Wednesday, February 02, 2005

The many stages of helplessness

Something horrible happened to me Saturday night, and I knew right away I needed to write about it -- but I've honestly been too traumatized and twitchy to do it until now. So, here goes.

First I will say I was decompressing from a busy day of getting up early and driving to SA for family pictures (oh, how i love to be photographed) and concentrated parent-time, as I drove back to Austin from San Antonio. Usually it is a 45 minutes drive from my parents' doorstep to mine. Well. The first 30 minutes went quickly and smoothly. But then it all came to a screeching halt (and I do mean 'halt') just past San Marcos. It was there I stopped, and there I stayed -- for the next 4 hours. That's right -- F-O-U-R hours. In that time I moved approximately 3 miles. I know I tend to exaggerate at times, but people, I am not exaggerating. I was at a full on stop/go, mostly stop, all that time, along with hundreds of other people.

I was supposed to meet my friend Sarah, visiting from CA, at my house at 7 so we could meet some friends for dinner at 8. What ended up happening was she sat in my driveway for 45 minutes and then went on to the restaurant without me. Let me say here, Thank God for cell phones. I can't imagine how much more panicked I would have been had I not been able to call her every 15 minutes and bemoan my situation.

So from 5:30 - 9:30 I sat in this mess, while I missed my friend, our dinner, and almost missed seeing everyone. I disengaged from the traffic jam and managed to get to the restaurant as everyone was paying -- so at least I could see everyone, if not hang out for a while. Never mind that I was brain dead and glassy eyed at this point. But I digress.

The real point of all this is the curious behaviour I experienced and observed (from outside of my body) throughout the ordeal of being STUCK IN MY CAR FOR 4 1/2 HOURS (i'm counting the 30 minutes i drove before hitting the jam). At first I was annoyed, but hopeful. Sometimes traffic gets clogged through San Marcos, but it usually clears up pretty quick. After about 20 minutes, the annoyance increased. That's when I heard on the radio that there was "road construction" slowing people down on I35. Uh, yeah. I listened to the same CD two times in a row and went into a somewhat vegetative state. Then I started getting really pissed, and panicky. I knew Sarah was on her way to my house and I was not there. Then the time became meaningless as it often does in stressful situations. When I talked to Sarah and told her I'd just meet her at the restaurant, I went through a brief phase of panic -- I HAD to get there, I COULDN'T miss dinner. About 1/2 hour into the dinner I let it go, realizing I was not going to make it and there was nothing I could do. I call this my "acceptance phase".

I started to have wacky thoughts. I started wondering how this was affecting the other cars around me, backed up for miles now. Like, somewhere in all this, was a woman in labor? Was she going to have a baby in the car? What about people with little kids? Or people who had to pee? I then realized my situation wasn't nearly as dire. At least I was alone, didn't have to pee, and wasn't really hungry. Nor was I in labor. I started looking at cars and giving the people inside personalities. Wishing I could be a fly on the windshield and hear their conversations. This went on for some time. I went through a short phase where I just screamed in my car for a couple of minutes. This released some pressure and I actually felt calmer afterwards.

Not that this story isn't already too long, but I'll try to wrap it up by saying that by the time I even saw any road construction signs, there was nothing going on and there was no way to tell what had actually caused the jam. All of a sudden my wheels just rotated one whole time around, then another, omg, i'm going 10 mph now, wheeeee, 20 mph, swoon, 50 mph -- and 15 minutes later I was in Austin.

I swear, if anyone asks me "why didn't you just exit?" I will smack them. Hard.

So Sarah and I had planned to maybe check out the outlet mall in San Marcos on Sunday, but there was no way I was getting back on I35 so soon after my ordeal. As a matter of fact, I don't think I'll ever look at that 3-mile stretch the same way again. I have been permanently scarred. I am a broken woman. Damaged goods. But I am learning to deal with my pain, and I am confident that someday I will be healed enough to trust, and maybe even love, again.

And yes, i'm still talking about traffic.

1 comment:

Babs said...

I think it's pretty much impossible for the rest of us to grasp what FOUR hours in traffic would be like... My brain shuts down when I even try to imagine it.

(sorta reminds me how no one "gets" how hellish it was to wait in the standby line for HOURS for "O" tickets)