turning it around

Yesterday, I shared with you that I was getting ready to head off on a road trip to see my brother in North Carolina.  The last load of laundry didn’t finish until after 11:00, and then I posted the blog entry.  I still hadn’t packed by the time I went to bed, just before midnight.

For some reason, the overhead fan in my mom’s guest room was stirring up dust; or the A/C was overladen with pollen.  But my sinuses filled as soon as I lay down, and my asthma flared up.  Despite my best efforts to beat the system – I didn’t.  At 3:00, I was up, having had less than three hours of … no sleep.

Still, I had steeled myself for the task ahead.  And despite my ragged state at the onset, I was determined to make the 15-hour trip in one shot.  The way I figure it, as long as I can still make unreasonably long road trips on little to no sleep, I’m still the same young self I was in my college days.  Kind of.

At 5:30, we drove out to face the journey ahead.  My mom, her dog and I were all in good spirits.  We could do this.  No problem.

However, rush-hour traffic, compounded by several major construction zones, began to test our mettle.  Edged out by aggressive tractor trailer drivers and white-knuckling the wheel as jersey barriers loomed mere inches on the left-hand side, we reached the George Washington Bridge in just over six hours instead of the four it should have taken.  Already way behind.

When the traffic finally saw its first break in nearly an hour, I punched the gas to take advantage of the new-found freedom.  The engine revved menacingly, but the car slowed instead of accelerating.  I quickly threw the gear shift into neutral and then back into drive.  It must have slipped.  Again, I pressed the gas.  The car lurched, growling, but then fought me, refusing to breach 45 MPH.  My mother’s face turned ashen and her eyes said it all: This can’t be happening.

We pulled over at the next rest stop.  Maybe it was just a computer glitch that would be reset if we turned the car off.

It wasn’t.

A few more exits up the highway, we pulled off, in desperate need of finding a mechanic.  We were somewhere in New Jersey.

We breathed a sigh of relief to find a full-service automotive shop directly off the exit.  The dog was shaking, so we took him out of the car with us.  After a forty-dollar computer diagnostic and a quick test drive, we were informed that the overdrive had burned out.  We were strongly advised to turn around and go back home.  If we thought we could make it.  No guarantees.

And so, nearly seven hours into our trip and on no sleep, we turned around and headed back the way we came.

It was all highway driving … in a car that now only went as high as third gear.  This left me pushing the car to even achieve 45 or 50 MPH … 15 or 20 miles under the speed limit … all with the high whining of the RMPs as an ominous underscore.  Here I was, slowing traffic and annoying the other good people who’d like to go a cool 60 in the right lane of a 65 zone.

I was “that car.”

Most of the time, I engaged the hazard lights, as a sort of pathetic apology to the drivers who continued to ride up on me, hands gesticulating in irritation.  I had 200 miles of this to look forward to.

Certainly, under these circumstances, readers will understand if I lost my grip.  If I threw away all the ideals that I talk about in these nice, neat, impractical blog posts and gave in to despair, complaining and colorful outbursts.  You do understand, right?

Believe me … it was tempting.  I’m happy to report, however, that I still managed to keep my composure.  I told myself, “You have a choice here.  You can choose to be miserable, or you can choose to be positive.  But either way, you are driving home.”  I didn’t want my mom to worry or feel responsible (which she wasn’t).  I did want to practice what I preach.

And besides, I reasoned, this would make a killer party story.

But wait.  There’s more.

It went beyond merely returning home defeated and canceling our trip altogether.  You see, the original plan involved my making the trip by car with my mom, then leaving her in North Carolina with the car and flying home.  In two weeks, I was to fly back to North Carolina and make the return trip with her once more by car.  Tickets had already been bought.

The new plan involved getting the first vehicle home in one piece, emptying the packed trunk and back seat, and bringing the car to the mechanic.  We would then reload my mom’s other car and start all over again from square one.

Ten-and-a-half hours later, we were right back where we started … in my mom’s driveway, unpacking the car.  It was four o’clock.

We decided that we would sleep until 11:00PM, shower, and then start off again my midnight, driving through the night.  There was only one problem.  I couldn’t sleep.  My whole body was buzzing from the first ordeal and the several energy drinks I’d had.  My mind was a wasteland.  But I just.  Couldn’t.  Sleep.

At 7:30, I took my chances to see if my mother was up for an earlier re-start than we’d planned.  She graciously agreed to get up by 9:00.  I lay on the couch, tossing, turning, staring at the clock.  But not sleeping.

By 9:45, I was trying to rearrange the smaller trunk to include our luggage, the dog supplies, and the store’s worth of Hello Kitty paraphernalia that was crammed into every other available space … the latter being gifts for my niece Lexi.  As I twisted to shift the final things into place, I wound up jarring my back into and across the protruding metal handle of the closed garage door behind me.  Hard.  A sharp and strident inhale and I was on the ground.  I knew it wasn’t pretty.

After recovering from her sympathetic pain for me, my mom, a nurse, carefully dressed the bruised and swollen abrasion so that at least it would not stick to my shirt during the trip.  I sat gingerly back against the driver’s seat as we prepared to drive out for the second time that day.  It was 10:00PM.  That meant, if there were no unforeseen major traffic issues this time, we could expect to arrive at my brother’s place by 2:00 or 3:00PM the next day.

I still had not slept.

It’s fascinating, the mental games you play in order to prevail in the face of an ordeal like this.  Just cross one more state line.  Just push yourself another half hour.  Just make another 13 miles.    Suffice it to say, we arrived today at 2:05, exhausted, but otherwise none the worse for wear.  We had driven more than 24 hours of the last 30.  Of those hours, I had somehow driven all but two.

I don’t know if I would consider it a mental “game,” but I definitely had to remember many times during the events of the last few days that positivity is a choice.  It was not only our vehicle and plans that got turned around when things went south — or was it north? — but I needed to turn my attitude around, as well.  I certainly would not have chosen some of the circumstances.  But I continually reminded myself that every next choice was mine.  I could be kind with service people along the way, or I could exercise my right to be irritable.  I could be sullen with my mother, or we could find ways to help each other through, like some sort of familial army buddies.  I could scream and cry, or I could turn up the music.  I feel good about the choices I made.

And, while this blog is not exactly a party, I trust you did find the story to be — killer.

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