Driving along the dark county highway, I squinted at each intersection to make out the name of each road. My post-preeclampsia eyes were failing me at each step, and I was beginning to wonder if I'd missed my turn. With very little sense of direction, I kept driving hoping to find Western Avenue.
An occasional car would pass by in the opposite direction, and I'd squint in the glow of the headlights. Snow covered the ground, but the roads had been clear for days. John Mayer squawked on the radio, and I shut it off to focus closely on where I was.
As I crossed several highways while traveling down Highway Y, my internal alarms began going off. "Hey Jen! Hey Jen! You missed the turn. Turn around! Turn around!" I pulled over and studied the map. I couldn't make heads or tails of where I was though so I drove about a mile further down the road. This took me even further into what appeared to be Wisconsin farm country.
In a decision that would betray me, I pulled to the side of the road. As I guided the van to the shoulder of the road, it appeared to be flat, with an even surface on which to park. Looks were deceiving, though. As I pulled off the road, I heard ice and snow being driven up inside the wheel wells on the right side of my van. I braked to try to guide the van back onto the road, but it lurched to the right as the wheels sunk into what I was soon to find out was about 18 inches of snow and ice.
"Shit!" I grumbled.
"Okay Jen. Stay calm! You can do this. Rock it back and forth," I reassured myself out loud.
I put the car into reverse, and hit the gas. The tires spun in response so I then put the van into drive. The tires spun more, and it sunk further into the snow. I felt myself sighing heavily, and frustration emerging.
As I often do, I walked myself through what I needed to do out loud. "Get out and see what is going on!" Opening the driver-side door, it felt as if I had to lift myself out of the uneven van, which was perched passenger side in the ditch.
When I stepped down, my shoes hit the pavement, but it was ice-covered. Now, I understood why the tires on the left side of the van were spinning. Walking around the front of the car, I squinted in the glare of the headlights. Half-way past the hood of the van, I felt my boots sink into the snow with each step. A sheet of ice on top of the snow pack broke in response to my weight. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.
The front right tire was buried, and the snow from the tire spinning had built itself up behind it in a neatly driven mound. I continued my inspection along the side of the car toward the back tire, and found a similar site.
"Take a deep breath Jen! You can do this. You can figure it out."
I glanced up at the sky, and Orion stared back me. "Gosh, that is amazingly beautiful tonight. I wish I wasn't here though. I'm in the middle of nowhere, and I don't know where I am. I only know I am on County Road Y. I need help," I shouted out loud.
"Great, I sound like I'm insane now. Great Jen! Great! Get it together!"
As I grumbled to myself, the headlights of a car approached. For a moment, I hesitated and wondered if I should request help from a stranger, but I felt I had little choice. The car was stuck, so I waved my arms to try to get its attention, but it kept driving.
"Yeah! Thanks a lot! Thanks!" I shouted. Frustration and fear began to emerge within me.
"I need help. I need help. Okay Jen. Try it again. Try to drive out again."
I returned to the van, and tried and tried and tried again. All that I got was the sound of tires spinning, and a van which wouldn't move an inch in response. At this point, more headlights approached. I lifted myself out of the van again to wave my arms again. This car actually sped up to get away from me.
"Fabulous! Fabulous! I'm stuck in the middle of nowhere. I have no idea where I am, and now no one will stop to help. Great! Just great! I feel like I'm in the Twilight Zone."
About a 1/2 an hour had passed, and I decided to call for help. I got back into the van to warm up. I was supposed to be attending a jewelery party at my friend, Aileen's home.
"Should I call Aileen? Should I call Charlie?" I dug around in my bag to find the invitation, but couldn't find it to call Aileen so I called Charlie. I shoved my hand into my coat pocket to fish out the phone. I flipped it open, and the displayed glowed. My gloved hand fumbled to dial the numbers, and as I tried to hit the Send button, I missed and hit Cancel instead. Another set of headlights approached in my rear view mirror so I opened the driver's door and waved my arms again. That car kept going too.
