If you have ever driven a car on black ice — if you have lived through the white-knuckled tension that slams you into your seat while you rocket forward, free-floating over the surface, no resistance…you know that even in the best of circumstances, it is a shit-your-pants experience.
It’s not at all like hydroplaning. You feel no connection to the earth at all…the vehicle is indifferent to all your attempts to command it. There’s a rock in your gut, but you can’t let the panic surge because if you do, you will lose it all.
Right now, I stand at my front door, home a day early. I see them through the window. One belongs there, the other does not. The mind’s eye is photographic: no matter how much you may crave it, there is no unseeing what has been seen.
Driving on black ice is like this: you plummet inside a machine of metal and fiberglass. There is no control — that’s a stupid illusion. Deadly. If you survive, you know one thing. You know that you will get right back into that death machine. You will do this because:
“I need to get home, I need to go to work, I need to…”
…fill in the blank with whatever bit of nonsense you wish, because what you mean, finally, is: “I can’t live without her.” You know it’s the truth. Last time, she promised it wouldn’t happen again, ever. Yet here I am once more, free-floating in black-ice anxiety, looking through the window. It takes your body a minute to adjust, to find the feel of solid earth beneath your feet.
You promised me. And here I am, key in hand. What now?
The voice inside my head urges: retreat, reject, look away. Rewind, go back, shift gears. Undo the last 30 seconds. Anything but stand here and watch. Too late. Can’t look away. I’m locked upon the coming slide and spin.
You promised me. And I believed you.
If you’ve done that drive on black ice, you know it’s not like ordinary driving, where your superb navigation skills carry the day. When you hit the brakes on those days, the machine responds as it should: resistance, slow-down, tamp, safety. You are in control.
No. On black ice, your foot hits the pedal and it slides right to the floorboard like there’s nothing there. You realize just how stupid your trust has been. This defies engineering and physics, defies safety nets, weather warnings and your better judgment.
And yet, I stand here and still can’t look away.
They say the thing to do, driving on black ice, is to accelerate. Hit the gas, barrel on because somewhere up ahead, there is purchase on gritty road.
What happens now?
If you’re at your unluckiest, as your car starts the slow spin-out you watch it unravel — like an old movie, everything slows down. Frame by frame, you see the nose of your car traveling — first sideways, then it comes forward past you. Your mouth opens and you scream because you are tumbling, unspeakably, end-over-end; finally landing face-first in some forsaken ditch. Injuries undetermined.
And then, what if?
If you have found, instead, a shred of providence, you just move forward, unstoppable. You are headed inevitably toward the car that has had the singular misfortune to have spun out…directly in your path. With luck, you will both survive: no fault, even-Steven, quid pro quo.
I turn away from the window and slide my key, no resistance, into the lock.
I feel lucky today.