I tried to do everything right. My life had blown apart and I worked fiercely to surrender to the changes and loss, all of it against my will. A January blizzard had dumped two feet of snow in the Northeast and halfway to my retreat center, the highways were a mess. My windshield wiper fluid wasn’t spraying out, and every time a truck passed my windshield became a smear of salt and sand and I could not see. I pulled into the Stormville Rest Stop, cars spinning in the slush. I snatched a handful of loose snow from along the sidewalk and tossed it on my windshield to clear it.
My phone rang. It was one of my dearest friends, C.C. “Hey!”
“How are you girl?” she asked.
“I’ve got a few hours to go. Headed to Light on the Hill.”
“I thought this was one of your weekends. How’re you holding up?”
“I’m a mess. I close on the house Monday. Then Wednesday, I get divorced.”
“I know, right? In a forty-eight hour span, bam! All of it’s going to be gone.” In the bitter cold I could barely grasp my phone. Trucks flew past on the highway as I strained to hear her.
“Just remember,” C.C. cautioned, “That when you actually get divorced, there might be a new layer of grief.”
This scared me–C.C was a gifted therapist and always had uncanny insights. I stared out at the blue-white fields and the sky, all peachy-rose tints.“But it can’t hurt any more than it already does, could it?”
She considered this. “I don’t know. I hope not. I gotta go. I’m outside the girls’ school to pick them up. Have a good weekend. I love you.”
“Love you too.”
I steered through the wet snow and gunned it back into the traffic. Cut off from C.C., I began to plummet. What’s the point of all this? I was midway through a three-year commitment of a spiritual program called Finding Your Hidden Treasure. This was the second winter of slick weather conditions, driving five hours one way, from Connecticut to upper New York state. But I loved the course and the intimacy of the group. My new friends, most of whom lived close to the retreat center, admired my commitment to growing. I was almost always the first one at the Inner Light Lodge; my classmates had come to expect it.
As I drove, I didn’t feel connected to any of them. “Holy fucking shit,” I shrieked as another truck left my windshield tan and opaque. I was going 75 miles an hour peering through a hole the size of a mitten. Both outside mirrors were completely crusted with sand. I cursed the world. “Fuck this!” I took the next exit, following an arrow to the Mobil station. My soon-to-be ex-husband had taken care of my car for twenty-five years. I never paid a dime for a mechanic; I had no idea where the windshield wiper fluid even went. How the hell was I supposed to learn how to do all this now?
I belted my coat tight and headed into the mini-mart. A young man with his back to me was stocking cigarettes, “Do you have windshield wiper fluid?”
As he turned I was taken aback by his tee shirt. Our Lady of Guadalupe–who I pray to every morning– glowed from within his unzipped hoodie. His entire torso was her blue robe and spiked yellow rays. “Yes, sure.” He pointed to the rack of plastic bottles filled with aquamarine liquid.
“Thank you.” I handed him my debit card and sheepishly asked, “Do you know where the fluid goes?”
His smile revealed eyeteeth high on his gums. “Don’t feel bad. My mom doesn’t know either. Give me a moment. Pull your car over there.”
Outside, I stamped my boots to keep warm. With the hood popped open, he poured the fluid in. Grateful for his kindness, I squelched my urge to begin confessing the litany of my last three years of heartache to the kid. My husband had a heart attack, then six weeks later I was diagnosed with cancer, then his best friend died –then I fell–then we—.
When he slammed the hood I fished out a ten-dollar bill. “Here, please take this, and thank you.”
“No, ma’am, it’s okay.”
I got into the car and flipped on the wipers. The watery teal blue sprayed up, soaking the sand, then the windshield became flawlessly clear. He gave me a thumbs up sign and loped back inside. All was well, my crisis over. I didn’t need my almost ex-husband. I returned to Route 84, then began the leg of the trip on 17 West. I got sandwiched in the middle lane between two eighteen wheelers, and as they muscled by me the ice, sand, and salt spit and sprayed off their mud flaps coating my windshield, making it opaque again. When I flicked on the wipers and slammed the fluid release with my hand, nothing squirted. The wipers dragged the sand so that I couldn’t even see the lines on the highway.
“Fuck!” In my entire life I never screamed that obscenity as loud as I did in that Jeep along the curves of the Susquehanna River. Out of nowhere, I was suddenly in a blowout with God. “What the hell do you want from me? I’ve done everything I’m supposed to do! Everything! What more do you want to take from me? Huh? What? What? Who the fuck do you think you are? You’re not so fucking great. Fuck you! Fuck you God! Fuck! You! God!”
Everything went blank. My car went silent. My hands buzzed on the steering wheel from the fading vibrations of my voice. With all that rage detonated, my body became hollowed out. I felt high.
The hole was big enough for me to see a sign to Eddie’s Repair. I took the next exit. The inside of the cinder block shop was identical to my ex-husband’s business: the tire machine’s rubber odor, a yellowed newspaper article about the shop’s grand opening, a classic rock radio station blasting Journey. Eddie was a kind gentleman who informed me that my windshield wiper fluid was freezing. I wasn’t really listening, transfixed by the tattoo on the brooding boy who fixed my car. Covering his long neck it read BELOVED AND BLESSED.
“You should be all set now, ma’am,” Eddie assured me, “Deedee took care of it for you.”
“Thank you,” I whispered hoarsely, my blown-out voice barely there. I wrote the check, dumbfounded by Deedee. Who were these man-children with such faith? I set out on the highway.
I flew along for a few miles, then once again the fluid would not shoot out, only made a whining noise when I banged on the knob. The sun was setting on 17 West. Only a few pairs of headlights dotted the road. Every ten minutes I’d check the rear view mirror to make sure no cars were behind me, and I’d brake to the shoulder and take care of the sand and salt. Throwing it into park, I dashed to the back seat to grab the heavy bottle, twisted off the child safety cap, and doused the windshield with fluid. Then, before headlights appeared around the bend, I gassed it back on the highway until my windshield grew gritty again.
The fifth time, the whirling red lights of a cruiser appeared. I waited in the highway cinders as a woman cop approached in my rear view mirror. Before she could ask me for my license and registration, I started frantically explaining my ridiculous situation.
“Do you need assistance?” she interrupted.
I stared at her in silence.
By the look on my face she continued simply, “I’ll follow behind you to make sure you’re okay.”
Beginning my journey once again, in total darkness except for the police lights escorting me, I decided, Just because it’s 8 degrees and dark doesn’t mean this moment isn’t beautiful.
When I think back to that drive, to those moments of rage toward God, I’m grateful for my willingness to get ugly and scream. Because I’ve understood, since then, not just the truth of how terrified I can be, but also that I am not alone even when completely lost within myself, traveling to a place I’ve never been.