The skills of defensive driving

For you, maybe it goes like this:

First real snow of the season. It’s kind of pretty.

Argh, why does everyone forget how to drive in the snow?

Okay, be careful—it’s slippery.


For me, it goes like this:

OH NO, the first real snow of the season. I HATE THIS. I wish I could make it all melt right now. Burn it with fire!


Writes note to husband before work. Quickly adds “love you” because suddenly I’m certain I will of course die while driving today and I don’t want my last words ever to him to be that the dogs need to pee.


Argh, why does everyone forget how to drive in the snow?

(Another round of my favorite song, DEATH, ICE, SLIP, etc)

Drop kid off at school. He tells me it will be fine, that what happened to my dad was a freak accident, that we will not die in a car crash. He gets out of the car but makes sure to tell me he loves me before he closes the door.

I leave the parking lot thinking, well shit, clearly I’m going to die now. The universe knows it. It made him be sure to remember to say that to me FOR THE LAST TIME.

Rational brain attempts to speak up: Excuse me, but you’re an atheist. You don’t put any stock in any knowledge or fate or reason or logic. It’s just a swirling mass of chaotic futility. Anxious brain shouts over rational brain: EVERYTHING IS CHAOS! DEATH! WHEEEE!

Then I drive, white-knuckled, south through the suburbs, glad that at least I’m not going north into the city, as that side of the road is barely moving. I creep along, not listening to a podcast, because I won’t be able to actually hear it over my screaming brain, grateful that today I’m picking up $50 worth of donuts for book club, so at least I’m driving to a fun destination. Focus on donuts.

I make it to work and breathe a sigh of relief, but know that this same loop will happen every single day that there is snow or ice on the ground this winter, no matter how far I’m going, no matter what.

It would appear that the sixth winter after my dad was killed is not the winter I magically stop finding driving terrifying.

So now what?

I run my little happy lamp every morning. This crappy darkness makes my depression worse. I do not need the added drama of my brain screaming at me about a specific way of dying. I use my lamp, I work through some mindfulness and breathing-related bullshit (and no matter how hard I try, my brain just keeps thinking of it as bullshit, even when it works). I take my medicines—all of them, the daily ones, the backup ones, the backup backup ones. I do stuff like sit for hours with a battery-powered brush, cleaning grout or the edges of the bathroom or whatever other weird and obsessive thing my brain tells me would be soothing. I go to bed and watch the cars’ lights zoom by on the highway behind our house. The leaves are all gone now, and since we don’t have backyard neighbors, I never close the curtains, so I can see the cars while I’m in bed. I wake up in the night terrified. I cover my ears when Matthew tells me a story of driving home from work and an ambulance not being able to get through. “STOP!” I shriek at him. It’s grief season. I can’t hear this.

I live in Minnesota. It snows a lot here. I work in a different city than the one I live in. I have to drive. I have to drive in snow. I have to keep going. But what I want to do? What I want to do is put on my favorite jammy pants, the ones with stars, and close my bedroom curtains. I want to climb into bed with all three dachshunds, crank the electric blanket, and sleep until the spring. The dogs would like it. My family and my employer probably would not.


My therapist has me tell myself that the bad thing has already happened. It’s not happening now. It’s not about to happen. But the great thing about brains is that they can think anything. They can understand linear time but still think time is all weird, that everything is always happening, that it loops back over itself, that it’s a Jeremy Bearimy thing going on.


And grief? Grief doesn’t care about logic or breathing or something being in the past or anything. Some days, grief only cares about expanding to fill up the container, overtaking me, blocking out anything else. And when the thing that triggers your grief is something as large and omnipresent as nature and weather? That’s hard to escape.

But I made it through driving on the first really bad roads of the season. And I started the day with $50 worth of donuts on my desk. And I will do this over and over and over, this winter and every future winter, likely not with the support of so many donuts, but I will never not get in my car on a snowy day and think of what happened to my dad. The world is a random, dumb, unfair, ridiculous place. Drive carefully out there.