I had never seen roads this bad. Snow pummeled our windshield relentlessly, the wipers tried valiantly to keep up. The lines of demarkation were not visible, a driver's only hope of staying in the correct lane was to aim for the quickly-disappearing tracks in front of him, trusting that the previous driver had been able to see better than he. My dad was at the helm, my mom his co-pilot.
The white-knuckled silence was occasionally broken by mom saying things like, "Michael, you're getting close to the side," or "Watch out for this truck up ahead, I think he's swerving into our lane."
I sat in the back, clutching my son's car seat as if that would save him from harm, and keeping my eyes fixed on the road, as if that would save us from sliding into the ditch. My shoulders were around my ears. I don't think I blinked, or breathed. When trucks barreled past us on the two-lane, back-road highway, I cringed, sometimes audibly.
We were bound for Florida. The entire Midwest was struggling under the weight of the worst winter storm in decades. The weather had been brutally cold for days, well below zero. And now it was snowing on top of the ice, a brutal combination. We were warned not to leave. But we had to. It seemed a matter of life and death. If we could just get my dad to Florida somehow all would be well. He would feel better, back to his old self. He would be back in the driver's seat, in full confidence and with our full trust. We would once again be the kind of family that has a man of the house, a man who plans ahead, and consults road atlases, and packs his own clothes, and knows exactly how to drive in the snow.
And then, just like that, we turned onto the Interstate. It had been cleared and was surprisingly much more passable than the secondary road on which we had been traveling. We let out a collective sigh and began to relax a little in our seats. But I could hear in my dad's voice and see in the way he moved that he was bone-tired. "There's a Cracker Barrel about ten miles ahead, should we stop?" I ventured.
"Ah, someone is getting hungry?" he teased, as if I was twelve again and asking for a pit stop on our family road trip. His valiance at trying for normalcy in the face of his grave illness and our grave travel situation smashed me to pieces.
We pulled into the restaurant, and I dashed into the ladies' room with Thomas to change him, with my mom close behind. I hugged Thomas close, too rattled to know that I was on the verge of tears but unable to stop once I started. My mom followed suit, and the three of us stood, locked in a huddle, my mom and I both terrified and relieved and so, so sad all at once.
"Isn't dad just ridiculous?" said my mom. "He insisted on driving. We never should have let him."
"But we made it, didn't we?