“It was instantaneous. One moment, I was bemused by the fact that Webkinz lined the front dash of a gigantic, black truck that had merged behind me and the other I was white-knuckled and terrified.”
Tonight, the road south from the office greeted me in a strange mood. I had received an email from a former organization I volunteered for who had all but thrown a friend of mine under the bus. Contemplating why we do what we do, at first I didn’t notice when I was being tailed. Traffic was heavier than usual as I merged to the left-hand lane and proceeded to take off my cruise control and carefully survey the usual onslaught of cut-offs and break lights. I had noticed a truck merging in and out of traffic behind me. I’m all talk on the road. I’ll tell you that, “if they tail me, I’ll just pump the brakes and show them,” but really, I usually merge back over. I drive for two most of the time and when my daughter is in the car, the count of my cargo is three with our soon-to-be-born little boy.
Soon, the female driver was behind me and gaining speed. I’ve often remarked to Ava or John in the car, “whoa, they are following close.” Never have I actually thought, “this person might actually hit me.” I tapped my breaks when someone else pulled in front and either unbeknownst to the driver behind, or for the fact she didn’t care, she crept up even closer. I was sandwiched in and terrified. Not being able to pull over to the right safely, or maintain where I was safely, I drove. I flipped my rearview mirror up so I didn’t have to see her face screaming at me or her hands. In all honesty, I assumed she was intoxicated.
I watched as the person behind me moved back and forth, cutting off whomever- all in an attempt to get ahead. One person actually slammed on their brakes and moved to the shoulder. As soon as I could, I merged to the right and took the exit. Wouldn’t you know, she screeched to a halt to take the same exit. I focused and came to the light as she sped up close enough to touch my car- swerved to the right and then, rolled down her window and screamed at the top of her lungs. “I’m going to get out of this car and kick your ***,” I was a string of names, most of which I pretended not to catch. Then she started opening her door. I pulled out my phone from it’s charger and made sure my doors were locked. The light turned green and I pulled ahead breathlessly and dialed 911. Clearly, she wasn’t done so she followed me and I pulled over to a bus stop and the operator asked what the emergency was. Either sensing I was on the phone or realizing that she actually didn’t want to, “kick my ***” she sped off, (but not after already pulling behind me and screaming more, attempting to get my attention.) I’ve never seen anyone so angry, so quickly.
A police officer called me back when I had already picked Ava up from school and was unloading the day’s trunk load. The driver lived a town away and they were going to go over to her house tonight, he said. He thanked me for calling and said that people don’t report this enough. Next time, she might really hit someone. I told him he might want to review the traffic cams. He asked if I thought she was intoxicated. I truly had no idea. A contradiction of sorts, I never knew the woman’s name, but glancing behind me I had managed to remember her license plate. She became a memory of the combination of six letters and numbers and a bunny with red hearts that looked up at my cheerfully as she was dangerously close.
Tonight, I put my daughter to bed early after six year old arms threw her coveted kangaroo stuffed animal against her door in an attempt to tell me without her usual eloquent words, “Mom I’m angry.” After hearing her cry for a while at being sentenced to kindergarten doom under pink covers with the dusk sunk shining through her windows, I crept in and sat quietly. I told my daughter the story of how I broke a porcelain doll I loved in grade school by throwing her violently away from me in an attempt to grab my mother’s attention. Gasping in between sniffles, Ava said, “I think I hurt kangaroo.” I nodded.
My daughter and I have an understanding. She’s seen me stomp around the house, flailing my arms and raising my voice, truly at my worst. I’ve seen her learning each moment and trying to make careful choices. No matter what we’ve done or left undone, we never go to bed without talking it out. In true six-year-old wisdom she whispered, “I think everyone needs time-outs sometimes.” As usual, who can fight with that logic? I couldn’t agree, more.
Maybe my license plate nemesis had a horrible afternoon. She didn’t understand my inability to pull over with the cars and judged it as a refusal. Maybe she just spilled something on her blouse on the way to an interview. I’ll never know. I’d like to believe her threats were idle talk, that she’d never exit the car all the way. I wondered for a while how angry she’d be then if someone actually knocked on her door and said, “we received a call this evening…” I’ve never called 911 about another driver before. I’m not sure how these things play out.
My daughter’s sobs have decreased to silence. I’m sitting on the couch and indulging in Velveeta cheese and veggies while kangaroo is beside me and the baby kicks inside. I think we’re all one deep breath away from slamming on our breaks, throwing an object or breaking into heartfelt sobs. The intersection between anger and acting-out has dangerous consequences.