Weathering the Storm
Mom was nothing but a messy bun of unwashed hair and the back of a head. It was better that way, since Didi couldn’t stand seeing the rawness in her face, a mix of fear and sadness since Grandad died. A nor’easter had hit the night before, but Mom needed to make it to the funeral in Tampa that afternoon, so Didi would be taking her to the airport.
“There are four hours till the flight,” Mom said. “We can make it to Logan in the storm.” Now a sideways stream of snow and sleet blinded the roadway. Didi slid a few millimeters forward in the driver’s seat, as if getting closer to the windshield could make the whiteout come into focus.
Before picking up Mom, Didi had rolled out of her dorm room at 9 am to meet Kendra at the dining hall. Was a brunch date three weekends in a row the start of something real? They were still new enough to worry that a long-term relationship might not be in the cards, but old enough to recognize when two people clicked.
“How well did you know your grandad?” Kendra asked, pouring fake maple syrup on her plate.
“We lived far away,” Didi shrugged. “When we saw him, he and my mom always fought.”
Kendra picked at her waffle. “I’m glad you can help her now.”
At least half an inch of snow had piled on the bench outside the dining hall since they’d walked in. “I hope we make it there on time,” Didi sighed. Shortly after, she tossed a cinnamon raisin muffin in her bag and left to dig out her car. She piled on a mix of hand-knit layers and LL Bean for warmth, armor for the road. Her 1996 Honda Civic took forever to warm up, especially in weather like this.
Now on the highway, not far from her mom’s house, it no longer resembled a run-of-the-mill snowstorm. Ice crystals spread across the windshield in a matrix of fractals. The wipers slid across the windshield to little effect; they beat to a rhythm of an unsettling rasp, rubber on ice, rubber on ice. The car moved at about 10 miles per hour.
Mom turned to look at her with fire-rimmed eyes. “Can’t you go just a little faster?”
“Mom, I’ll try,” Didi said. “But look at this storm.”
“I want to get to the airport a little early and find a travel pillow. I can’t do this family thing without a nap on the flight,” Mom said.
Didi thought her mom looked like she hadn’t slept since getting the news. “Why don’t you nod off in the car?” she suggested.
Mom took a long sip of her coffee and shook her head.
“Remember how Grandad used to pick at me for marrying your dad? He loved being right when your dad left,” she sneered. Didi remembered it as her grandfather’s wry sense of humor, cracking jokes to make light of the difficult divorce. Didi had been grateful.
Mom pulled the top off her mug, and the acrid smell of Maxwell House floated through the cold car.
“There was never an ‘I’m so sorry’, or even a hug when we saw each other next.”
Didi hated these stories. Ten years later, everyone seemed to have moved on but her mom.
The blizzard cocooned the car like a cloud of darting bees, droning with the wind. She pressed the gas pedal just a bit more, willing the storm to calm so they could make it to the airport sooner. The back wheels reacted by fishtailing in the ice and slush.
“Jesus, Didi!” Mom yelped. Easing her foot off, Didi steadied the car with the wheel. “I bet you wish you’d gone to school in Florida,” Mom twittered, calmed by the road being righted again. She put her hand on Didi’s leg. “Oh you are warm! I could use some of that.” Mom forgot to wear a coat that morning, and the Civic’s heater was still struggling.
In this frozen New Hampshire tumble, the University of Tampa sounded so foreign. Didi had wanted to leave the state for school, but couldn’t afford tuition.
“I’m so blessed to have you close by, Dee,” Mom said, looking out the window again.
That morning, Didi told Kendra, “My mom says it’s a blessing that grandad passed quickly after his cancer diagnosis. I’m not so sure.”
Kendra didn’t look away. “Hmm. Why?”
“I would have liked to hear his stories. Like how my mom was before she met my dad,” Didi said. She’d seen pictures, her mom holding Grandad’s hand and looking at the camera with a smile Didi didn’t recognize.
“Dammit,” said Mom, in the car. “I forgot to eat this morning.”
“I have a muffin,” Didi said, rooting around in her bag behind the passenger seat. With just one eye on the obscured road, she saw a flash of red tail lights and tapped the brakes. The Civic slid like waxed skis on its own momentum. Propelled by the composite of fresh powder over a crushed slick of ice, they careened into a railing.
Mom’s open coffee sploshed on her lap. “Shit, shit, shit,” wiping at it with the sleeve of her shirt a few times. Then, she broke into tears.
Didi laid her head on the steering wheel, its coolness pressed into her forehead. It reminded her of Kendra’s fingers touching the back of her neck when they hugged goodbye that morning.
“Be gentle with your Mom,” she’d whispered, brushing her lips on Didi’s. “We all grieve in our own way.”