I had but seconds to make a decision. Hold the present course, slow down, and hope. Maybe pray. Uncertainty. Or ditch it and destroy the car and face certain injury. I held tight to the wheel and figured if this guy was going to take me out, well . . .
I was on my way to an early morning college course. Zoology. Great professor at this small community college. That place seemed to attract them. Ph.D.’s who were tired of playing the game of publish or perish. Who just wanted to teach. And teach smaller numbers of students so they actually had access to them. Real office hours. Real time to sit down and answer questions. Discuss life. Academic dreams.
One professor, noted for addressing controversial issues head-on and not putting up with bureaucratic BS put it this way, “I taught at the Mecca, the University of —-, until they found out I was there.” His classes were always full. Semesters backlogged with lists of eager students. History taught from a world-view, not the ethnocentric versions taught where institutional and community pressures dictated thought.
I was just trying to get there on this sleepy November morning. Making the eighteen-mile drive down the back roads.
A country setting had been picked for the construction of this junior college. A prominent family had donated the land, and their adjoining thoroughbred ranch wrapped around three sides of the campus. A bucolic scene. Majestic horses dotting the pastures. A turn-of-the-century mansion. Separate quarters, once for slaves, now served as bunkhouses for the farmhands.
Later, a nearby river would be dammed and water recreation would be added to the list of two-year degrees you could earn here. Seemed odd being so close to the city, but this is the Midwest and cities, even big cities, only spread so far. Only consumed so much earth before the industrialization bordered open fields.
All I was doing was trying to get there. No hurry. No worries.
Those back-country roads traversed rolling hills. Peak and valley. Peak and valley. Traveling west took you to a minor spur of the “big city.” A transportation hub. Trucking companies and railroad junctions. A centralized shipping center to support the major businesses downtown.
Going east, the direction I was driving, was sort of no-man’s land. Corn fields, soybeans, sorghum, a Christmas Tree farm, road-side vegetable stands. All skirting the southeastern quadrant, with capillaries of roads leading into the pumping heart of the megalopolis.
It was a common pathway for a lot of us. Hit the country campus in the morning, left turn into the city for work in the afternoon. Loop back south for the drive home.
The temperatures had been steadily dropping and precipitation was coming down in its various frozen forms. Frost blanketing the low-lying fields one morning. Freezing rain the next – clear coating the barb-wired fences and trees, but still melting on the roads under the pressure of passing cars and trucks. For now. Snow was just a week or two away.
But a slight warmup the day before supersaturated the air, and the nightly cool-down had stretched out through the early hours. The day’s high temperature occurred around 2:00 a.m. and it had slowly been dropping since. The result – fog.
Thick, dense fog.
It filled those valleys between the hills. Steady, cloying, impenetrable. If you were standing on one of those hilltops, you might get the notion that you could simply walk across to the next. Solid terra firma. Not.
The distance between these hilltops varied, and I had just crested one, the distance to the next being the shortest in the chain, spanned by this two-lane, undivided highway. And like eyes penetrating the night and the milky-haze before me, there they were. Headlights.
But not two — four.
It seems that someone westbound, in their haste, decided to pass the vehicle in front of them and made their break to the opposite lane, my lane, at the top of the hill opposite the one I had just surmounted. All I could see in the fog were four headlights, two cars nearly side-by-side, racing straight towards me.
I already had one impatient driver tailgating me, unsatisfied with driving the speed limit even in these dangerous conditions, so hitting the brakes was not an option. There were no shoulders on these roads. No budget for that, and the surrounding farmers felt they’d already had enough land consumed by imminent domain to lay down these ribbons of gray.
There was no way the person speeding towards me had enough road to clear the distance between the car he was attempting to pass and my car coming from the opposite direction. And now, my seventeen-year-old, not fully developed brain, had to make a decision or two.
