I do not believe there are any accidents. Yet most would argue I was involved in two this past Saturday night.
It had started off as any ordinary day. I raced around since early that morning in anticipation of spending a quiet evening in the city with a friend. My week had been a trying one − bickering with the ex, a sick child, and even a broken oven to boot, all coming on top of the normal craziness here in single mom land. But it was as I prepared to leave my house that I received the worst news of the previous few days − that my stepfather had suddenly fallen ill and was rushed by ambulance to the hospital. I would spend the next few hours anxiously waiting for word of his condition until finally hearing from my mother later that night that he was, in fact, okay.
As I made my way to Manhattan in sporadic torrential downpours, I thought back on the week’s comings and goings and shook my head wondering why my life must always be so difficult. I am a nice person, both considerate and helpful whenever I can be, and empathetic with others. Yet, time and time again, I feel as though I simply cannot catch a break. In truth, I know that is not the case. I am well aware it is only the way I am looking at things at the present moment that makes me think this way. But I am human and we all have our bad days. This happened to be one of them.
Less than 15 minutes from my destination, I stopped at a light. When I looked up at the sky, I saw the most beautiful rainbow beaming high above the rooftops. “Surely it is a sign,” I thought. Seeing a rainbow in most cultures is a good omen, so I assured myself I must have some much-needed luck coming my way.
And then I made a wrong left turn. Damn! I was supposed to turn a few hundred feet up ahead. Now I would have to either go around the block or head uptown on the trafficked avenue I had originally tried to avoid. Only minutes later, a truck got too close and knocked off my driver’s side mirror.
“Unbelievable!” I cursed. “So much for rainbows.”
One police report later, and the other driver’s arrest for driving with a suspended license, I was back on my way, managing to take the most recent events in stride.
Four hours later and after a lovely evening, I began my trek back to New Jersey. Suddenly, BOOM! The noise was loud and unidentifiable. Upon discovery, I had hit a monstrous sized pothole which was not cordoned off in the center of the road.
Immediately my car began to drag, and then seconds later completely ceased right there in the middle of a ramp going onto a city highway. With no power at all, I was unable to even put my hazard lights on to alert those behind me of trouble. Quickly I dialed 911, but as I watched cars, trucks, and city buses trying to dangerously maneuver around me, I quickly realized the perilous situation in which I suddenly found myself.
New Yorkers get a bad rap for being self-involved and unhelpful. I disagree. Within seconds, a car pulled up behind me to assist. Two men jumped out. Not having any success starting the car either, they waited with me for a few minutes, their hazard lights protecting me from another potential accident.
Unable to stay any longer, though, yet another couple of good Samaritans pulled over as they left, again trying to move my car off to the side of the road. Still unsuccessful, they located cones and placed them behind my car. When the police and a tow truck arrived shortly after, I believed I was out of harm’s way.
I was not.
As it turned out, I could only be towed into the city because of contractual restrictions, and I was promptly left with my disabled car one block away to wait for another tow truck to take the car and myself back to New Jersey. What happened over the next seven hours would become one of the most memorable nights I have ever had and perhaps one of the most illustrative.
There I sat, in my car, windows unable to close and my car doors unable to lock, in a quiet residential neighborhood with a city park off to my right. Though the calendar tells us it is Spring, Mother Nature seems to have not gotten the message and New York still remains winter-like come nighttime. When the second tow truck arrived within the hour to take my car back to New Jersey for repair, the driver was unable to put the car in neutral, which is necessary for towing. After many repeated attempts, the driver advised I would need yet another tow truck, one equipped with different towing equipment. He offered to let me wait with him in his warm truck until either AAA or OnStar could secure additional help.
When help did finally arrive − another tow truck driver, this one a “repo” guy − my hopes were high. If anyone could get my car moving, surely it would be thatguy. Unfortunately for me, he could not start the car either, and his truck likewise did not have the necessary equipment for towing a car not in neutral.
When the tow truck driver with whom I had been sitting received another road call, I returned to my cold car to wait. Though he promised to return after his call, I was skeptical he would. After all, he had no reason to. As I sat by myself, the hours wearing on, and the temperature outside growing steadily colder, the streets became more deserted. Both AAA and OnStar kept in constant contact with me, reassuring me of their efforts, but still having no luck securing the truck I needed at that hour of the night.
Alone in my car in the cold, on a quiet street adjacent to a dark park, with my car doors unable to lock and windows unable to close, in the middle of the night, I began feeling much like a sitting duck. I tried not to imagine what else could possibly go wrong, but I would be lying if I said I was not cold or afraid. I did my best, but the tears finally did come.
Out of nowhere and without a word, two NYPD squad cars pulled up, one parking alongside me and one directly in front and waited. The tow truck driver did eventually return and the police left. For the next few hours, I sat with this man in his truck as efforts were made to find help. Leaving my car was not an option, as the city would promptly impound my illegally parked car and I would be in the same predicament come Monday.
Finally, at around 4:30 in the morning, we received word that a tow truck from New Jersey was on its way. And just as quickly as my hopes elevated, they were dashed by a follow-up call minutes later, informing me the truck was not coming because a call from the police took priority over mine. At this point, I had hit the pothole nearly five hours earlier, yet I was still no closer to getting home.
Not long after, a call came in telling me yet another truck would be arriving within the next 20 minutes, and I could be confident this driver had the required equipment on hand. I had little faith. But when he did finally arrive, putting the car on his truck seemed effortless on his part and we were on our way. It was now 5:00 am. He promptly stopped at a restaurant so I could use the restroom, and I accompanied him on a quick service call he had delayed for mine.
As I watched the sun rise in the city early Sunday morning, I was exhausted and visibly shaken, but more so confused as to why I had been unfortunate enough to have gone through this rattling experience. As I chatted with the driver, an immigrant from India, I discovered he, too, was divorced; he and his ex-wife and children now living apart because they failed to agree on which city to call home.
His story was eerily similar to my own, making me wonder if this night was somehow meant to be. He sounded very much like my ex-husband as he argued his wife chose the comfort of remaining close to her extended family down south rather than moving back with him to New York. My ex similarly argues I chose the comfort of my New Jersey home, rather than relocating permanently to Hong Kong where he wanted to reside. This man, retelling his side of his marriage’s demise, recounted a version I am sure ran contrary to that of his ex-wife. But, as I know, there are two sides to every story and then there is the truth. It is only a matter of what we choose to see.
Making my way back home, I realized I was not unlucky that night but, rather, extremely fortunate. Yes, so much had seemingly gone wrong. But throughout the night there was almost always someone there to help and guide me and I remained safe.
Since my separation, and in certain ways long before that time, I have felt isolated and alone. I often feel I will not make it one more day by myself. Yet I am always reluctant to accept assistance from people when they offer, perhaps out of fear they will not be there for me tomorrow. I am afraid to accept help from others, believing, however misguided I am, that doing so is somehow a show of weakness. I am, in a true sense, afraid to let my guard down believing, often to my own detriment, it is better to be alone than disappointed.
This weekend I realized I have been wrong.
So many people stepped forward for me, from the beginning of the night until the wee hours of the morning. From offers of comfort and support to protection from the cold and harm’s way to emergency childcare, I received a life-affirming message that I am, in fact, not alone.
We are not alone.
And as for that rainbow? Upon further reflection, I must say seeing it was by far the best luck I have had in a long, long time.