Strangers in cars

Yesterday was a need to be “on” day. I saw student after student in and out of my classroom, I spoke with enthusiasm, I listened intently. All through my day at work, I governed the silences and the sounds, smoothing over the moments in which it felt like there should be more of one or the other. I looked into students’ eyes and smiled. I filled the empty spaces.

After school was all movement– I had it in my head to gather up the youngest kids and walk the dog around the block, but when I came downstairs, I found them playing amicably preparing for a “talent show.”I used the momentary reprieve to start dinner- but they were back upstairs within minutes, crying out in agony the question of every day: “What should we doooooooo?”

I looked at the clock, mentally noting that it was time to start the process of loading the car to take Ellie to dance; we boarded, Everett in a dinosaur costume, Mae (maybe?) wearing a skirt, not a single child in shoes. We had to bring Ivy, our new goldendoodle puppy, because she was due for her second trip to the vet. “I can’t forget the poo!” I shouted out as the keys were midway to the ignition, confirming once again to my neighbor’s their assumptions about my sanity are correct. (To clarify: a fecal test was required for this veterinary visit.)

We drove straight from dance to the vet and called the office to announce our arrival. For the first few minutes, the kids sat happily watching different animals arrive. An older woman in the car next to us was greeted by a technician- “Can she walk?” the worker asked, motioning to the black lab in the back seat. I didn’t catch the woman’s response. The kids quickly noticed other animals nearby and our attention was diverted. As the start time of our appointment slipped further and further away without anyone coming to fetch the pup, I eyed the clock warily. I had to pick up Ellie soon, Ivy still hadn’t been taken inside, and there were multiple messages in all caps stating that I should stay in the parking lot and not leave during my pet’s visit. I called Jacob, who was racing home from work as fast as he could, but would likely not make it in time to pick up the dancer. “I’ll try,” he told me. “Don’t be reckless,” I advised pointlessly, because of course he’s a maniac whenever I fail to remind him of this, right?

Twenty minutes after our appointment was to start, I called again. The receptionist’s voice was harried- “I’m sorry,” she said, “We just had two emergencies, I don’t know when, I’m not sure,” she struggled to finish her sentences. I looked at the woman in the car next to me. I noticed her because she was not looking at her phone, she wasn’t looking at anything really. She stared out her window, eyes wide and unblinking, her gaze fixed to the beyond, seeing something I could not. I saw her out the window, and then in my own rearview mirror I saw my kids– Sophie in a tie dye hoodie and barefeet, Mae in her big sister’s jean skirt and alternating red & purple fingernails, Everett in his dinosaur costume clutching Ivy as she energetically leaned her nose out the window.

I saw my children through the woman’s eyes. Was she thinking about when her lab was a pup, when her kids were young? When she had goldfish crumbs in the seat cracks and dance lessons to drive to and tiny fingernails to paint?

Was she saying good bye to her dog? Was she saying good bye to her past? Was that what she was seeing up there in the sky, a picture more real in her mind in that moment than it had even been in the flesh years ago?

The tech graciously let Ivy in before they could actually see her, and I backed the car out to race to the dance studio.  I called Jacob and said I would be able to get her, and that he could stop driving recklessly now, and then, through tears,  I told him that the lady next to us might have a dog who was irreparably sick.

I picked up Ellie and there soon wasn’t time to sit and think about goldfish crumbs and puppies and made-up stories about strangers in cars. We made it through dinner, all talking at once, not hearing much– dirtying every possible bowl first with soup and then cookie dough ice cream. Darkness enclosed the house, our kitchen a cacophony of noise in the midst of an ever-cooling and quickly-darkening autumn.

Sophie demanded that Cohen, Jacob, and I make our way downstairs to watch the talent show they had been preparing. Everett held a tambourine, hopping sharply and erratically to “shut up and dance with me.” Mae wore a purple Rapunzel dress and waved her arms like a bird, and Ellie wowed us with a number of hula hoop tricks.

I clapped and smiled, holding two feelings so close to one another, side by side. It was holding together of opposites– this “we are here now” and “we will not always be,”and the weight of this holding together reminded me– in the midst of the movement: I am here, I’m alive.

After the talent show, I clapped so loud my hands hurt.

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3 Responses to Strangers in cars

  1. vandemom2 says:

    Don Wooten said to me, “ if you are able to strike an empathic chord with your reader then as a writer you’ve accomplished something “
    Does full out bawling count as striking a chord?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. jayne348 says:

    I would have picked Ellie up.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    Like

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