupid illusion. Deadly. If you’ve done it, and if you survive, you know one thing. You know that you will get right back into that machine. You will do this because:
“I need to get home, I need to go to work, I need to…” fill in the blank with whatever drivel you wish because what you mean, finally, is, “I can’t live without her.”
It is the truth. Even if you’ve done it before, like me. Last time, she promised it wouldn’t happen again, ever. Yet here I am, free-floating black-ice anxiety in my gut, looking at her through the window. It takes your body a minute to adjust.
The voice inside screams to retreat, reject, look away. Rewind, go back, shift gears, undo the last two minutes. Anything but stand here and watch from the outside. Too late to look away. Riveted on the inevitable slide and spin.
You promised me. And I believed you.
Back to that drive on black ice. If you’ve done it, you know there’s nothing else like it – it’s not like ordinary driving, where your skills carry the day, navigating with ease. On those days, you hit the brakes, your machine responds. There is the familiar resistance, slowdown, tamping and the approach of safety. You are in control.
On black ice it’s sickening– your foot hits the brake and it slams right to the floorboard like there’s nothing there. You realize just how stupid your trust in mechanical engineering has been. This defies physics. It defies safety nets, weather warnings and your better judgment.
If you’re at your unluckiest that day, your car starts the slow spin-out. Like an old movie slowing down, frame by frame, you see the nose of your car traveling: first sideways; then your ass comes forward past you, your mouth opens and you scream – tumbling indescribably end-over-end, landing face-first in some forsaken ditch.
And I still can’t look away from them.
Or, you just move forward, unstoppable, toward the car that has had the singular misfortune to have spun out just ahead of you…directly in your path. If you are lucky, you will both survive: no fault, even-Steven, quid pro quo.
I pull away from the window and put my key in the door.