Rich walked into my house and asked if I was ready to go.
I rushed past him, holding a wet shirt in front of me as if it were on fire. I told him that my breakfast tried to get away.
He asked what messy food I had eaten for my last meal before I left to travel for six weeks.
He said that I didn’t have to take eggs with me; they would have eggs where I was going.
I set the shirt in the sink, and I rinsed it out, again. I didn’t want to come home to find rotten eggs embedded in my favorite travel shirt.
He paused again. “You’re not… taking that wet shirt… with you…?”
“Nope. This shirt is grounded.”
I had changed into the old, trusty shirt. This shirt had been a part of my travels to Cuba, Vietnam and Turkey. I thought it should give a different shirt a turn, but the old shirt won in the end.
I hung the clean shirt on my drying rack next to dry clothes that I never put away. I hope my house sitter doesn’t need the drying rack.
He carried my suitcase out. I double checked that I had everything. My green bag. My purse. My passport. I dropped a front door key into the green bag, and then hit my car keys in the usual place so I could find them when I returned.
Rich began the two-hour drive to JFK airport by warning me that the Pride Parade was happening in New York City and that millions of people would be attending. He gave me a list of ways we would bypass the worst of the traffic and still make it to the airport on time.
And then I told him about the three major things that had piled stresses on me the past two weeks.
First I lost the file to my year-long book project when my computer rebooted the program while I was using it.
Surprise. (I had an older file, of course, that would need about 40 hours to revamp.)
I started with a positive attitude: it has to be here, somewhere. I spent hours researching online and even reaching out to the company to see if they had any suggestions. The Vellum tech tried to help, but a gone file is a gone file.
It was a gone file.
And then the next week I accidently erased every photo on my website. All webpages and blogs were without adornments and photos of any kind. That’s a fun problem to fix when the photos are saved in different files on different parts of my computer.
I stayed up late night after night adding photos into blank spaces, but there was so much more to do.
Rich shook his head and said that I always had amazing stories when we got together.
Actually, there was one more stress.
The event that nearly ruined my sane mind happened on the last day of school after the children went home and I decided to treat myself to lunch.
On my way to the restaurant where I would pick up my favorite basil chicken salad, without any warning, an 8th grade girl ran in front of my car in order to take a shortcut to her middle school graduation ceremony. I hit the brakes hard and then hit her hard. I heard the loud thump as her body flew into the air, spun around and landed on the sidewalk.
I sat in the car for a moment with my hands over my mouth holding in a scream. Five days later as I write this, my breathing quickens in memory: I was so scared and mostly sure she was dead.
I put the car into park, jumped out and approached her.
A girl with long hair wearing a silk jumpsuit stood quickly and said that she was fine, but she needed to go right away or she would get into trouble for being late to graduation.
“No. You can’t go.” I said. “We have to call an ambulance. There is no way that you’re okay; I hit you with my car.”
She whined, said she was fine. She noticed my ID tag and said that she attended the school where I taught and that she was not hurt and that she had to go.
A woman approached us and said to the girl, “You can’t be okay. I saw you get hit. You flew through the air….”
I asked the woman if she was the girl’s mother.
After trying to get the girl to stay while she showed me that her silk pantsuit didn’t even get a tear in it and lifting her pantlegs to show that she had no scratches on her legs, I had to admit that maybe a miracle had happened.
At school when walking my young students outside, if one kid topples over, he ends up with two bleeding knees with little rocks embedded in them. I hit this girl with my car and she appeared to be completely unbroken.
But still, I hit her with my car. She needed to go to the hospital to be checked.
I had her call her mother on my phone; Mom’s phone was off: we both left messages for her.
Mine started with, “Hi. I’m Holly Winter Huppert and I just hit your daughter with my car.”
The girl took the phone and spoke in a low voice. “Mom.” After a moment she added, “I’m fine.” As if someone had asked her fifteen times in a row if she had a fever.
I couldn’t kidnap her and force her to go to the hospital.
A police officer arrived with lights flashing. He stepped out of the car and in a stern voice asked what was going on.
I was shaking like a heroin addict going through withdrawals. Hello adrenaline. “I hit a girl with my car.”
The witness told how the girl ran right in front of my car.
He asked where the girl was and when he heard that she left, he said that he would give them 24 hours to call if they wanted him to write up a police report.
I told the officer that I was leaving the country--for most of the summer and insisted that he take my information, the information on the witness and the information from the kind neighbor who came to stand on the sidewalk with us.
The man and the police office knew each other.
I never had lunch that day, I was shaking too hard. Oh, adrenaline.
The girl’s mother sent me a text later that day – I was still shaking—stating that her daughter was okay, just a bit scratched up.
What a relief.
I told Rich that one day the girl will tell the story of the miracle that happened on her way to her middle school graduation.
He asked me if this was why I liked to travel, to escape drama.
We both laughed.
He drove. I napped. We talked. I napped some more. My superhero power is napping in any moving vehicle.
At the gate, the Delta agent made warm announcements for the first groups of people who boarded the plane. “We’d like to warmly welcome customers in our First Class section.” They welcomed the people who paid the most, then the next group of people who paid extra, then the next group of people who flew a lot and then the next group of people who had status rights to board early.
When it was finally my turn, I wasn’t thanked for showing up today. I was treated like a freeloader who was tolerated and permitted to sit in the seat that I paid over a thousand dollars for. I was simply a regular paying customer.
When did a seat in the economy section make you riffraff?
On the plane a handsome forty-something-year-old man sat next to me. We might have talked, but I fell asleep right away. I woke to find a meal placed in front of me, ate it, then slept again while he watched movies and spent hour after hour texting someone.
I figured it was a woman. Maybe a new relationship. His constant texting felt a little possessive to me. I wanted to tell him to give her a rest but kept quiet. I fell into another deep sleep.
He spent the next hours of the flight waiting until I fell asleep and then crossing the arm rest and bumping my arm with his elbow or my foot with his foot.
I’d wake and give him a warning glare and then fall back asleep. I was incredibly tired. Even without all of the other stresses going on, the end of the year at an elementary school is always a grand finale. I was completely used up and exhausted.
That’s what flights are for me, rest time. In all of my years of flying, I’d never had someone intentionally touch me while I slept.
Note to self: I should never, ever be so tired that I can’t deal with problems right away.
But this one time the touch was longer. I had to force myself to wake up and wake up the bear inside of me, too.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to touch you again.” He said, sheepishly. “I fell asleep and just leaned that way.”
I glared at him but knew I was too tired to call him a liar in a calm way.
“I’ll try not to do it again.” He said in such a way that I was pretty sure he did this a lot; likely he got a rise out of making women go bat shit crazy.
I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of watching me lose it.
Try? He’ll try not to touch me again? I took a deep breath and let it out fast. One. I took another deep breath and released it, two. I didn’t say anything until I released the third breath.
I summoned my strongest and lowest teacher voice, stared my fury into his eyes and said in a booming voice, “Don’t.”
The tone of my voice promised mayhem and maybe even physical harm if he were to touch me again.
My word was clear. Don’t touch me. Don’t start with me with that ‘try’ word. Don’t make excuses for yourself. Don’t expect me to be calm if you touch me again. Don’t push me to prove it.
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