We were all set to undergo a mandatory procedure that one of my colleagues described as “more painful than giving birth” with no pain killers. She’d had multiple children, two of them twins, and she said she’d rather do labor over than undergo 30 seconds of that procedure. Those who had it done suffered headaches, bleeding, and swelling about the face for days afterwards. Many left the room in tears due to the pain. So, when there was a test i could take that might exempt me from this procedure, you’d better believe i was going to take it! The problem was that there were no labs near me, in the middle of nowhere. I would have to drive in to the nearest major city to get my blood drawn at a lab. They had shortened hours of operation due to the virus so when i learned of the existence of this test i realized i had to hurry. It would take me at least an hour to get there. I yanked on clothes and grabbed my purse. I locked the chickens and the dogs up and set out for the city. Though it was dry in my little town, the city i was headed to was experiencing epic storms. The first clue was the white out rain. It was raining so hard and so heavily that i literally could see nothing through my windshield. I couldn’t tell if i was on the road anymore. I couldn’t tell if there were cars in front or back of me. All i saw was white. The rain was a deafening roar in my ears. My mind wrestled with the idea of turning back. Under any other circumstances it would have been a no-brainer. I would have turned back. The storm was an epic one. There was going to be flooding all over the city, and i couldn’t see what i was driving into. Driving blind was a bad idea. I should have turned back, but the stakes were so high, i couldn’t. I kept telling myself, “how bad do you want it? How bad do you want this test, because nothing of worth is handed to you without a fight.” I should have pulled over but had i done that i would have missed the hours of operation and my chance to get the test done would have been dashed. So, i stared unblinking into that white windshield until my eyes burned, catching a glimpse of the trees alongside the road every once in a while, assuring me that i was still somewhat on the road. Eventually i made it into the main part of the city i was headed for. While stopped at a traffic light the rain eased up. I noticed a mass of loose wispy clouds rotating directly above and to the left of my car. They appeared to be going round in a circular motion but the mass was so large i couldn’t really tell where the other half of it ended. I thought maybe it was just a part of the storm. I was always thinking i was seeing funnels as a kid and then teachers or my dad would point out that though the cloud was curving, it was not going in a complete circle and was not in fact a funnel at all. So i brushed the thought aside and continued driving. As soon as i left the stop light the rain picked up again, with a new force and fury i couldn’t have imagined. I was about to give up when the gps told me i’d made it to my destination. The street i had to turn onto was completely flooded and the parking lot was slanted down to the street where it was dumping loads of water. I waited until no cars were coming and then i floored it into the river of a street, just making it to the parking lot, the dash board indicating that the back tires had lost traction and the car drifting a bit before catching on pavement and lifting up onto the hill. I trudged upwards for a bit and then realized that was not going to work. I would have to go sideways. The car was sliding back down the hill of the parking lot towards the street i had just crossed to get there, pushed by the rushing water spilling over the hill and down toward the street at the bottom of the parking lot. I turned the wheel and steered the car diagonally into a few parking spots with a curb in front of them. My tires hit the curb though my foot was firmly on the brake. I waited until the rain had tapered just a bit and then i made my break for it, turning the tires and moving further sideways towards another part of the parking lot. I went around a fast food business and up towards the back of the parking lot. I saw the lab i was trying to go to. The parking lot was full of a good 2 inches of rushing water headed down the steep hill. I saw that some cars had probably been relocated by the water as i didn’t think anyone with a brain would actually park that close to another car, much less find a way to get out of it afterwards. I picked a parking spot where my car would be facing the direction the water was going and the front tires would be firmly against a curb. The water pushed the car as i tried to line it up between two cars and i ended up more to the left than i intended to be. I tried to reverse and straighten out but the car kept losing traction and wouldn’t go backwards. With each attempt i went backwards slightly and then lurched forwards, smashing into the curb with my front tires. I decided i was parked close enough to straight and put the car in park. I put the parking brake on, as if that would do any good in the current situation. Then i realized i had been holding my breath for the last 20 miles, taking infrequent and shallow gasps of air. I released my lungs and took a deep breath…stretching my aching fingers that had been white knuckling the steering wheel for half an hour. I looked out the window. I could see people waiting in the lobby at the lab. There were two of them. I needed to go there. But how? It was raining so hard that i knew, even putting my purse under my jacket, my phone, my blood pressure cuff, my key fob…it would all immediately be drenched. I knew there was a good chance the rushing water would knock me down when i stepped out the car and that would soak everything electronic on my person. It was a chance i had to take. I put my phone in my purse, put my purse under my shirt, zipped my jacket over it, and gripped my key fob in my hand. I