Thursday, January 05, 2006

Running Flat

I don't handle anxiety well. One little thing, like snow or a problem at work, makes me freak out over everything in my life that has gone, or could possibly go, wrong.

Two days ago, a snowstorm whipped through Milford, coating us with rain, and then inch after inch of snow, then rain again. And driving in the snow terrifies me - the lack of control, the uncertainty of how well the roads are being kept, other drivers. But I still have to work. So Tuesday morning, I paced and evaluated and dreaded going into work. The promise of driving on roads that could possibly make my car spin out of control was enough to set me off.

Once it was guaranteed that I'd have to be driving, I started to fret over every aspect of my life. My job, whether or not I'll grow to love it, my responsibilities, the shitty friend, daughter and sister I'm being right now, my boyfriend, my skin, my finances. Everything.

I wrote about how I worry about my relationship, and my spectacular boyfriend did exactly what I needed him to and calmed my irrational fears. But, still, my mood was somber, and I couldn't figure out why. Whatever it was, it followed me around all night, making my smile a little short of genuine, my laugh just shy of honest.

It was there this morning, too, dragging behind me as I plodded to the shower. It trailed me through the house during my morning routine, and jumped in the passenger seat with me when I left for work.

I was pleasantly surprised, however, that my morning commute was free of the ice the weathermen promised, and soon my mood began to lift. I sang along to an old CD and delighted in the sunshine peeking through the gray clouds.

Then, I heard it. The distinct whoooomph-whoooomph-whoooomph that comes with a flat tire. I stopped my car in the middle of the narrow back road I was taking, opened my door and glared at my back tire. Sure enough, the tire was splayed out on the pavement beneath it, deflated. I slammed my door, shouted some obscenities and looked for a place to pull off the road. There wasn't one. So I drove until I came to a major road, which I then crossed, slowly and with my hazard lights blinking. I pulled into a strip mall, the only business for miles, and pulled out my cell phone.

No fucking service.

I took a deep breath, let my head fall back against the headrest, and prepared myself to cry. Just as I went to close my eyes and give into my frustration, I saw a truck making its way through the parking lot. The man behind the wheel stopped his car beside mine. I opened my door, not even wanting to look at my tire, for fear that the tears would come out in earnest.

"Hey," he said, walking toward me.

"Hi," I said, dejected.

"Got a flat?"

"Uh, yeah. How could you tell?" We both chuckled. "Hey, you're Chris, right?" I recognized him as the owner of the building. I thanked God that it wasn't some stranger.

"Yeah, I am."

"I'm Laurie. I know your dad from the bank."

"Oh yeah. I thought you looked familiar. Nice to officially meet you." He held out a gloved hand for me to shake. I took it and smiled. "It just sucks that it's under these circumstances. Do you have a spare?" He said, adjusting his baseball cap.

"Yeah," I sighed, my voice shaky. "But it's a lot smaller than these tires." I walked around to the back of my 4Runner, peered underneath the bumper to make sure it was there.

"That's okay. It'll get you where you need to go. Do you need some help?"

"Yes." I whined. "I can't believe this. You know, my friend at work told me yesterday that the tire was low, but I didn't think it was that low."

He laughed as he crouched down beside the wheel to survey the damage. "Looks like you've been driving on it for a little while too, huh?"

"Yeah. I know I'm not supposed to, but I had no where to pull over and get out of the way of other cars." My voice in my own ears sounded defensive, frustrated. I felt defeated. Helpless.

"It's alright," he looked up at me. "It looks like it's okay. Don't worry. We'll fix it."

"Thank you so much," I said, walking to the front of the car. "I don't know where that, you know, long...metal...thing is that I have to use to get the spare out from under there..." I demonstrated for him what I meant with my hands, then turned to pop my hood, remembering that in my old car that "thing" was secured there.

"So, you've had a flat before?"

"You could say that."

But the rod wasn't under my hood, and I remembered that it was tucked away beneath my backseat. I opened my door, embarrassed at having to move CDs and clothes and gift bags out of the way to check beneath the seat.

"Do you live in this car or something?" He jabbed, shoving his hands in his jean pockets.

"I know, right?" My back was to him as I shoved my belongings to the other side of the back seat. "You'd think so. God, I can't believe I have all this shit in here." My frustration was bubbling over.

"It's okay," he said. "Relax."

I let out a nervous laugh and turned around with the jack and the metal rod we'd need to get my tire changed.

He took them from me, looked them over. "Uh," he said, "I hate to tell you this, but you're missing a part." He pointed to the jack. "There's a little piece that goes in here," he rested his finger on the front of the device, "that makes this," he nodded to the rod, "fit in there."

"You're kidding me."

We looked beneath both back seats. It was nowhere.

"You know," he said, "my garage is right there," he pointed behind us. "I have a lift in there and everything. If it's just a little hole, I can even fix your tire if you want."

"That would be wonderful."

So I followed him, whooomph-whooomph-whoooomph, into his garage, where he lifted Gwen the 4Runner off of the ground and removed the sad tire from the car.

We chatted while he worked. He offered me a seat. "I'm too full of nervous energy to sit," I said, "but thank you. Thank you so much for doing this. I really appreciate it. You just saved me from tears. That was, like, a half hour worth of makeup that would've been ruined if not for you." He laughed with me. "Seriously," I continued, "you have no idea how grateful I am. Thank you so much for helping me."

"It's not a problem at all," he said, as the air compressor kicked on behind us.

"You know," he said, "you're really lucky. Your wheel is fine. And the tire looks okay, too." He hefted the wet tire from the car. "It doesn't look like it popped or anything. It was probably just a slow leak that finally went all the way." He sprayed the tire with soapy water and found the tiny hole. He pulled out the culprit, a nail, and plugged the hole with some sort of rubber cement and a sticky piece of...something. "You'll be out of here in no time."

I thanked him again. "I don't know what I would've done if you hadn't been out this morning. I'd probably just sit there all day and cry."

He laughed, changing the attachments on the air gun he'd used to remove the lugnuts then fill the tire. The gun's whine filled the garage as he secured the now full tire back onto the car. "Well, don't focus on the fact that you got a flat. Focus on the fact that it was an easy fix. You don't have to drive around on a shitty donut or anything. It's just like new." He patted the taut rubber of the tire.

The lift squealed as he set my car back on the ground. "Thank you again, Chris. So much. I don't even know how to thank you. Do I owe you anything?"

"Of course not. I've been helped plenty of times. It's my turn to do some helping."

I shouted "Thank you"s out of my open window as I drove away. He was right. We're always focusing on the flat, instead of the ease with which it can be repaired, instead of the fact that people are kind enough to help you when you're in only a little bit of trouble.

I've been focusing on my flats: My lack of personal space at work, at home. The snow. My frustrations. And, in the midst of focusing on all of that, I forget to remember that there is so much more to focus on: My incredible boyfriend, my amazing family, and the fact that, save for a flat tire and a little bit of snow, things are going really well for me.

My tires, actually, are far from flat.


portuguesa nova said...

Small towns are the best, best, best when it comes to stuff like that.

Lunchy McBox said...

Allegories are sexy...

kate said...

there are really some great people out there.

and it's always nice to have a new appreciation of our lives.

Sunney said...

What an amazingly beautiful post. It's always nice when an angel comes along to help at just the right moment. You know that means that you're destined to be someone's angel now... probably not to change a tire, but in your own special way. :)

Anonymous said...

that is the kind of wonderful story I was talking know who...

Popeye said...

I really, really like - and needed - this post. Thanks.