Of course, I immediately slowed, but not so fast as to be rear-ended by the person traveling too close behind me. And the driver being passed was alert enough to also slow down to try to widen the gap between us. The idiot trying to pass floored it, engine whining, so now his or her headlights were propelled even faster toward my front bumper.
What to do?
A hard stop equaled a collision from behind, and I still might not avoid the head-on crash. Swerving left meant a skid in front of two vehicles clogging both lanes, with a third barreling in from behind. Swerving right, in any degree, meant plunging into a deep ditch. Certain to destroy my already beat-up Olds, and send me to the hospital or ziploc me in a body bag. And why? Because some fool in a hurry didn’t care about anyone else’s safety that’s why.
No, I wasn’t going to ditch it for this guy. Take the hit so he or she had no consequences. And even if I ditched it, the other three cars might still merge into a mangled heap. I kept slowing down, even though the person behind didn’t seem to notice the burning eyes of the car before me bearing down upon us. The gap ever closing. The impending explosion of steel against steel. The shattering of windshields. I could hear it all in my mind. Could visualize it.
I waited for it. Oddly calmly.
It’s a funny thing about time. How it seems to stretch out in moments like these. It was like an entire discussion played out in my head figuring out what to do. A corporate board meeting. As if I sat down with all of the department heads. They all gave me their feedback. Pointed to the graphs and charts. Drew it out with colored markers on the white board.
I hoped my decision wouldn’t jeopardize anyone else as I laid on the horn. Everyone involved was surely awake now, as my mind drifted back over this short lifetime of mine. What had it been worth?
But this heavy situation suddenly became ethereal. Time slowed to a standstill. Outside forces seemed to intervene. As if protective bubbles inflated around all four cars. The fool somehow threaded the eye of the needle left open by myself and the other oncoming car. Barely.
A split second. A flash in time. Brains in a fog – literally and figuratively. Preoccupied by frenzied thoughts of work deadlines. “Got to get there!” “Got to get the job done!” A moment where lives could have ended. Needlessly. But they didn’t.
Did I make the right decision? Was there time to do anything else? I assume we all went our separate directions. As if nothing had happened.
Ironically, in Zoology, we were studying life cycles. Eat, sleep, mate and defend. Predictable unless outside forces act. Of course, there is more to life than that. Much more. Philosophical aspirations. Collective consciousness. Spiritual evolution.
Maybe the power of four minds came together to alter the inevitable. Bending time and physical objects. A collective manifestation of a new pathway exceeding the laws of physics.
Who can say?
Strange how the mind works. I remembered this little flash from the past today because I’ve been experiencing “brain fog.” Transforming figurative fog into physical fog 🙂 That’s why my mind couldn’t get it together to compose a post for the past few days. It’s a symptom of a syndrome I’m fighting. Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. I will undoubtedly write a piece on it someday. Imagine it this way. You find yourself exposed to insecticide and you’re dizzy, with a crushing headache, brain clouded, nauseated and with abdominal pain, you lose the ability to reason and your short-term memory vanishes, fatigue bears down on you. But you come back to normal once the neurotoxin wears off – your body disarms it through its normal processes, chemical, mechanical, liver, kidneys, etc. Now imagine that your normal detoxification process is overwhelmed and your body can’t detoxify from the poisons anymore. And the environment you live in is full of an increasing amount of poisons . . .
Photo: No, I didn’t have a picture of headlights approaching on a foggy morning, but I did have this one of a car approaching at dawn driving through the mountains. Don’t worry, I was safe. There was no one else on the road and I actually stopped the car to take this pic. Although, I have at times been guilty of the one-handed, over-the-shoulder, while driving, cell-phone pics 🙂
“Ws” – If you happen to notice any missing Ws in my posts, please feel free to let me know. I recently picked up a new keyboard and it seems that I am just not striking it hard enough in the left-hand corner. Missing letters in my writings include Ws, As, Rs, and Es, but Ws seem to be the worst. I try to catch them when editing, but sometimes I miss a few – thanks 🙂