I sat clutching the steering wheel, angry, the car resting in the fringe of snow on the road’s shoulder.
It was a routine stop for him. Just another driver tempted by this Montana backroad with wide margins and straight lines. Truth is, moments before I had no idea how fast I was going.
“Do you know how fast you were going?” He asked, leaning to rest his arm on the window of the car.
I could feel the heat of tears rising to my eyes. I could feel all the pent up emotions of the past five days, well six months, rearing back in my chest. I wanted to scream at him. I wanted to tell him to get his arm off my car. I wanted to spit insults into his face. I willed myself to hold it together. This wasn’t about him, this cocky Montana patrolman who had no context of backstory.
I tried to explain, but it came out melodramatic and insincere. I knew how it sounded, yet I couldn’t make myself stop.
He tore off the ticket from his notepad, as I finished with, “I hope something like this never happens to your family.” I was sobbing my words, uncontrolled.
Yikes, I thought.
That night, I lay in bed fighting the frustration and anger that had balled in my throat. I bathed in my embarrassment. That minor little speeding ticket cycled in my thoughts over and over. In my mind, that Montana patrolman took the brunt of a heavy dose of undeserved hatred.
I wasn’t mad at him, I was mad at the cancer. I was mad that it happened to my mom. I could have controlled my speed. I couldn’t control her illness. A ticket would slip into insignificance in few months. The illness might not. The vast distance of those two events in the realm of what matters was overwhelming. Yet somehow, it was the ticket that boiled my latent emotions to the surface.
In the end, that ticket was $50. I drove my mom to her next appointment and watched nurses stick her with needles. I swallowed back fear and pain and feelings of inadequacy as coughs racked her body. I never knew what to say to make her feel better. I watched her tuck her thin frame under a blanket on the couch as sheer exhaustion pulled her eyes closed. I never knew what to do to make her feel better. I left her there to go back to work in rays of sunshine that spread over my comfortable life while holding onto guilt about the gray I was leaving her to. Never in my life have I felt so helpless and inept.
My mom is better now — the color has resurfaced in her cheeks, the life back in her eyes. That ticket has faded into the insignificance I predicted. Somehow, the two events seemed tied together, one bringing memories of the other.
Every time I drive that stretch of road while home for a visit, I think about the winter that my mom fought cancer.