A few years back, my husband and I were traveling from California to Texas, and I was pulling a 1958 Buick on a trailer behind our 15-passenger Ford Van. This was my husband’s idea of love at first sight – that ’58 Buick – a car from his birth year that he hoped to restore just for the fun of it. We had picked the car up in Arizona and were speeding along in West Texas, trying to get to a reunion in my hometown, which was still at least six hours away. It was mid-afternoon and we had just filled up with gas in one of the many little towns that dot Highway 287 east of Amarillo. I have pulled many a trailer so this was not new for me. In fact, I was completely comfortable behind the wheel and was going at least 80 miles per hour once we were back on the open highway.
All was well until I decided to pass an 18-wheeler that was in the slower lane. I saw there was a slight curve in the road, but I didn’t think much about it until in the middle of passing, I felt a draft from the big rig, as if there was a vacuum that was pulling us towards it. The road straightened back up and I felt the trailer begin to rock back and forth behind us. I knew this was not good. The trailer with that car strapped on top of it was heavy and it was clear that I had to take control fast. I had a flash of faulty memory that said, “This is like black ice. Turn into the pull and you’ll be fine.”
“Straighten the wheel and speed up!” my husband yelled.
“Leave me alone,” I snapped. “I am handling this.”
Just at that moment, ten thousand pounds of metal began careening down the interstate and no among of speeding or braking or turning the wheel on my part made one bit of difference. I was out of control and all I could think about as that trailer and heavy car pushed the van into one ditch and then across the highway into the other was how that 18-wheeler I had just passed was most likely going to crash right into us. Time elongated in those seconds and I faced the likelihood that my actions were going to lead to the death of my husband and probably several other innocent people who were in our path. I figured I was going to die, too, but that seemed less important than my role as executioner to those unlucky enough to be near me.
At this point, the van again crossed the highway and then whipped back to the other side. We were headed for a tall red clay embankment at a high speed and I braced myself. This was where we were going to die, my husband and I, and just before impact, we exchanged a “This is it” look. I was struck by the calm acceptance on my husband’s face.
The van hit the embankment, headed straight up the wall, then abruptly stopped. We were at a forty-five degree angle, gas was pouring out of the engine, but we were not dead. Ray yelled, “Get out for the car!” and we both pushed the doors open – not easy since we were up in the air, and jumped six feet down from our angled position. The trailer with the Buick had jack-knifed and kept us from plowing at full force into the embankment. That action saved our lives.
I stood on the side of the road in a daze. Cars in front of us had stopped because they had been watching our out-of-control vehicle in their rearview mirrors. Behind us, the driver in the 18-wheeler I had passed pulled over to the side of the road then jumped out of his cab, ran towards me, gathered me up in his arms and pulled me close. “I thought I was going to watch you die,” he said, tears running down his cheeks. “I am so happy you are alive.”
I was touched, relieved, and grateful. Also, I was aware that I had just experienced profound grace. Despite my wrong choices, I was still alive and unhurt. I was extremely lucky and I knew it.
Since that accident, my life is different in some very real ways. First, I have a newfound respect for towing trailers. I am not likely to be cavalier in my approach to pulling a heavy vehicle at high speeds. In fact, I simply will not do that. I can drive slower with much less fear and much more confidence. That is a good thing for all people inside and outside of my car. Second, I trust my husband more. Not just because he was right about the correct way to pull out of a wobble, which he was. More importantly, he was kind in his treatment of my near fatal mistake. He forgave me even before we knew our fate; I could see that in his face. I have never received such a clear gift of love. Third, I now know that life is unpredictable and therefore precious. No time to dawdle when death might be lurking right around the next corner.
As for the ’58 Buick…my husband sold it. Perhaps it was too big of a reminder of our near-death experience. Or maybe he was afraid I might offer to tow it back across country. Whatever the case, I suspect deep-down he concluded it was unwise to tempt fate.
I can’t say I can blame him.