My eyes scanned the room, searching for gloves and hats for my sleeping twins. Thankfully, my children didn’t stir throughout the entire ordeal of dressing them in bulky snowsuits. Their dad, who was passed out and still holding his precious whiskey glass, was completely unaware that his life was changing as he slept. I looked from my husband to my children, smiling at the little tufts of brown hair curling out from under their hats. Moose watched me and whined in anticipation of going for a ride. The bullmastiff weighs almost twice as much as I do, but I couldn’t leave him. Gabe’s rage knows no reason, and poor Moose would have cowered until the beating stopped.
I tilted my hips to better balance a child on each side and squeezed my babies tightly as I tugged the diaper bags and my purse onto my shoulders. Clicking my tongue at Moose was just as good as if I had said, “Let’s go for a ride, boy.” For a moment, Gabe looked peaceful and loving, but then the soreness in my arm and the fatness of my lip reminded me of the truth.
My cold hands found the car seat buckles troublesome. I gently closed the Jeep doors, but it sounded like the doors slammed shut to my ears. The engine struggled to start in the cold, and I stared at the front door, expecting Gabe to ruin yet another attempt to leave. I reached for the headlights and then thought better of it… better not chance the lights shining into the living room or being seen by the neighbors.
When I finally got to the last road in our suburban neighborhood, I didn’t realize I had been holding my breath until the air rushed out of my lungs. For several seconds after the light turned green, I gulped the cool air. I turned on my headlights, and as I made my way to the highway, I relished that my children would never have a fat lip from their dad. My happiness was tinged with grief because of all the good things my children will miss out on without a father.
My Jeep felt sluggish in the growing layer of snow on the highway. My eyes stung from straining to see through the falling snow, and I decided that it would be best to check for a severe storm warning. I slipped my fingers into the front pocket of my purse to grab my cell phone. I didn’t find it right away, so I tugged my purse into my lap. It made me nervous to take make my eyes off the road, so I counted two seconds of looking in my purse, five seconds of watching the road, two seconds of looking in my purse… My phone was not in my purse.
I smacked my hand to my forehead, recalling how I carefully placed my phone on the changing table so I wouldn’t forget it. I could hear my husband’s insulting tirade just then, “What a half-baked gesture leaving was!” I didn’t have what it takes to raise kids on my own—I couldn’t even get them to Wisconsin without driving into a snow storm. How would they learn good common sense without a dad? My pulse thundered in my ears and tears squished out of my eyes.
I wiped tears from cheeks, and I steered the Jeep out of the exit-only lane, not that lines in the road really mattered under 8 inches of snow. The slight angle made the Jeep fishtail. The feeling of losing control of the Jeep strangled all of my self-doubt and left only the resolve to take this snowstorm one highway mile at a time. I glanced back at the sleeping twins and smiled at Moose in the rear view mirror. The whole Jeep rattled as it bounced over pot hole in the middle of the road, and I felt the backend of the Jeep spin around. I steered into the turn, but I was already sliding backwards into the median. So much for four-wheel drive and studded tires. Time slowed as the median gave way to a steep riverbank. I gripped the steering wheel uselessly as the Jeep tilted backwards, and Moose yelped as the flipping vehicle tossed him around with all the unsecured items. I hung upside down as the Jeep came to rest. The twins cried softly, looking like little puppets hanging from their car seats.
Slowly, my ears picked up on the sound of rushing water all around. In that moment, I knew we were dead. I had committed us all to a wet, freezing death, and no one would find us until spring. My eyes darted to the window to see how high the water was, and I realized that we must have landed upside down on top of a frozen section of river. The water was harmlessly flowing under and around the ice. Moose licked at the twins and whimpered as he moved toward me. I saw headlights on the road, and my gratitude for my life and the lives of my children was destroyed. Gabe had followed me, and now he would drag us back.
A man kneeled down next to my window and I saw only Gabe’s drunken face, contorted in rage. My throat burned with a scream of raw terror, and my children gave up great cries of their own. After a moment, reality filtered through. It wasn’t my husband… It was the kind, ruddy-cheeked face of my neighbor, Jack. Jack, who had so often been my supporter, who had provided ice packs and bandages for falls down the stairs, who was now my rescuer.
I pushed on the door, and Jack said through the glass, “Sorry to frighten you. I saw you sneaking away with no headlights, and I was worried. I’m not sorry I followed you now. Let’s get you guys out of here.”
“Oh Jack! I’ve never been happier to see you!”
It seemed to take an eternity to get clear of the Jeep, but after a while of sitting on the side of the highway in Jack’s truck with the heater cranked, Jack asked, “Well, I don’t know what gave you the courage to leave, but I’d like to know if I can drive you somewhere? You sure picked a heck of a night for a getaway.” My parents were expecting me in Wisconsin the following day, and I fell into an exhausted sleep as Jack continued driving north.