I'm not sure where it came from, this tendency to doubt myself. I was raised by parents who encouraged me to do whatever it was that suited me, even if it was to become a cake decorator or the next Martina Navratilova, both of which clearly never took shape. I was a relatively socially adept child, using what wiles one has as a fourth grader to achieve the nickname Squirt 'n Flirt (I was short, after all). I did well in school except for the flexed arm hang, never used a fake ID in college, only had sex with guys I was at least 50 percent sure would call me the following week. But somehow I never learned to trust my instinct. I wonder how many times this has really screwed things up.
I left work Wednesday night a harried mess of on-the-brain errands. Dry cleaning? Check. Bonne Belle Cappucino Lip Gloss that can only be bought in the DC area at CVS? Check. The Virginia road, the voice on the radio, all of it was all too familiar as the traffic that awaited me.
Within seconds of my left turn, the car in front of me started to hug the curb-level center median. Hug is a gentle word, and is perhaps misused here. The driver skimmed large stretches of the curb, kicking up dust in her wake. Once. Twice. She's probably screwing around with the car in front of her.
Ahead, a stoplight turned red. The masses responded appropriately, tapping breaks and cursing poorly-timed lights and checking our foundation in rearview mirrors. She skidded. She had slammed on her brakes so heavily that her tires yelled in response. Something wasn't right.
The dance now included swerving into oncoming traffic. Swerve is a strong word; she in essence was taunting them just a foot or so over the line with her presence. But with each departure from the eastbound norm she surprisingly and eventually returned to the proper path. I eased back, my '96 Sentra and my sanity sacred to me on a night spent an hour late at work.
Her apparent move into a left turn lane was then abrubtly reconsidered; she veered back into traffic without a look or a thought of who was around her. No. Something wasn't right. The driving wasn't odd or off. My brain immediately ran through the Court TV dictionary of overused descriptive terminology and settled on: erratic. But this still didn't do it justice. The driver of this car was making it stumble, jerk, jolt. And it wasn't until I passed the vehicle, and saw just how off
she looked in that front seat, that I thought to call 911.Maybe she just had a little too much at happy hour.
I could be ruining this person's life.
This might really be no big deal.
I'm not even sure why, but I called anyway. 911 for a distant MD county put me on hold, ridiculous not only given the urgency of a 911 call but also that I was at least a state out of their jurisdiction. I hung up and redialed. This is the car make. I'm here. This is the direction in which we're headed. We'll have someone look out for her.
Almost past the exit for the interstate, she decided instead to swerve onto the entrance ramp for the highway. Now she was in a new direction, one that would lead her to thousands charging toward the city on their way home. She repeatedly curved around the road lines confining us to safety and I thought she might now hit the barrier. Something would have to give. I called 911 again. Me again. Just called. Now changed direction. If you don't stop her, she's going to hurt someone.
And it is just as they say. Slow motion and more vivid than most childhood memories and complete and utter silence despite the plastic cover of dry cleaning flapping in an open window and my radio playing something I cannot remember.
Within what now seems like seconds of ending my call to 911, she hit the right guardrail while overcompensating for a swerve and spun across all lanes of interstate rush hour traffic, coming to a stop only when she wedged herself in the center median. Then one. Two. Three. It was almost instantaneous. Scarily surreal. One after the other, cars smashed each other and spun here and there, Matchbox cars that were part of a sunny Wednesday play date. I remember holding the wheel and braking through the screen of flying glass and metal, just hoping that none of the spiraling cars would hit me. And getting out of my untouched car in the silence, to see how true shock really hangs on human faces, a car now half its original size, and what looked to be all of northern Virginia stopped behind me on a now-open highway.
I don't think I'll doubt myself so much the next time.