Somewhere past mile marker 61 on a pleasant, mid-winter afternoon, a minivan edged closer to the left lane of a busy rural interstate highway. The sun was low in the western sky.
Tom was warm and comfortable, with the cruise control set at seventy miles per hour. Every muscle in Tom’s body jerked to attention as they crossed the rumble strip.
A stab on the brake pedal and a jerk of the wheel, set laws of inertia into motion. The minivan twisted and turned in the grassy median like an ornament suspended from a wind chime.
“Honey, you’re off the road!” Betty screamed.
“I must have fallen asleep; hold on tight!”
”Turn around and go straight–you useless piece of junk!” Tom commanded. His voice wavered in rhythm with the bumps.
Please God, get me out of this mess, Tom prayed. I could use some help. Don’t let Frederick grow up without a mother and father. If you have to–take me.
“Hold on to Mommy. Daddy’s taking us on a wild ride,” Betty tried her best to make it a game. Frederick’s stuffed animals and story books bounced off onto the floor.
Betty wanted to scream; instead, she said, “Look, elephant’s jumping all over the place. Isn’t that funny?” Frederick lay across the rear fold-down seat shielded by his mother’s body.
Betty felt guilty–neither of them had seat belts on. If only Frederick survived, could her parents handle raising a three-year-old?
Tom had the worst hollow sensation in the pit of his stomach–part fear, part guilt. Maybe it was already too late? …One mistake, too many?
There was only one solution–steer out of trouble. Brakes were useless. Tom eased off the accelerator–the car slowed.
So many “if’s”–If the back-end didn’t spin around too far? If the car didn’t hit something and roll over? If they didn’t head into oncoming traffic?
“Honey, I love you,” Tom said. “Knowing you has been the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I want you to know that–in case we don’t make it.”
Motion changed to stillness–stillness without regret. Tom, for the first time in his life, said goodbye like he meant it.