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Friday, 4:45 PM

I

It's 4:45 pm and you're stuck on Interstate 370. For all you know, I could be the cause of today's daily traffic jam. You're just some blue-collar worker and the only thing on your mind is getting home to your crabby wife and two unruly kids for the weekend. It's not that you don't love your family, but some things just start to get on your nerves after almost twenty-five years of marriage. It didn't seem like anything could go wrong back then. You were just a young bachelor in love. You were on top of the world, though all that would eventually change. Your company went through a series of layoffs, your kids started growing up, and your wife found out about the affair. Luckily for you, she wanted to work things out; and eight years later, you're still together...100% faithful, or so you think.

Chances are, today I'm the dumb idiot that lost focus on my driving while yelling at my college intern on the cell phone. Now I'm knocked unconscious while my car is strewn across the highway, blocking all but one lane of traffic. The cars slowly drive by, the inhabitants' morbid curiosity controlling them and forcing them to stare...at me, at my pathetic life. Do any of these people know me?...of course not. But that doesn't stop them from staring. Why? Who knows. Maybe it’s just their morbid curiosity? Or maybe it’s something deeper? Something deep down inside them that causes them to feel sympathy for my poor pathetic soul lying there helpless in the middle of the highway. Though more than likely, it's just a reality check that, on any given day, they could be me in the same exact situation; with the passersby thinking the same about themselves. So while everyone's passing me and taking a reality check, this accident is my reality. I'm stuck out in the middle of the highway, my life hanging in the balance, forcing everyone to drive at a dreadful pace while they wait for the EMV's (Emergency Medical Vehicles) to come and clean up my mess.

And so you sit there, three and a half miles back of the accident, following the pace car ahead of you on Route 370 like they do at the Indy 500, only you're going what seems to be two miles an hour and you'd rather be anywhere in the world instead of here in this god awful traffic jam. You follow all these other cars filled with other people all going their own separate ways. Do you ever think to smile and wave hello to any of these people? Of course not, why would you? They're complete strangers who'll think you're a crazy man. And these people feel the same way about waving to you.

But what if? What if you waved hello to one of these people? Would they really think you're crazy, or just some friendly person being nice? Perhaps they may even wave hello back. And, after the return wave, you'd both go back to worrying about getting home; only now, you'd have a smile on your face. And what if everyone did this? What if everyone waved to just one other person? Then there would be less anger...more contentment; and instead of the constant honking, you'd just hear the low rumble of the surrounding car engines and possibly even a bird or two crying out overhead.

But alas, none of this occurs, and you're just stuck sitting there, honking your horn along with everyone else...waiting for whoever's in front of you to move forward that extra inch so you feel like you've accomplished something; though, in reality, all you're doing is crawling through life inch by inch.

II

While sitting there, you start to look around at the surrounding cars and notice for the first time all the different bumper stickers on them. You yourself have never put any on your own cars, thinking only of the tackiness they emit. But, that doesn't mean you can't have some fun with everyone else's. You decide to play a little game and try to imagine the other drivers' lives, using their bumper stickers as clues into how they live their lives. You start off with a real easy one: WWJD. Religious, conservative, "the golden rule"...but this game is becoming dull real fast. You want to picture the person's life, not their personality. This turns out to be more difficult than you first thought. What can you think of a person's life from a WWJD sticker? Minister? Nun? Who knows? What you need is another clue. You catch a glimpse of the driver. Ahh, now you're getting somewhere. It's a woman who appears to be in her mid-late 20's, dressed in a business suit with her blond hair pulled neatly back behind her head.

Well, at least now you have a start, and if nothing else, at least the business suit eliminated your nun theory. But you still have no real insights as to what her life entails. So, you look to her car for more clues. Ah-ha! You find a "Baby On Board" sign in the side-rear window. Now you're starting to get somewhere. Now this game is starting to be fun.

You picture her going home and having everything you don't, but wish you did: a loving spouse, a child that still idolizes its parents...even just a house that won't take all weekend to clean up. You can just imagine what she'll be doing with all her extra time this weekend that you'll be spending to clean your home. You picture her and her husband taking their child to the zoo for the day so he can see a tiger or an elephant for the first time. The thought of that look of pure joy on the child's face when he sees that tiger or elephant brings you an equally pure smile. You wish your kids still had that innocence about them. Though instead, you're stuck with determining how to punish your 15-year old daughter for drinking and your 13-year old son for failing his third math test in the past two months. Just the thought of all your problems back home manages to wipe the smile off your face as your frustration with this traffic jam continues to grow.

Your mind thinks back to the affair. Why did you even do it? It’s not like you didn’t still love your wife. Heck, she’s always been the best thing that’s ever happened to you. So why did you do it? Well, sometimes you just can’t point to one thing and say that was what caused it. Maybe you wanted a sense of adventure, maybe you thought your wife was giving the kids too much attention, who knows. The point is that, for whatever reason, it happened; and now you’ve had to deal with it for eight long years. You were lucky that you already had the kids. As much as your wife loved you at the time, you know the main reason that she stayed with you was because she didn’t want the kids growing up in a broken family. Not that she didn’t think they would succeed in life if a divorce happened, but your wife has always done all that she could to make sure your two kids had the very best that she could give them.

