Today looks like other days. A hectic morning, groceries thawing in the backseat, a meltdown at the playground, thin patience. A rush-rush-anxious feeling that’s part of my hardwiring and totally unnecessary on this sunny, windy Wednesday.
We were close to home, stopped at a red light when our car was slammed from behind. My eyes dart to the rearview mirror and I see my child’s calm face, and in the car behind me, a woman in sunglasses already assuming an apologetic posture. I blink and blink, taking many long seconds to register that we’ve been rear-ended before my brain goes, oh shit, at the inconvenience, and then, wait, are we okay? Why did my brain think those thoughts in the wrong order? The impact seems to have jolted the sense out of me. I feel dazed and foggy.
The light turns green and impatient drivers are passing us as I get out of the car to talk to the woman. I suggest we pull into the Wendy’s parking lot. I text Chris, do I need to call the police? Because suddenly I feel very tired and just want to go home. Isabella must feel the same because she promptly falls asleep. Then the police are there writing up a report. And Chris comes. And my stepdad comes. And the firetruck comes. And my stepbrother, who’s a firefighter but off duty, comes. My sister is texting me from the city. My friend is texting, I’ll come now. And this is what it’s like living back in my hometown: people come running for us. Makes me want to tilt my face to the sky and say, thank you.
I have a headache and my neck is stiff, but mostly I feel dazed, that feeling of having had the wind knocked out of you. And then for the rest of the day, my brain whispers the mantra, Thank God Isabella is okay. Her car seat is still rear facing. She was full of energy and laughter and chatter all afternoon.
At around 4:30 pm my parents, who are divorced, arrive at my house at the same time. They are pleasant with each other, but my anxiety spikes, an automatic reaction to them occupying the same space at the same time. Despite my edginess, I think, my parents. Just the two of them, together, talking to my daughter. I don’t know if this kind of interaction has happened since she’s been born, certainly not since she’s been able to talk.
My mom has brought me a special heating pad for neck and shoulders. My dad talks through Isabella to my mother, saying, “did you show Grammie your new craft table?” He wants my mother to see the beautiful table he found for Isabella in Vermont over the weekend. And my mother says, “how wonderful, what a find!”
I don’t know if they sense my level of anxiety or if being in each other’s presence is so charged that they don’t notice me as much. I get a minute to take them in, my parents standing there with my daughter. They are both healthy, vibrant people in their mid-60s. Both professionally successful. Competitive. Hardworking. Both fiercely loving. I see their sameness. I see them in this moment in time, here in my kitchen with their granddaughter, like a snapshot, candid. I would love a real photo of this moment. They might even pose for it. But it doesn’t occur to me to ask. Part of me is just waiting for this moment to end so I can breathe again.
Then they leave, and I can breathe. I think about them arriving at the exact same time, just to make sure all is well. I think about the unexpected colliding with an ordinary day, knocking the lens off, changing the focus. I see the goodness in my life with clarity. And I feel so grateful.