(Sometimes we are thrust into situations which come without an instructional guide)
My wife sternly admonished me that I should not be telling you this story — that I should be embarrassed by even mentioning it. But, there must be a statute of limitations of some sort for child neglect or parental ineptitude. And besides, our daughter Christina has long since navigated safely beyond her childhood. I can now give you the details about one dark and foggy Sunday evening in November when I first caught sight of the blind lady with a seeing eye dog in my headlights.
My wife was in the front passenger seat and our six-year-old daughter was in the back of a four-door Plymouth sedan. We were heading into town on Route 16 – the Revere Beach Parkway – as a thick mist clung to the windshield. The wipers were on full blast. In the enveloping darkness, visibility was reduced to less than 50 yards. Still there was a steady trickle of vehicles moving along at a good clip.
Picture a curving, long sloping section of a four-lane highway, divided only by a rusted guardrail. No median strip or breakdown lane. No place to pull safely to the side. Muted red brake lights of cars up ahead flash through the dense fog. Drivers are swerving left and right around some obstruction in their path hidden from my view. Now imagine the sudden apparition of a woman walking down the middle of the road, frantically waving her hands as she tried to restrain a fairly large dog on a leash.
Our car was bearing down upon them as I jammed on the brakes. I rolled down my window in haste. “What’s wrong?” I shouted at her as cars kept passing around us at high speeds. “I have to get to the airport. It’s an emergency!” We were all about to be killed or rammed from behind or both. “Get in!”, I ordered. But, she did not open the rear door closest to her. For some reason, she ran to the other side of the vehicle. It was at that moment that I realized that this was no blind woman with a seeing eye dog. It was at that moment when I also remembered that my little girl was in the back seat. And now, one very crazy lady with a large shopping bag and a mangy, smelly mongrel were piling in. She kept screaming “Hurry!, Hurry! Hurry!” So loud that it hurt my ears.
Off we accelerated into the densest of fogs towards Logan International Airport where I knew there was a state police barracks. Although we were only five minutes away, it was the longest five minutes of my life. Gripping the wheel with my right hand, I reached back with my left forearm wedged between the floor and door panel in an attempt to touch my daughter. She was jammed against the back of my seat and the rear door in a doomed attempt to distance herself from an odiferous beast and a cast member from the Fear Channel. I pressed her warm fingers in my palm and gently squeezed several times before she reciprocated. What had I done to my child? What had I done to my wife who kept craning her neck towards Christina while firmly and repeatedly telling the woman that we were almost at the airport. But, we were now trapped in a kind of slow-motion time capsule for a clown-car ride into oblivion. It wasn’t funny.
All kinds of thoughts and emotions flashed through my mind. I thought about pulling over and ejecting the woman from our car. But, I considered that, in light of her agitated state of mind, she might immediately run back out into the stream of oncoming traffic.
“I can hear ticking. There’s a bomb in this car! It’s going to explode!” she wailed.
“No there isn’t.” I shouted back.
“There’s a bomb behind that billboard up there!” she sobbed as she searched for the door handle.
“Don’t you open that door!” I commanded. “We’re almost there now”
I sped to Terminal D where I knew the troopers were stationed.
As soon as I pulled over at their barracks, the woman bolted with her bag and her dog. I jumped out of the car after shifting into park and securing the brake, but she had already vanished up the stairwell of a parking garage. So, I hurried into the station and approached a gray-haired watch commander who sat at a counter high above floor level. I caught my breath. Looking up at him, I got to tell my story and describe the woman as best as I could. He sighed and immediately issued an all-points advisory on a hand-held radio. He sighed once again and asked me to wait so that someone could take down my name and incidentals. Within a minute or two, a voice crackled through the static of an overhead intercom:
“HQ … T9 here….BINGO!! And I got a dog here, too.”
“OK, T9. Detain them.”
For a third and final time, the trooper looked down at me and sighed:
“Son, the next time you find someone like this, please don’t come to us.”
* * * *
I occasionally wonder whether I will ever encounter something like that again. There is a biblical admonition to “watch and pray so that you may not be put to the test”. Maybe I was put to a test of sorts and was found momentarily wanting in the parenting category. But I prefer to believe that there may possibly be one more person on the planet because of my instincts and haphazard intervention. (There is nothing like a comforting rationalization, is there?) Besides, my daughter and wife get much mileage out of this story which always unfolds with an obligatory roll of the eyes while I am supposed to endure their shaming ritual in silence.
And so I sit patiently and placidly, tolerating their exaggerations and embellishments — taking it all in with a benign grin. And when their incredible yarn has been spun down to the last inch and the laughter subsides, I humbly inform the audience that it has given me much delight to serve as a ready source of merriment in the otherwise paltry and humdrum lives of others.
When my time comes and my life’s journey is drawing to an end, I may find myself at a fork in the road — one lane eventually leading up and the other, perhaps, downwards. There may be a fog so thick that I will have no clue of which path to choose. At that point, my guardian angel might consider cutting me some slack for a good deed deposited long ago into my account at the favor bank. And perhaps, there just might be a blind lady with a seeing eye dog waiting there to guide me on my way.
From Boston’s North End, Thomas F. Schiavoni writes about neighborhood life and city living.