You know something is wrong when your mother is clinging to your hand so tightly, your hand looks as white as a ghost.
The trip so far had been fantastic. We’d been here before many times; my first time I was still in my mother’s womb. Yet everything had changed drastically when the car wouldn’t start.
My mother had purchased an old white Ford station wagon from my grandfather when I was just an infant. We’d had the car for years and until recently it had always served us faithfully.
The journey from our suburban New Jersey town to the point of Cape Cod, Massachusetts took us approximately seven hours; this included several stops for restrooms and snacks. Now into day six of our week-long family vacation, and the station wagon finally decided that it had had enough.
We were stranded late at night in an abandon parking lot that catered to a normally vibrant shopping center. A truck with two teenage kids had found us a few hours ago, but their jump didn’t work. Now we sat, waiting for the AAA tow truck that promised to find us two hours ago.
The past six days had been spent casually relaxing on the beach, aimlessly shopping in small seaside boutiques and carefully exploring some of the Cape’s best nature trails. Even though I’ve been here before, every time we come there is something new and exciting.
The AAA truck was still no where in sight, but I was getting tired and so was my older brother. My dad saw a bus stop across the street from the parking lot and told my mom to take us back to the house we were renting. He could wait for the tow truck by himself.
My mom stiffened as the bus finally arrived and we walked onto the air-conditioned cabin. There weren’t that many people on the bus at this time of night, but the expression on my mother’s face told me that she didn’t trust those who were. A guy to our left was talking nonsense to himself and a woman to our right had no teeth; a third guy with an eye patch sat in the back and watched us intently. Holding my hand with her left and my brother’s hand with her right, she led us to the first bench seat.
My father had given her instructions for how to get home. Although we’d been to this area many times, we had never needed public transportation. We needed to change buses at a depot some fifteen minutes from where we were picked up. The depot was full of people, many of whom seemed to be sleeping there for the night. The smell of the depot was not pleasant, so we stood near a window. If my mother wasn’t alert with anxiety before, she certainly was now.
At some point we made it back to our rental, my hand still numb because my mother had never let go of it. Dad got back shortly after us, announcing that the car was safely towed to the nearest shop.
The next few days we walked to the places we still needed to see. The station wagon needed to stay in the shop for a few days, so we ended up extending our vacation a little longer. It was nice to have some more time on the Cape, but after all we’d been through, we were happy to go home.
Luckily the station wagon made it back to New Jersey, but later that week Mom got to go car shopping for a new mini van. We’ve been back to Cape Cod since then, but every time we’re there and a bus drives by, my mom gets a little stiffer until it’s fully out of sight.
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