"I wish somebody would stop. I just want to know where I am. I want to know."
I climbed back inside the van, and pulled my mitten off my right hand. My thumb dialed Charlie again, and as I pressed the numbers, tears began to fall. Frustration had won. I was in a full-on panic, and extremely embarrassed at my misfortune. I didn't want to tell Charlie what had happened, and by the time he answered, I let the fear loose on him. It is difficult for me to remember what I said exactly. Fear was winning, and I could tell he was just trying to figure out where I was and why I was bawling on the phone.
"Jen, there is a shovel in the back of the van. Get it and try to dig yourself out. You'll need to try to find some gravel to use for traction. Get the shovel Jen!"
"Charlie, I need help and I'm scared. It is stuck. It is very stuck!"
"Jen, you will need to use the shovel. Try that, and then call me back. I can't come get you right now. I have the girls. I'll have to find someone to watch them. Try digging it out. Try that!"
I climbed toward the back of the van, and hung over the back seat to grab the shovel on the floor. I got out of the van, and started digging while Charlie talked to me. I shifted the phone to my left hand, and began digging out the front right tire. The snow was very heavy, and the red kid shovel was wimpy in my opinion. I chopped through the ice layer to dig toward the tires. Tears kept flowing down my cheeks, and my nose was running heavily.
"How are you shoveling with me on the phone, Jen? How are you doing that? Hang up and call me back after you dig it out and try again. Also, figure out where you are. Flag down a car to find out where you are!" Charlie drilled a hysterical me.
I hung up in response, and in frustration.
"My hands are freezing."
I looked down and noticed I hadn't put my mittens back on. So, I trudged back through the packed snow to the van to grab them. I also zipped up my down jacket and put my hood up. I wiped my eyes and nose, and figured I'd better help myself because it was only me out there in the dark.
"Come on Jen! Get it together!" As I said that, I noticed the party invitation on the floor of the van.
"There it is! I can call Aileen to tell her why I'm late." I dialed her number, and Aileen's cheerful voice answered.
"Hi Aileen. It is Jen. I'm sorry but I'm not going to be able to make it to your party. I'm stuck on the side of the road in a ditch, and honestly, I have no idea where I am. I'm sorry to interrupt you during the party, but I wanted you to know why I'm not there yet."
"Jen, are you okay?" she inquired.
"Yes. Yes. I'm fine. I called Charlie. He is coming to help, I think. I need to figure out where I am though. He'll find me somewhere on Highway Y. I think I'm past where you are. I missed my turn on Western Avenue."
"Okay Jen. Are you sure you don't need help?"
"No Ai. Charlie will come to get me. Here comes another car. I'm going to go so I can try to flag it down. Bye." I hung up, and jumped out again to wave my arms like a wild woman on the side of the road. I certainly was a sight to be seen with running nose, rosy frozen cheeks and nose, and tear stained eyes. As predicted in my mind, that car kept on going too.
I sighed in response, and grabbed the shovel again. I returned to the side of the van, and completely dug out both stuck tires in about 10 minutes. As my toes grew colder and colder inside my leather, not built for snow boots, another car passed. I waved my arms wildly again, but got another dismissal. I climbed back into the van for what felt like the umpteenth time, and turned it back on. Heat flowed into my face, and I slipped the car into Reverse, and hit the gas. The tires spun and spun and spun some more. I switched back to Drive. After a few minutes, I tried gear 1 and gear 2 to no avail.
Tears slid down my cheeks again, as I knew I'd have to call Charlie back.
"I'm still stuck."
"You are on county road Y, right?" Charlie asked.
"Yes. I know that, but I don't know a cross street to tell you where I am."
Char began to walk through the online map of country road Y. He named all of the intersections, but I was confused, frustrated, and down right hysterical. I couldn't think straight anymore. I just wanted help. I needed help inside the deepest recesses of me.
