On driving in snow

About ten years ago now, I was visiting my family in Louisville over the Christmas holidays. My brother and I had spent the evening with my uncle at his place, and we were heading back to our parents’ house late at night. It was snowing heavily and the roads were slick, not yet cleared by plows or gritters. We were on the Watterson, a dual-carriageway ring road, with an exit approaching in the distance, about… oh help me out here, I can’t do spatial quantities: would it have been 40 yards maybe? Beyond the metal barriers at the side of the road, down in the distance below, we could see sign-lit industrial blocks and car parks, places where the highway exit was leading to.

There were only a couple other cars on the road with us, and one of them must have been trying to make the exit. My memory is blurry here: had that car ahead overtaken us, trying to go around, or to get past another? All I remember vividly is how time and space together congealed into slow motion, as it skidded in the snow and veered directly across our path, spinning around 45 degrees and heading straight at the barrier rails, toward the drop to the streets and car park below. I remember how calm, how detached I felt, as I pumped the brake: I learned to drive in a city with serious snowfalls, and how to prevent a skid was one of the first things we were taught. The other car slid past us and stopped a few feet from the edge. Our own car stopped a few feet from its flank. You couldn’t have filmed a more eloquent sequence if you’d tried.

My brother unbuckled and got out immediately, approached the other vehicle. I could see him through the windscreen as the snow continued to fall, could hear him asking the other people if they were ok. Other cars behind us had stopped too, and I could hear someone else calling out to him. He came back over and got in beside me, pulled the door shut, reached for the buckle, snapped it in place. We watched the other car back up slowly and turn itself the right way round, but it didn’t get back onto the road. It remained pulled over at the shoulder, its driver needing some time to regain composure before rejoining the highway traffic.  So we moved on, back along the road, back on our way.

The thing that I can’t remember in this memory is what, if anything, my brother and I said to one another. We must have said something. Did he ask me if I was ok, as easily as he asked a stranger? Did I ask him? Did we comment on the experience, review what had happened? Of course we did, we must have, there’s no way we could have shared that experience and not remarked upon it. But I can’t remember. All the words have been edited out. They will have been inadequate to the occasion, inconsequential to what really happened. In my family, like in many families, we find it nearly impossible to talk about things that matter. All I’m left with are the visuals, and the resounding quiet of those few slow-crawling seconds as that car cut across our path, and my feeling of calm, of detachment.

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