My last day of school while studying for a double masters degree (which I didn’t obtain, and is another story) was spent presenting a patient case study to my fellow classmates. It wasn’t the first time I had presented a case, so I knew the drill. It wasn’t new to me, but I am a socially awkward person. I don’t like speaking in front of groups. I don’t want to be the center of attention. I have a lot to offer and contribute, but I am as uncomfortable with praise as I am with criticism.
As this was the last day of the trimester before Christmas break, I wanted to make it fun. I was ready to be finished with school for a few weeks and get away from the books. There truly is such a thing as too much studying. I had asked my sister-in-law to be my case study this day. I had done my homework and was prepared. I asked my husband and brother-in-law if they would drive the 60+ miles it took me to just to get to school, because I had plans for that day to make it special. They agreed.
I have to give you a little back-story here. My husband bought me a Jaguar. It’s almost 20 years old, and in beautiful condition. It’s an XJ8L. A limousine. We are not, nor have we ever been wealthy. See, my husband turns a wrench in his own automotive/transmission shop, alongside four other mechanics. He bought and restored this beauty for me. I had no idea I would ever own such a car, but here I am, changing what I want again. I adore this car. I don’t let anyone behind the wheel of this kitten. There is so much room in this car, and she rides like she’s floating on clouds. She loves to stretch her legs on the highway. She was meant to be driven. She is clean. I keep an unused paintbrush in my drivers side door to wipe the dust off of her air vents and dashboard after I drop down inside and slip behind the wheel. You get the idea. My husband frequently shakes his head at me, because of my ridiculous love for an inanimate object. I can’t help myself.
Tory and I took the Jag on this last day of school. My brother-in-law Tobo, and my husband Kevin drove up later. I would be finished presenting at noon and they agreed to meet us at the mall. The mall was my idea. I hadn’t been inside a mall at Christmas, just for fun, in years. I wanted to see the festive displays. I wanted to watch the kids as they stood in line to see Santa. I wanted the noise of the busy crowds, while Christmas carols played overhead. I wanted to be catapulted into my Christmas break with a bang.
The mall was all of those things, and more. We found a parking spot across the street in a lot that didn’t belong to the mall. That’s how busy it was. It took us half an hour just to find a parking spot. Inside was just as crowded. It was an assault on my senses. The noise was so loud. We could barely hear each other talk as we decided which store to hit first. The stores were packed with people and merchandised to the ceilings. It was our own Christmas utopia. It was bumper cars without the cars.
It was easy to lose our bearings in all of this stimuli. A lightning bolt couldn’t have shocked us out of our wonderment. I’m thankful it didn’t take a lightning bolt. It took what I remember to be, a man who stood about 6’5″, carried at least 300 lbs of solid muscle, and was as impatient with me as one would be while sitting at a red light when late for work.
Another little back-story is important here. My brother-in-law gets around in a wheelchair. Although I know most people mean well, there are others that are just jerks. I find that there are three kinds of people when it comes to interacting with people with obvious challenges. I say obvious here, because we all have handicaps. We all have something that we struggle with to get along in our day. The three people I find are these:
Those who are jerks and take others challenges as a personal insult and inconvenience
Those who go overboard to help. They mean well, but make things really awkward for everyone
Those who see the obvious challenge, accept it as they would in anyone, and treat that person as if they are human, because they are
As we were standing outside one of the stores, I lost track of everyone. I turned around to see where my party was when I ran smack into this man who was as wide as he was tall. As I apologized, he puffed up his chest, shrugged his arms, gave a big hootin’ sigh. He stood there staring at me as if he were waiting for something other than my apology. My lightning bolt had hit. In the middle of this crowded mall at Christmastime, this man shocked me out of my stupor and all I could do was laugh. I laugh inappropriately a lot. I should probably be taking that pill they advertise on television for those people who laugh or cry inappropriately. It was really funny though. And contagious. Tory thought it was funny too. I’m actually laughing as I write this, because I can still see that look on her face change from shock to disbelief, and finally hilarity. We were having a silent conversation and it was hilarious. The guys weren’t as amused, but I think it’s a testosterone thing. Tory and I know how guys can be and found it funny that a woman 1/2 this man’s size could cause him so much frustration. I seriously thought he was going to pound my head into the ground! As I walked around this tree of a man, I was convincing my husband that it wasn’t worth a confrontation. It was Christmas, and I wanted to be jolly.
We had decided on a burger place for lunch. Of course it was lunch-time, Christmas, and we were in a mall. No worries. We put our name on the waiting list of 30 minutes and went outside to soak up some sunshine. See, this is Colorado. We have over three hundred sunny days and clear skies per year. I’ve seen the sun shine while it was snowing. It was good to get outside and breathe the crisp air, a respite from Christmas mall cheer. Thankfully, the burger joint was just inside the mall doors. When our name was called, the waitress took us to our booth, in the very back of this crowded restaurant, where we could barely squeeze through the tables, with a wheelchair in tow. We asked if there were something closer to the door, but it wasn’t meant to be. I must mention that when a wheelchair sits at a booth, it will most likely block that aisle from anyone trying to get around. My brother-in-law must love me to agree to go to a mall for me at Christmas. By the way, I got a milkshake. I love milkshakes.
