I was driving down I-90 last night, headed to my sister's house. My first overnight, away from the family, since Ruthie was born. The radio was playing crap and my iPod was dead. So I thought up a story, inspired by the road and the silence. I wrote it down in the morning, up before everyone else because I'm trained like that. Reveling in the luxury of a pen and notebook in bed, no one asking for breakfast.
Cara was never as stuck as the time when she was stuck. And then she was really stuck. Here is how she got out.
It was a January 6th. A new day in the new year and Cara decided she would leave. She had had enough. It didn't matter what time she walked out the door -- he wouldn't be home anyway. So she did what any mom to a young child -- or young children, in Cara's case -- would do. She planned the leaving around the twins' afternoon nap.
In the morning, she packed with purpose -- sentimentality had no say in what stayed behind. She stuffed all the 3-6 month clothing she had been hoarding since the summer rummage sale season into a garbage bag. The plastic stretched against the weight of all that pink and blue. She only had one package of diapers left, but it would be enough for now. A Target run could be on her to-do list there just as well as here. She crumpled a couple of her own sweaters, an extra pair of jeans, socks, underwear, toiletries, etc into her backpack. The diaper bag was always ready to go.
The twins were wailing by the time she was done. The cycle had stopped on both their swings while she was loading the car. They hated to lie still. She never needed to work off the baby weight, what with all the bouncing, walking, swaying, rocking -- times two -- that they required.
She fed them bottles and they both fell asleep. Strapped into their car seats, they were just two more objects to stow into the car. Breathing objects. Fragile objects. The objects of her departure. They were the reason she would finally leave.
She sat in the driver's seat and surveyed her load. She had everything she needed -- for now. She'd come back for the rest when the dust cleared. Or maybe she'd just send David and Annie. They always said they'd do anything for her. She knew they'd make good on their offer.
It was snowing by the time she merged onto I-90. I didn't expect this, she thought. But then, what part of today had she expected? It was all predicted beforehand, but you have to be on the right channel to hear the forecast. She certainly wasn't tuned in. Not back then, not now. That would have to change.
Traffic was heavy. Rush hour. The worst time to leave. But the babies were quiet and Cara could concentrate on the road.
Then -- brake lights like dominoes cascaded down the highway. She pressed hers -- hard -- to go from seventy to stopped behind everyone else.
Cara clenched her teeth, tense all over. Not because of the hold up but because she knew the change of speed would seep into the twins' sleep cycle. And smash it. They would be wide eyed and Chicago was still over an hour away.
She waited, eyes trained on the review mirror and their faces reflected back at her. Sure enough, the boy turned his head from side to side a couple times before scrunching his face, opening his mouth, and squalling -- eyes still closed. The girl might have stayed asleep but you can't tune out a cry like that so she joined in. Cara signed and leaned back against the headrest. This was a chorus she knew by heart. Sometimes she sat -- head between her hands -- and sang along, but right now all she wanted to do was move forward.
But traffic didn't. This was a dead standstill. Seriously? She said aloud. It was like the universe had bunched up in front of her, determined to hold her back with another hurdle. This seemed like the cruelest one.
She only idled for fifteen minutes before her skin started to crawl. She tried comforting the babies one at a time in the front seat -- there was no way she could wedge between their car seats in the back -- but there was only so much she could do. Movement was the only trick up her sleeve. And they were stuck. Right here.
It had been awhile since the last feeding, so Cara dug through the diaper bag for bottles and formula. And that's when she realized what she had forgotten -- there was no water to mix the formula.
She turned on the radio -- loud, above the crying -- and switched over to the AM station that would feature traffic updates.
...I-90 closed...fatal accident...
There was an inch of snow on her hood. They would be here for awhile.
If only breastfeeding had worked out. But the twins had been born early and they couldn't latch on and she was too overwhelmed by their newness and their two-ness and her marriage and its failure and his drinking and disappointments to work that hard for physical survival. And they thrived. They absolutely thrived.
But right now, they were hungry. So Cara did what any mother would do -- for bear cubs, for baby birds, for the boy and girl in her back seat -- she set out in search of food, one car seat in the crook of each arm.
She knocked on eight car windows before she had any success. Three before someone would even roll down the window. People had their own miseries to nurse. A fellow in one of the last cars offered to help her lug the car seats back to the car, but she declined, her breath frozen in the air. She had come this far on her own and she would make it back.
When she finally mixed the formula and fed the twins, they fell asleep quickly, even though traffic was still stuck. They could adapt. And in the hour of silence that ensued, Cara let herself imagine tomorrow -- waking up in her brother's guest room. In a new life.
Luck had dealt an unfortunate blow to whoever lost their lives at the head of this line of cars. But hers was starting over. She would move forward. The wheel was firm under her hands, the accelerator real under her foot, and the road would open up eventually. She could wait a little longer while they cleared away the debris of a destroyed life. She could sit here and mourn that loss. It was not hers.