Gas and Guidance

Laura ZuccaroLaura Zuccaro
University of Ottawa
Class of 2017

I’m stuck.

I’m in a car stopped in the middle of an intersection.  Colourful blurs race by me, shaking the car.  This is not safe, but I can’t move.  Other drivers honk, wanting me to get out of the way—I wish I could.

On the other side I’ll be safe and happy in a place I once knew.  Normalcy.  In the middle of the intersection, I’m consumed with thoughts of anxiety, hopelessness, and loneliness.  Anyone in my place would want to cross the road.  I do too, but I can’t.

When I first got to this intersection, I expected to drive right through.  I had a normal morning, and was on my way to work, passing the familiar buildings and landscapes along the way.  My car was running low on gas but I had more than enough to make it to work, and had more time to fill up later in the day.

As I mindlessly entered the intersection (notorious for its busy rush-hour traffic) I felt the familiar jerk as my car stalled.  That’s odd, I thought.  But this has happened before—after all, I drive standard.  I’ll just try again.  I restarted the car and continued to drive through.  After a few seconds of progress, I stalled again.  Shit.  Everything around me slowed down as I fumbled with the stick and pedals.  I restarted the car again and tried to go, but failed to make it to the other side.

As time slowed, I began to think of different ways to get to the other side.  What if I started the car and then slammed on the gas to try and speed to the other side?  No, that probably won’t work —the car will just stall again.  What if I slowly inch my way across?  I could try, but I’m not sure I have enough gas for that.

After what felt like an eternity scrambling and trying to go, panic and anxiety set in, and I began to lose hope.  I found it harder to think straight. I desperately wanted to make it out of the intersection, but both my patience and gas were running low.

I took a deep breath and collected my thoughts.  One more time, I thought!  With a burst of encouragement, I slammed on the gas, the engine revved, and I felt the car jerk underneath me. The car moved an inch, a foot, a yard.  I was almost there!  And then, silence.  I’m out of gas.

Time slowed even more.  I’ve probably only been here for minutes, but it’s felt like hours. As I sat helplessly, the emotions in the intersection began to consume me.  The doubt and anxiety about making it to the other side had turned into a reality. I will not make it.  I’m alone, stuck in this car with no one to help. I feel guilty for slowing down the traffic around me. I was always comfortable blending into the background but now I feel exposed, vulnerable, naked.

As I sit helpless in the car, I wonder what the people in the cars whizzing by me think.

“Why is that idiot not moving?  She’s going to get hit.”  This idiot knows that, believe me.

“What kind of driver just sits in the middle of a busy intersection?  She’s going to cause a pile up!”  At least I’d have company.

Beeeeeeep. “Move out of the way!!!” You don’t know how badly I want to…I think.

I look around outside and see the leftovers from other cars that were once stuck like me.  The ones that made it across left skid marks, a sign of their success.  But the ones that never made it? They left no marks.  Paralyzed in the intersection, they got hit.  I see a small metal piece of what appears to be a bumper on the side of the road.  I think it was part of a shiny white car.  Even the nice cars get hit.

As I began to come to terms with my fate, I look around outside. Confused, I see another car stopped beside me.  What the hell is she doing?

I look to the stranger in the other car, and she smiles at me.  She gets out of her car, oblivious of the danger that surrounds her.

She walks towards my car carrying a large orange container.  She signals at me to open my gas tank, and I do.  As she pours gas into the tank, I can’t help but feel a little bit better.  I’m grateful that this woman is helping me, but am unsure why she is here.

When the orange container is empty, she walks to my car window.   Panicked, I wait for her to speak.

“I was in your seat once before.  I felt the panic, anxiety, and hopelessness, until a kind older gentleman pulled up beside me, filled my gas tank, and guided me across the intersection.  I owe my life to that man.  When I saw you stuck in the intersection, I remembered what I felt like paralyzed in the middle of traffic. I wouldn’t have been able to get across alone, and neither can you. I’m here to help you.  Now, start your car.”

As I turn my keys, she backs away from my car and begins to walk towards the traffic.  Like an experienced police officer, she slows the traffic surrounding me, making a clear path.  She waves her hand, signaling for me to drive towards her.  In a panic, I step on the gas too quickly and stall again.  How embarrassing, especially with everyone watching.  I’m slowing them down.

With teary eyes, I look up at the woman.  She is smiling, and signals at me to try again, but slower.  I compose myself, and start the car.  As I press the gas, I look at the woman, letting her guide me into safety.  My car inches forward—slowly, but without stalling. I do not take my eyes away from the woman, and the other cars seem to disappear from my sight.  I am almost there!  10 yards…5 yards…2 yards…1 foot.  I feel my confidence returning, and can’t help but smile back at her.   As my wheels cross to the other side of the intersection, I feel a burst of pride and sense of relief.  I let out tears of joy and bury my face in my hands, in disbelief that I had gotten out alive.

I wipe away my tears and look up, wanting to thank the woman for her kindness.  But she is gone.  As I look around me, I spot her car parked an intersection over, filling up the gas tank of another car.

I smile to myself and begin to slowly drive away.  As I drive, I begin to feel in control again.  I made it to the other side! I take pride in being self-sufficient so needing help was somewhat shameful, but necessary.  Without her, the anxiety, doubt, and loneliness would have never faded away.

As I timidly drive away I suddenly fear getting stuck again.  It was so unexpected and sudden, how can I be sure it won’t happen again?  I feel the anxiety building, but I think of the kind woman and remember her gift: gas and guidance.

As I approach my destination, I see a car stuck in the middle of the intersection ahead of me.

I’d better stop.

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