With our appetites satisfied and the magic of Christmas mall utopia worn off, we decided to head out to the Botanical Gardens. It was almost dusk. Perfect timing. (I have to give the Denver Botanical Gardens a shout out. If you haven’t been and are able to go; go. It worth every penny. If you buy a membership, you get free passes for other people to get in too.) Parking was easy. The garden was lit inside and out. We picked up our 3D glasses and headed out to see the lights. It really was magical. There were stands that sold hot cider or chocolate and roasted nuts. The trees were lit, the water was lit, they made tunnels that looked like a magic fairyland when we walked through them.
It was a perfect day. I finished my case study and was officially on Christmas break, I hit the mall and got my fill of the retail side of it all, and now I was in a quiet fairyland with 3D glasses that optically put candy canes, Christmas trees, and ornaments in the tress. All of this while the snow quietly fell, and I was sipping cider with people I love. Snow?
We had seen most of the garden and didn’t want to linger too long, because it started to snow. It was getting late anyway, and we were getting tired from our excellent adventure. We decided that Kevin would drive the van and Tobo would ride with him. Tory and I would take the kitten. We would follow the guys. I had never driven the kitten in anything but good weather. I didn’t expect that I would ever have to. I’ve lived in Colorado over forty years, and I’ve never had a problem driving. I’ve owned various four-wheel, front-wheel, and rear-wheel drive cars. I used to love to go out in my Bronco II and play in the snow. I would drive mountain passes without cringing; never in a Jag.
The weather changes fast here. A twenty degree night will turn into a seventy degree morning with snow and rain in the afternoon, only to warm up as the sun sets. It didn’t really surprise me when we drove the few miles from the garden to the interstate and the snow went crazy. Halfway between Denver and the next town, it snowed so hard I couldn’t see. I was borderline, ok not borderline, I was hysterical behind the wheel. “Tory I can’t see. Tory I can’t see. Tory I can’t see. Are we on the road? Is Kevin on the road? I can’t see. What are we going to do? I can’t see the road.” She was so incredibly patient with me. I’m afraid if the roles were reversed, I might have slapped her out of it. She remained calm. She soothingly repeated over and over, “It’s ok. You’re doing great. You’re on the road. You’re fine.” Apparently Kevin couldn’t see either, because he was out of washer fluid.
Kevin decided to take the next exit with a gas station. Of course, I followed. Considering the emotional breakdown I was having, I was driving fairly well on the interstate, but as we exited, I learned just how bad my little kitten was on icy roads. As Kevin stopped at the light that turned into the gas station, he slid. I gave him lots of room. It’s a good thing, because when I started to brake, I slid. I have never slid on bad roads like I did that night. With a death grip on the wheel, I was going sideways, turning into it, pulling myself out of it, and sliding again as I watched the back of that van get closer and closer. “Sh*t Tory, I’m going to hit the van. What am I going to do?! I can’t quit sliding!”. She should seriously be sainted for staying calm while I am behind the wheel screaming repetitively in terror. Oh how I didn’t want to wreck my car. Thankfully, the light turned green and we managed to keep sliding through the intersection and into the very crowded gas station without hitting anything.
I was hoping we could just stay the night in one of the little hotels nearby and finish driving home the next day. I begged Kevin to stay the night there. I told him I couldn’t see, and now I knew I also couldn’t stop. He wouldn’t have it. He had no clue how bad my car is on bad roads. He also didn’t want to miss work in the morning. My husband’s work ethic is like none I’ve ever seen. He gets it from his father. While Kevin filled up his washer fluid and topped mine off, Tory ran in to get coffee and candy. Surely, candy would get us through this. I’m laughing again right now, because the thought of candy helping me drive on bad roads is as ridiculous as Mr. Sumo acting like he’s going to fight me in a mall!
We eventually got back onto the highway. I went first this time while the guys followed. It took a long time to get home that night. People were speeding past me in the fast lane, honking and waving me what I assumed was a thumbs up sign, wondering what idiot would take a Jag out in a blizzard. All the while, I’m chanting, “I can’t see. Am I in my lane? People are going to run me over”, while Tory’s mantra was, “It’s ok. You’re doing fine. Have a bite of Snickers”.
I didn’t know this would be my last day of school. I hit a personal catastrophic wall rather than the back of my brother-in-law’s van. Life changed, so I changed what I wanted. It was a memorable jewel of a day, and I don’t ever want to repeat that hilarious death drive again.