"OK. I'll come get you, but I need to get Lauren to watch the girls. When I arrange that, I'll call you back. Keep digging and trying Jen. Keep trying to get someone to tell you where you are so that I can find you. I can't help you if I can't find you."
Another car approached but this time slowed down. I jumped out of the van to get the driver's attention. He rolled down the window, and I asked for his assistance in telling me where I was.
"Are you okay?" he calmly inquired.
"Yes, I am. Thank you for asking. I'm fine. My van is stuck. Can you tell me where I am on County Road Y? This is Y, right?"
"Oh yes. This is Y. You are North of 33 about three miles on Y. Let me take a look." He got out of his car and headed to the van.
My phone rang a few seconds later again, and I noticed it was a new phone number on the display. I wondered who it was.
"Hello, this is Jen."
"Hi Jen. This is Anne."
"Where are you stuck? I want to come so you aren't alone. Where are you?"
"I'm on County Road Y, really no where near Aileen's house. A man just told me that I'm North of 33 about 3 miles on Highway Y."
"Okay. I'll be there in a little while. I don't want you to be alone. I'm coming."
"Thanks Anne. Bye."
All at once, two people wanted to help me. I guess my pleas for help had been answered. :)
"Do you have a shovel?" the man patiently inquired as he got out of his white station wagon. As he emerged he stood about 5 feet, seven inches tall, but had broad, wide shoulders. He appeared to be close to 50, and glasses adorned his wide face.
"Oh yes. Here it is. What would you recommend I need to do?"
"Let me help you, ma'am. I'll shovel it out, and you drive it out when I give you the high sign. Okay?"
"Okay. Thanks so much for stopping. A lot of cars have ignored me in the last hour or so."
"You've been out here that long already. Yikes." He grabbed the child-sized shovel and rapidly dug the snow. He was much more efficient than me. ;)
"Okay ma'am, put it in reverse, and hit the gas hard. Give it her all. Okay?"
"Alright. Here goes."
The tire spun and spun as he pushed and pushed from the hood of the car. I sighed in response.
"Put it in Park!" he instructed. As he said that, he walked to he back of his station wagon and grabbed a large stained quilt. He hauled it toward my van, and placed it down in the snow near the front right tire.
"Okay, now try it again. Go in reverse and I'll push."
I put it in reverse, and the car moved a few inches. I smiled in response, and he looked at me through the windshield and said, "Keep going, ma'am. Keep going!" The van got stuck again, but he readjusted the blanket again. I could see he didn't trust my ability to give the right amount of gas at the perfect time. His face revealed it all. I giggled to myself and thought:
"Yeah that's right. I've no idea what I'm doing. I've never gotten stuck before. I'm an uneducated idiot when it comes to this stuff. Thank God for you here...helping me...when you don't have to help at all."
"Ma'am, can I try to drive it out? I think I can get it out for you."
"Sure, it is worth a try. I've tried everything I can think of already." As I got out of the van, I grabbed my purse and phone. (Cuz I still was leery of the stranger who was really a blessing.) I figured he might steal the van, but I'd still have my phone and wallet with me. I knew this was insanity and frustration freaking me out, but it was who I was in that moment. I was scared, cold, and needed desperate help in the middle of nowheresville without a clue to where I was.
The man with no name rocked the van back and forth for a few more minutes, and it suddenly lurched forward. He drove about 25 feet forward back onto dry pavement, and stepped out.
"Oh my God! Thank you so much. Thank you! I don't know your name, but thank you. Thank you! I'm Jen."
I reached out my mitten clad hand to shake his, and he replied, "I'm Bruce. I'm glad I could help you. Have a safe trip home. Don't forget to call your husband and tell him that you're out now. Goodnight."
I pretty much hovered my way back into the van and its warmth. I began to shiver from the cold and the adrenaline. I needed help, and somebody finally helped me. Thank God for the kindness of strangers. Thank you Bruce. I'll probably never see you again, but thank you!