It really wasn’t until we turned into the neighborhood—5 minutes, maybe, from home–that the ice really made me nervous. An hour and a half away, we’d started to see a dusting, just bits of dazzling white in the grass; here and there, a glassy ditch or frozen puddle.
If it’s like this here, Zoe murmured then, but we left it for another half hour, until we began to notice the vehicles coming from the opposite direction, from our way, glazed with grime, all their shine dulled. They were cars wrapped in storm clouds. Sheets of ice flew into the air above them like tiny icebergs hurled skyward, crashing and shattering against the asphalt. It felt odd, like watching danger coming.
“Hey, do you see those cars coming from the other way?” Someone said out loud what we were all thinking. And then suddenly in the last miles before we left the interstate, so suddenly it took us by surprise, we slowed, weaving through murky lanes heaped with ice hills in odd places. As much as we might feel prepared by the signs, difficult terrain always rises unexpectedly. And it pays to have someone sitting in the driver’s seat who knows what he’s doing.
Kevin grew up learning to drive in the ice and snow, a fact I reiterated multiple times as we wove our way off the interstate and curved through tire trenches carved into the ice on the off ramp. The kids needed the reminder. I needed the reminder. The things we see around us often betray what we know.
“Mom, if it’s like this here…What if we can’t get home?” Zoe asked, peering out the window at the shine of the sun on vitreous ice along the shoulder of the roadway.
I refused to give into worry, though visions of our vehicle sliding off the road niggled at my resolve as we slowly crept off one on-ramp and then onto another, before finally turning onto the highway home. “Listen, if anyone can get us home, it’s your dad,” I said, looking over at Kevin, gathering in both his silence and his focus.
My phone dinged with a text from a close friend, reporting two things: The roads were horrible. Be careful! And, she was praying us safely home. The message was punctuated with praying emojis, flat, powerful hands held out in front of them like weapons.
Kevin knows things about driving on ice, things he told me later when I had to go out before it had all melted: Don’t go out unless you must. Never press down on the brakes when you know you’re driving on ice. And look ahead of you. Slow down before you get into a treacherous spot. It was this watching what’s ahead that kept his eyes tightly focused on the road as he drove us home. He watched, so I didn’t have to. I sat back against the seat and thought about how beautiful it all looked–the sugar-crusted trees, the grass glinting like diamonds–and I gave thanks that he was driving and not me.
But now, after a slow glide down a partly-shaded slick-frozen neighborhood street, quiet and scarred only by our tires, we make the last turn toward home, crawling the last icy feet toward our home and our driveway. And before we can call it safe, we stall, tires spinning. I grip the door with one hand, stuffing the other under my leg.
“Dad, there’s a car over there,” Zoe says, pointing, as if he can’t see. Kevin sits forward, thinking, twisting the wheel. We slide slightly toward the spot where our neighbor’s car sits against the curb in front of their home, icicles jutting down like spikes from the bumper, and I gasp. But on Kevin’s face, I see no sign of either surprise or panic.
“I’m aware of that,” He says to Zoe without censure, turning the steering wheel deliberately, assessing the situation. Before our trip, we had also parked our other vehicle in front of our house, fairly close to the edge of the driveway. Sliding in any direction on that turn will pose a problem.
“Maybe we should just park and leave it,” Zoe says quickly, and I feel the reckless urgency lacing her voice. She wants out of this car, and now. Ridiculously, I have the same thought, though I’m fairly certain we can’t walk from where we sit—stuck stuck stuck—to the front door without falling, and more than once. In my mind, I see us sliding away from each other, trying to stand, and failing. But at this moment it also appears that we can’t drive forward, and any attempt to move just seems to send us fishtailing.
“Just park here, Dad,” Zoe says again. “Let’s just park.” Fear paralyzes. It can freeze us in place. It can make us crazy. Don’t press the brakes when you’re driving on the ice. That’s when you lose control. The greatest danger sometimes lurks in our most frantic assertion of control, our split-second halting fear. Our instict to stop this, to quit.
I sit back against the seat. I have no idea what to do. I grew up in thick humidity and salt air; I am ill-equipped for winter weather. The only thing I know is that the one of us most able to navigate the problem sits in the driver’s seat, trying to think.
“I think,” Kevin says slowly, looking in the rearview mirror, “I started this too slowly, without enough momentum.”
He wants to press on more quickly? I exale—was I holding my breath?–saying it again, what I’ve been saying for the last hour, turning toward my children. “If anyone can handle this, your dad can.”
Kevin shifts into reverse and slowly lets up on the brake, backing us off the ice at a crawl. The last thing I want to do is be in this car when he tries to turn into that driveway, and that’s the truth. But I see no other way. Just trust. “Let’s just be quiet and let him do this,” I say. “Your dad won’t do anything that’s unsafe.” This final bit I say carefully, knowing deeply the truth of it. I say it with my white fingers hard-gripping the seat. Kevin has our best interests at heart. Of course he does. And there it is, our solid purchase. The truth doesn’t melt away fear, but it does give our trust its solid grip. I sigh. I do not have control–and I’m glad, because Kevin knows better in this situation than I do.
So slowly, we inch back across the street and all the way into a neighbor’s driveway. Somehow, Kevin manuevers our vehicle well away from the cars on the curve, and suddenly another thing comes clear: Even when we started slipping, we did so under his control, as he tested the situation for safety. I sit back against the seat again. It’s funny that I never feel myself moving forward, sliding up on the edge seat, but I have to keep telling myself to sit back. Beside me, Kevin takes a breath—just a single pause—before he presses the gas, moving us more quickly than the first time, quickly and smoothly across the glass-thick asphalt and right into our driveway. It feels to me as though the road itself is different, so quickly do we find ourselves safe, listening to water drip off the edges of the open garage door. I release my grip on the door and finally exhale, with relief that breaks into a grin. “You did it,” I say to Kevin, and he smiles, as slowly we all unwind from the car, opening the doors, stretching our legs out into the chill.
And as I walk inside on shaky legs, I’m thinking how hard it is sometimes to make our way; how absolutely scared and unsure we all are; how sometimes—and so close to home–we so desperately just want to abandon the whole crazy effort (and subsequently each other) that we risk placing ourselves in even greater isolated danger. And I’m thinking how important it is–when life suddenly gets treacherous and fishtailing stuck–to know and love the driver, and to be able to speak the certain truth that he’s worthy of my trust.