The air was quiet and tight as I brought up my laundry bag full of freshly washed clothes, towels, and sheets. I’m ready, I announced walking into the kitchen where my mother was frantically preparing a goodie bag of crackers and fruit and bottled water for my three hour drive back to Bloomsburg University. Mom, I said gently, I probably won’t be hungry. I’ll just take the water. Mom had outdone herself as usual, treating me to all of my favorite meals while I’d been home on winter break, and that evening’s stuffed peppers were no exception. Wait, she said. Take these. She handed me a Tupperware container of neatly arranged peppers filled with the perfect blend of ground beef, chopped onions, rice, and tomato sauce. They’ll keep during the drive. Just be sure to refrigerate them once you get there. Yeah, I thought, salivating upon eyeing the vibrant green volcanoes. If they make it that far.
My family gathered in the driveway to see me off, my brother looking mostly bored, my father looking mostly proud, and my mother looking altogether hysterical. Dad helped me heave the laundry bag into the trunk, and my mother gingerly placed the Tupperware in a safe crevice before pulling the trunk door shut.
I got into the car and drove off, watching in my rearview mirror as the waving figures grew smaller and smaller until they were out of sight.
Lucy, my white ‘96 Toyota Tercel, kept me good company on trips such as this. Trips when I felt torn about missing my family, leaving my mother crying in the driveway and about the potential for independence that going away to college allows.
I had been on the road about thirty minutes, making good time, when Lucy’s back tires slipped on a patch of ice and sent me sliding into the middle of the three lane highway. In an attempt to get back into my lane quickly, I took hold of the wheel, but overcorrected and sent Lucy careening diagonally, charging rudely through each lane, gaining momentum, bumping the guardrail and shooting back into the lanes of dodging cars. Aware that I no longer had any say in the car’s whereabouts, I took my feet off the pedals and my hands of the wheel, relinquishing all control. I said some prayers and sat back as if watching a violent crash scene in a movie with special effects. Only I was in the driver’s seat with an all-too-real view. My car appeared to be in slow motion, like in cartoons when someone falls off a cliff and even their last word N-o-o-o-o-o-o just lingers there forever, against the other cars whizzing past. Finally, the little white car hit the guardrail once more and came to rest against it.
Getting out of the car, I calmly grabbed my cell phone and made my way to the side of the road to call home. In a composed tone, I told my mother that I was fine, but I’d been in an accident. Before I’d even hung up the phone, my parents were on their way. It was then that I actually looked over at Lucy, and it was then that I started touching parts of my body: my arms, legs, shoulders, head; trying to figure out how I had managed to walk out unscaved when my smashed car, barely resembling its former self, looked like it should have appeared in one of those drunk driving photos with flashing lights all around and a stretcher to take away the dead body. I wasn’t dead or mangled or even bleeding. I was alive. I was safe.
Amazingly, I did not cause an accident for anyone else. All the other vehicles on the road somehow managed to carefully swerve out of the way, and many of them stopped to call for help and make sure I was alright.
When the tow truck arrived to take Lucy to her final resting place, I remembered one more thing I wanted to retrieve.
Inside what remained of the trunk were my Mom’s stuffed peppers, shaken up, yet safely contained inside the sturdy Tupperware. Though their appearance was a bit jumbled, they were still intact. Whole. Safe. Just like me.