By: Barbara Matousek
Packing up the night before it hadn’t occurred to me that we could go in a ditch, that my Subaru could keep sliding as the road curved. And to be honest, even after we saw the first pile-up of cars where I-90 turns and crosses the Mississippi River in La Crosse, I wasn’t concerned about the roads. I had called my mother and told her I was watching the weather, and I had checked the forecast at least thirty times that morning. The Weather Channel and all the local TV stations had said the worst of the snow would move in between 11am and 5pm, and up until the moment we got on the road just after noon, I wasn’t sure if we should go early and try to get ahead of it or wait and go in the morning.
We had planned our trip to Great Wolf Lodge in Wisconsin Dells months ago, and Sam had been counting the days until we stayed at “TT’s hotel.” A year and a half ago we’d stayed at TT’s hotel in Chicago on our way to visit relatives in Michigan, and last summer we stayed at TT’s hotel in Milwaukee while I ran in a 5-mile race to raise money for Children’s Hospital. TT is Sam’s grandma, and when we travel with her we stay in her hotels. TT’s hotel in The Dells has a waterpark, and we’d all been looking forward to this trip long before January first pretended to be spring and then quickly turned frigid and reminded us of her true colors.
We were in the car about twenty-five minutes when we came across an accident scene just after we crossed in to Wisconsin. Traffic that had been moving a steady sixty miles an hour came to a sudden stop, and I pushed the brakes slowly and thanked God the semi behind me had been following a safe distance. Eva was still awake because Sam had been screaming for several minutes that he couldn’t get his Leapster Explorer to do something he was absolutely sure it should do. I had long since given up on trying to convince him to be quiet and let me concentrate.
“Look at the fire trucks,” I said, and Sam looked up, suddenly quiet.
Mangled pieces of cars and SUVs littered the ditch and four or five firemen in coats with bright yellow striping lifted a woman wrapped in black blankets on to a stretcher. Her neck was in a brace and the SUV next to her was bent and caved in on one side.
“See why you need to be quiet and let me focus on driving?” I said without thinking, just grateful for a reprieve from the back seat screaming. “It is very dangerous out here. I would not want to go in the ditch.” My hands gripped the wheel and traffic crept forward and I glanced at the cars facing the wrong direction on the other side of the highway.
Sam looked up at the two firetrucks with flashing red lights and the smaller ambulance parked in front of it. He said nothing.
“Look at the firemen,” I said. “They are helping that lady. They’re going to take her to the hospital.”
Traffic merged in to one lane and I let the semi next to me pull ahead of us. I turned on the wipers and sprayed the windshield with blue fluid that froze almost immediately.
“Don’t worry, Mommy,” Sam finally spoke just before going back to his video game. “They can fix her.”
The accident scene scared me, made me hold the wheel a little tighter, let up on the accelerator slightly, focus more intently on staying at least six car lengths behind the vehicle in front of me.
Sam was, thankfully, unaffected. My anxiety hadn’t spread. About five miles later as I quietly cursed at a souped-up pickup that whizzed past us and then switched back in to our lane leaving us in a white out right behind his bumper, Sam started yelling about needing something to drink RIGHT NOW and when-are-we-going-to-get-there and “Where else does TT have hotels that we can go to?” By the time we arrived safely at TT’s hotel an hour later my fingers were cramped and the sides of the windshield were caked with blue ice, and Sam and Eva were sound asleep in the back seat.