Don’t Panic

August, 2017: I was heading east from Carrboro to a Raleigh address south of Garner, about a 50-minute drive. Chose to take Highway 64 instead of the interstate so I could cross Jordan Lake on the gorgeous afternoon. I rolled down the windows, turned up the volume on my book on CD (Thirteen Ways of Looking, a collection of novellas by Colum McCann, delicious in every way). South of the lake a thought hit me. There’s a BIG box of books in the trunk, and I’m on my way to pick up a dinette set purchased on Craig’s List…no way the table and four chairs would fit in the trunk with that box of books. I’d forgotten to take the box out before leaving my home in Hillsborough. So I pulled well off the highway onto a grassy verge that bordered a forest. I opened the front passenger door, struggled the heavy cardboard carton from the trunk, dragged it across the grass and managed to heft it onto the front passenger seat. All was well until I decided to shove it onto the floor, thinking maybe one of the chairs I was picking up would fit in the passenger seat. The box slipped, pinning my right wrist between it and the dashboard. A bracelet on my wrist was caught on something I couldn’t see, and I was well and truly stuck. Couldn’t stand up to flag down a passing car for help, besides which there was little traffic on this rural road. The more I tried to free myself, the more my back ached. I thought about the “Drama in Real Life” section of Reader’s Digest, that I could well be fixed in this ridiculous position–butt skyward–for days. I heard the rumble of something approaching, tried to wave with my left hand, which barely cleared the hood of my Prius, and despaired as whatever it was rolled on by.

I am not the panicky sort. I am self-sufficient and confident in most situations, but I admit to panic that afternoon, to thoughts of animals in the forest along the road. Sweat trickled down my face–HOT doesn’t describe August in North Carolina–and the pain in my back became more of a focus than my trapped hand.

Again the noise of something approaching. I straightened enough to see a pickup truck in the westbound lane, and again I lifted my left arm, certain the driver wouldn’t be able to see my hand above the top of the car, waving. But I heard the squeal of brakes, strained upward to see a man getting out of the truck. “You okay?” he hollered. “No,” I shouted back, trying not to sound desperate. “I need help.”

He walked up, assessed the situation, and moved the carton as if it were no heavier than a box of Kleenex, and saw that my bracelet was caught on an industrial-size staple that had worked loose from cardboard box. He bent the staple and I was free. As I straightened, I laughed. “Well, I’m 77, and I guess my age has finally caught up with me.”

Then I got a good look at my rescuer, who was no spring chicken. He said, “I’ve got you there, be 80 in the spring.”

I thanked him as he turned to leave, saying, “No problem, any time.”

I got back on my way to Garner, wishing I’d asked his name, had properly thanked him. I chided myself for making more of the mishap than it was, thinking I really could have moved the box of books if I’d just tried harder, all the while rubbing my bruised and scraped wrist, the bloody scratch from the staple. I finally came to realize that there are times when I’m helpless, when I cannot fix a problem, and that most of my life my independence has been a character defect that has prevented me from admitting my helplessness.

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