You start to think about how you would handle the situation if your wife was the one having the affair. Would you be so forgiving? You really dug yourself into a hole with this one because if she ever did have an affair, you’d almost have to forgive her since she forgave you. In a way, you gave her a "have a free affair" card that she can play on you anytime she wants. Sure, you’ve done everything in your power over the last eight years to show her that you’re sorry and to prove that she’s the only one you really love. But that may not be enough. You think about all the late nights your wife has been working during the past few months and wonder if she really would pull out that card on you. Surely she knows the pain that you caused her and she would never be able to throw that pain back at you…right? Well, why not? What makes you so invincible that makes you think that you can hurt other people and not be hurt yourself? You can only hope that your wife actually has been working late at the office. Though, it doesn’t do you any good to worry about it right now since there’s nothing you can do about it at the moment anyway.

WATCH OUT! You snap back into reality just in time to slam on your breaks before you crash into the back of some maniac's car. It seems she managed to find just enough room between you and the car ahead of you to squeeze in so that she might save twenty seconds from her journey home. "Man, what a bitch," you think to yourself as you try to calm your racing heart. "Why do people do stuff like that? Don't they know how much trouble that shit can cause?…apparently not.

Heck, just this morning you remember yourself becoming so impatient with the car ahead of you only going forty in a thirty-five that you put the pedal to the floor and passed that "slow" sedan, only to come upon a red light not more than thirty seconds later. And when you turned onto the highway four miles down the road, sure enough, that damn sedan was right behind you. "Impatience gets control of all of us at some time or another," you concede and your mind goes back to your bumper sticker game...though not before you give the woman ahead of you a friendly wave and a smile.

As you're scouting out other cars, you notice a couple in one of the cars arguing with each other. You have no idea what they are arguing about, though you know it must be about something important since you can tell by the expressions in their faces that they are yelling at each other. After about a minute, a little girl of about seven years (looks like their daughter) sits up in the back seat and says something to her parents. The father immediately turns around and shouts something at the girl. Whatever he said must have made an impact because she sat right back in her seat and the mother shouted something back at the father. Well, the father must not have liked what his wife said because he responded with a slap to her face that sent her into tears. "What the hell is going on here," you ask yourself as you're watching this spectacle.

Five minutes later, you're still asking yourself "Why," as you see the wife, now cowering as far away from her husband as she possibly can, leaning up against the door crying her eyes out. Why does she put up with it? Why does he need to resort to physical violence? Why were they yelling in front of their child in the first place? Some things you'll never understand. All you can do is take comfort in knowing that you never raised a hand to your wife or kids. Though maybe the emotional pain you've caused your family is worse than the physical pain of a simple slap to the face. You think of your wife and her devastation after she found out about the affair. You think of how your kids must have felt when their mother told them they were taking a long vacation at grandma's house. Why wasn't their father coming with them? Well, "Daddy needed some time to himself." How long would it be until they saw him again? Well, "That was up to him."

You imagine how a child, your child, would feel after being told that it had no control as to when it might possibly see its father again. Maybe that slap wasn't so terrible. Granted, physically abusing your wife is never a good thing; but compared to all the other horrible things that husbands do, is a little slap to the face really that awful? Hopefully you'll never need to find out.

III

You pass by the crash site...the EMV's have already taken me away, and my car's been towed. There's no sign of the accident and you're left not knowing a thing about what caused your thirty-minute delay. Not knowing I was in an accident. Not knowing anything about what condition I'm in. Not even knowing I exist. I could be dead; but you'd never know, never care. And why should you? Why should you worry or care about everyone else's life? What good will it do? I don't know you and your sympathies for me won't help me in the least. That woman you waved to doesn't care if a stranger waves to her. Heck, chances are she probably thought you were making some obscene gesture. You think that woman with the baby cares that you think she has it all? Hell no! Granted, she may think it nice; but more than likely, she'll just ramble off a list of things that you have better than she does. And the woman that was slapped by her husband? She'd probably just tell you to mind your own business (and her husband probably would too). So, what is the point? Why do you care? Well, I'll tell you why. It's because you can't help it. It's human nature to care, no matter how much the other party doesn't want you to. You think I want everyone coming to my funeral, bawling about how "it wasn't fair...it wasn't my time to go yet"? Sure, I accept and appreciate the fact that all these people care about me, but I don't want them to cry over me. I want them to continue on with their lives and realize that shit happens and sometimes you just have to deal with it. Life goes on with or without you caring about everyone else. So, in that sense, I guess you could say: "Life sucks"; because human nature has control of us all. Impatience controlled the driver that squeezed in ahead of you. Human nature gave that woman the desire to have a baby. It gave that man the need to prove to his wife that he was "in control". And it forces you to care about everyone. None of us can escape it. If we could, I would've been able to control my anger and been able to pay more attention to my driving. And then who knows what might have happened. Maybe my wife wouldn't need to tell my children tonight why their daddy's never coming home again.

So, as you drive past the accident site, now driving comfortably at sixty-two miles per hour, your mind starts to wander back to your family...your family. You never thought of it before; but it sounds so good, you having something so special and sacred as a family all to yourself. And, you vow to yourself never to let anything take that away from you again. After your experiences and discoveries today, you decide that you’re not going to give your wife a chance to use that free affair card on you. Screw the house cleaning for a weekend, you're going to make a new start tomorrow by taking your wife and kids to the zoo. Though just make sure to keep your focus on the road for the time being ...you're not ready to follow my fate quite yet.

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Email: corzine@udel.edu