It is a perfect sunny spring afternoon, the first warm day of the year, and I am driving the boys over to the west side, driving along and listening to music, and then something is not right. I find I have let loose on the connections between my eyes, my mind, my body, my hands, the steering wheel and suddenly we are out of control and I see the windshield as a frame full of bridge railing.
We are racing toward the edge of the Hawthorne Bridge, screaming over the wide sidewalk, and then there is the railing creaking and breaking as the car struggles against the metal. I grip the steering wheel and press my foot harder on the brake, but there is nothing I can do to stop it. The balance has shifted and it is too late. I have already lost control and we have been set upon our course as if on tracks leading over the side.
We tip and go over the edge, the nose of the car reaching for the shining sparkling water and we are slumped forward in our seats in a free fall that stretches out to feel like an hour as I wait for the impact of car upon water.
I struggle to sit upright so I can roll up the windows. Once we hit the power will be shorted out and the windows won't work. I push the wrong button and the doors lock. I quickly unlock them again, then in a surreal leap of logic I reason that they should be locked because I don't want the water coming in so I lock them once more and begin rolling up all the windows at once. They rise so slowly and--what I was thinking? --I stop fussing with the windows and once again unlock the doors because we will need to open the doors to escape.
Just what am I planning on doing, anyway?
Again I return to the windows and as I work the buttons I look out and the water is right there, filling my vision.
We land...softly...in slow motion. Why? Perhaps because getting knocked out would make it all end quickly, we could die without suffering, or have the possibility of being rescued without having struggled. Too simple, too easy. The nose of the car dips down before the car begins floating on the water, slowly rotating and starting to move a little with the current.
We are going to go under.
The windows are now up, and I try to gather myself together.
The boys are playing in the back, safely in their car seats and uninjured in the fall. They are sharing their toys and I am relieved they aren't panicked but just how in the world am I going to be able to swim with the two of them? My mind races to find the solution and I tell myself I am just going to have to do it, to get them out and swim and if I do it, it might just work because it has to.
I can hear the sound of water dripping in from somewhere and the car is going under. Outside of the car, the water is coming up the windows. We will be swallowed up by the Willamette. But I know what to do; I saw it once on Oprah. I look for a pen. I try the ashtray, the glove box, under the seat. There is a pen in my purse, I finally remember, and I search through receipts and chocolate bits and pull out my black ballpoint.
The water is halfway up the window now and I can see green cloudy rays of sunshine slanting under the water and birds and boats and the grassy slope on the bank of the river above the water. We are now more under than over and I fight the panic that is making my legs shake and I try to slow my breathing.
The boys are beginning to notice something isn't quite right.
Is there anything in the car that can be used as a flotation device? A water bottle. Two water bottles. If I tied two water bottles together, would they hold up a small five-year-old? I look for something to use to tie them together and at the same time I see water covering the floor of the car.
I feel it penetrating my shoes.
I tie the water bottles with the handles of a canvas bag. Somehow it works. Okay. I must unbuckle the car seats. I climb to the back and get to work on the latches. John is free. I tell him to sit up front and he does. Jeremy is free. I send him up front.
The water is up to the seats and we can no longer see outside. It is dark. We are in a submersible, falling into an abyss. I fear we will never be seen again. No one has noticed, no one will ever notice. We'll lie here at the bottom of the river for thousand years.
I clutch the pen and try to teach the boys how to hold their breath. Jeremy understands but can he do it? John doesn't understand at all and I hope he will hold it instinctively. I look at the point of the pen. Do I wait or do it now? Do I do it?
Do I have to do it already?
I'd better not wait till we are any deeper.
With the force and determination only a mother could summon, I jam the pen into the center of the driver's side window, and water doesn't just pour in, it doesn't flow in, it is a sensation more like...slamming me in the face, sending pieces of broken glass onto my face and arms. I am coughing and gasping and getting only water, which has been forced up my nose as if sprayed and then I have my face at the top of the car searching for air, any air, and I get some, enough just to fill my lungs, and I grab the kids' arms. The water won't let me out. They are in the water now and I can't get out. I can't get out. They are under water and I can't get up through the window, the water won't let us out where I need to go, they aren't breathing I need to get OUT. The water has filled the car and the boys are not breathing.
I grab them and pull us through the broken window working with my legs as I hold them under my arms and I push off for the surface. I can see the patches of blue shimmer at the top of the dark green and I kick for it, I kick and my legs feel so useless and weak I need flippers. I kick and kick and it is working but oh so slow, kicking kicking and rising and we are almost there and I kick as I am dying with my legs engulfed by cold flames and I am kicking and we break the surface. Are they breathing? I can't look. They are in my arms and I kick and tread the water and yell but there is no one and the banks are so far away.
Are they breathing?
I jostle them as I struggle to keep us floating, nothing to hang onto but my babies, the water bottles forgotten which were probably useless anyway but, no, there they are right next to me. I grab them and they do help the floating a little, just a little. I hold the boys and kick for shore.
It always stops right there.
Feedback is welcome (where to put feedback, I don't know/remember). What works, what flows and what doesn't? Which parts are unclear or confusing? What sort of distance do you feel from "me" in this story? Did I get you into my head, into the car, or did I leave you out there somewhere? Thank you!