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“I love this song,” my sister Mary Beth said wistfully, as she navigated the snowy drive through the Chuckanut mountains to Bellingham, Washington. It was 1978, and the hit love song, “Sometimes When We Touch,” played through the speakers of our yellow Ford station wagon. Christmas break was over, and my thirteen-year-old brother, David, and I were accompanying Mary Beth back to college, then making the two-hour drive back home to Bellevue without her. I was seventeen, and the prospect of my driving such a long stretch back thrilled me but scared me, too. Though there was still plenty of daylight left, it had begun snowing shortly after we left home almost two hours prior, and the roads up in the foothills were covered in an inch of snow.
“Yeah—I like this song, too,” I said. We all started singing along, crunched together in the front seat, David sandwiched between Mary Beth and me. “I want to hold you till I die, till we both break down and cry. I want to hold you till the fear in me subsides,” we bellowed at the top of our lungs.
We were creeping along at about thirty-five miles an hour with the rest of the cars, forming a serpentine as we wove through the hills.
“Oh no!” Mary Beth suddenly shouted. A white semitruck was in the left lane, and its right turn signal flicked on. It began to merge into our lane. The giant smiling face of a child eating a piece of but- tered bread leered at me from the side of the semi, getting larger by the second. Mary Beth tapped gently on the brakes, but our car started to fishtail, like when I slam on my bike brakes on a bed of gravel. I threw my arm across David’s stomach, like my mother would do. As the car started spinning out of control, I had this crazy memory of the teacup ride at Disneyland. My stomach dropped, and I flattened my feet against the floorboard. Though I was scared, I was also aware of how pretty the snowflakes were as they swished past the windshield. I felt like I was inside a snow globe. Then we slammed into the guardrail so hard my teeth vibrated. Our station wagon came to a stop on the left shoulder of the freeway, facing traf- fic. Not one of us spoke. The windshield wipers continued their lazy swiping, the radio droned on, and everything fell quiet.
The cars in the right lane kept streaming by. We sat there for what felt like ten minutes, but was probably just a minute. We all felt shaken as we watched the snow and the traffic. Obviously we needed to do something, but what?
“I’ll get out and check the damage,” I finally said, my voice sounding calmer than I felt. I slipped out the door and took a few steps to the front of the car, my legs trembling and my breathing shallow, to see if the tire and bumper were damaged. I felt light, like I could float away, but also relieved to get a fresh breath of cold air. Unconquerable. We’re okay! I thought. And so was the car. I scurried back inside and made my report. We needed someone to stop traffic so we could make a U-turn. Why isn’t anyone helping? I thought. Perhaps it was because the road conditions were dangerous enough that others didn’t want to risk getting stuck. Then I wondered, What would Kevin do? My older brother, Kevin, was the problem-solver in the family, and since Dad’s death four years ago, I always looked to him for answers. As if channeling my brother, I suddenly knew what to do. “I’ll get out and flag down some help,” I said. The idea made me feel proactive and smart.
I got out of the car again and walked carefully around the side and up to Mary Beth’s window. She unrolled it and handed me her gloves. “Be careful,” she said. David opened the passenger-side door and started to get out. “David!” she yelled. “Stay in the car!” David quickly slipped his legs back in the car and shut the door.
As soon as I was on the shoulder of the freeway, I felt foolish instead of in control. How do I get someone to stop and help us? I waved my arms feebly, knowing I looked stupid. Shouldn’t a seven- teen-year-old girl standing next to a spun-out car be an obvious call for help? What am I, invisible?
Just as I was about to try making eye contact with someone in a slow-moving car, I noticed a green Pacer in the left lane coming right at me. He was driving faster than the rest of the cars, too fast for how slippery I knew the road was. You jerk, I thought. You’re gonna spin out! I blinked and saw the Pacer start to skid.