After we exited the freeway on 65th and turned right, I began to merge over to the left for our next turn. The traffic was moving at a good speed on the busy road, but suddenly came to an abrupt stop. I pressed the brake, but instead of feeling the thick resistance of the brake pedal under my foot, it just felt like I was pressing into an air bubble. There was no resistance, and like nightmares I have had of being in an out of control car, we surfed forward as the tires simply rolled freely. I pumped my foot into the brake trying to get it to respond as the car in front of us got closer and closer, but I felt the brakes only lock up as the car moved as though it were sliding on black ice. But there was no ice here, we were just not stopping. Finally, I pounded the brake into the floorboard with all my might, and a grinding sound echoed through the car as we jerked abruptly to a stop just inches from the bumper of the car in front of us.
What a relief! My heart pounded, and as a rubber smell filled the cab, my mind switched from deep gratitude that we hadn't crashed, to concern over the possibly damaged, certainly malfunctioning brakes. I asked if everyone was alright. I even flashed for a moment to worry over the folks in the car ahead of us, wondering if they had seen the near miss and become frightened.
Then, in only a moment, I became aware of the fact that we were stopped directly in the middle of the train tracks at rush hour. I looked down the tracks toward the light rail station about a block away. I thought I could see a light of some sort, and quickly focused on trying to get us off the track, but the car ahead was much too close to maneuver around.
The girls began to panic. "Mommy! That's a train! I think a train is coming!"
"Mommy? Mommy! Please go! Please go!!!" Tessa began to cry.
I knew this wasn't a great situation, but trying not to over react, I noted aloud that the train was now stopped at the station. I knew we had time to clear the tracks because the crossing gate had not even closed yet. As soon as I thought it, though, red lights began flashing, bells clamored right above our heads, and the long stripped wooden arm began to lower over the top of our car. The girls started screaming and I laid on the horn frantically, contemplating whether I could plow the car in front of us hard enough to give us room to clear the tracks. I glanced one more time behind me as the train headlight got bigger and bigger, and I saw that little Tessa would be hit head on. At the screech of my horn the cars in front of us pulled ahead far enough to allow me to clear the tracks, and I whipped our car out from behind the car ahead of us, and sped up the empty lane for a few car lengths, just so our spirits could feel safely distant from the train that now passed behind us, filled with unharmed and oblivious commuters.
My hands shook as I drove extra slowly the remaining mile to the church along surface streets. Tessa was crying, and Malcolm laughed nervously as he proclaimed over and over how close the train had come. My own mind flipped back and forth between minimizing the event - telling myself that it only looked like it had been a close call - to inflating it into a scene from a Hollywood action film. I talked to the girls to calm them, but inside, I wanted to cry too.
A few hours later, I found myself standing in the wings off stage. I had long since shaken off the scare of the train, the play having demanded my full concentration and focus. My main scenes were now passed, and I waited with Ellie and Tessa there in the darkness, surrounded by wavy black curtains, for a coming scene in which we would join a chorus of angels. During the rehearsals we had usually been apart, as I rehearsed my scenes and they learned the parts for the "towns people". But now, with all of our parts well ironed out, we waited confidently, the monotony of dozens of rehearsals behind us, the nervousness of opening night still a day away.
Tessa walked up to me and wrapped her little arms around my waist on one side, and Ellie joined suit on the other. Tessa, lit softly in her white gown by the blue glow of a tiny nightlight, looked up into my face and sweetly whispered, "Mama." It was a statement, a quiet version of their daily bellow of "Daddy!" each time Guy comes through the door after work. It says, "You're here. You're mine."
It took me a moment to call my mind into the present. I was busy listening to the lines being spoken on the other side of the black curtain, and my train of thought was onto the next scene we would do, on to my cues, the music...
In that moment I became aware, quite suddenly, of how tiny Tessa was. And Ellie seemed to have sprouted up several inches as I realized how much she must have grown lately. Then I remembered the train, and the scare, and the blessing of what didn't happen that night. How blessed we were, and are. My mind rolled along an alternate reality for just a few moments, wherein we had not gotten the car to move. That was as far as my brain would allow the thoughts to go. It was just too hard to imagine the ripples that a rock that size would have thrown into our little pond. Instead, I just held them tight, and pressed my cheek to their heads.
Stay tuned for previews of my
Coming Open Studio Art Show!
Five days to go!