had rolled my pants up to my knees. I stepped out of the car into the flood water gushing across the parking lot and was immediately freezing. The water came higher up my leg than expected and my rolled pants fell down and became drenched. As the wetness crept up my pants leg my sandal was swept off my foot. I managed to grab it. I locked the car door and waded through the water in the pouring rain and bone-shaking thunder until i made it to the covered sidewalk in front of the lab. I hoisted myself up out of the water and onto the side walk where i squatted to put my sandal back on. I checked my purse. The outside was wet but the inside was dry. I closed it again to keep it that way. My clothes were drenched through and through. My pants stuck to my skin and my jacket was heavy and dripping. I rung the fabric out as best i could without taking it off and proceeded into the lab. I had worn a mask and a buff over it under my jacket hood. Both were wet. I followed the instructions to sign in, sat in the freezing a/c on a blue plastic chair, and then followed a medical assistant back to a room when my name was called. They weighed me. I was 98 lbs. i had lost a few. I hoisted myself into the designated chair and the lady began wrapping a rubber tie around my arm. I tried to make small talk but she wasn’t interested. She was a pro and i had good veins. She was done in no time and it was the most painless blood draw i had ever experienced. I told her so, as i had worked alongside nurses for a long time and i knew that finding a vein, getting the needle in the vein, and holding the needle steady all required skill and that level of skill and experience would determine the level of discomfort the victim felt during the process. She thanked me for the compliment and told me i was free to go as they would bill my insurance first and then contact me with the remaining amount. I had done it. I had made it during business hours. I had managed to qualify for and obtain a doctor’s order for the test. I had gotten it done and had record of doing so. The results would be in my email in a matter of days. I felt very accomplished in that moment, but my journey was far from over. I was a long way from home, in a very heavy car with bad tires in horrific weather. I was eager to get the car out of the parking lot before the water got any more aggressive on its race downhill. The car was where i’d left it against the curb. I had to go through water that came an inch above my ankle to get to it. Once i was in i put all my things down, took my jacket off, and took a moment to collect myself. I had to try to get home. I was way in over my head but i had to get that test before they closed. I told myself “you can do this.” I said a little prayer to God and asked him to protect the car from the storm and the water. Then, i put the key in the ignition and with slippery fingers i turned the car on. I had left the radio on and there was a voice coming from the speaker “A tornado was indicated by radar in the boerne area. All individuals in the boerne area should seek immediate shelter. Move towards interior rooms. Stay away from windows. Seek shelter immediately. A radar indicated tornado is presently located on…”. It said something about which side of the highway the tornado was on but i wasn’t listening because i was busy connecting the dots that the highway the radio spoke of was the one i had seen the giant rotating mass of clouds next to. I had shrugged it off thinking it must just be some part of the storm that was curving under or something. Now that the radio spoke of a tornado in the area, i realized i had probably been watching the beginning of that tornado forming at the stop light. I suddenly remembered how large the area of sky that was churning had been. If this had materialized into a tornado, it was going to be a big one. My blood went cold. Outside the windows it was more of the same. White. I thought about finding a mcdonalds and just getting a bite to eat, waiting the storm out so that i didn’t have to drive in it. I was soooooo hungry, as i had skipped food of any sort to hop in the car and make sure i made it to the lab before they closed. I was almost to the mcdonalds but the entry ramp to the parking lot was flooded and i couldn’t get the car in. I had to turn around and try for the other side of the parking lot, located higher on the hill. I made it around but none of the cars in the other lane would let me cross. I finally gave up and drove on. I thought about looking for a different fast food restaurant but ultimately i convinced myself it would have been irresponsible. With a mammoth tornado rolling around boerne, i needed to get out of there! I put the car back on the road and headed in the direction of home. More blinding white-out rain. I couldn’t see anything. And that’s when it happened. I was driving alongside the access road to the highway, right near where the tornado first developed, when the driving part…stopped. Then i was…floating. I realized, to my horror, that i had driven right into a body of water. I couldn’t even see how deep it was. My windows were still white. I tried to steer towards the edge of the access road. I wasn’t floating anymore but i had traded floating for stuck. I had driven into the mud underneath the water. Now i was really in trouble. The kia sportage was a good car to be in if one was in an accident. It was built like a tank. It was heavy…low to the ground…little risk of rolling over… it was not a great car to be in if one was traveling through flood water. It was low to the ground and heavy. I knew i was screwed, and it was thoroughly stuck. Whether i attempted to drive, reverse, or turn, i was going nowhere. I put on my hazards. That seemed like the first logical thing to do; make sure other drivers didn’t rear end me in the blinding rain. I noticed suddenly that my hands were shaking. It was eerily quiet in the car save for the deafening roar of rain that my brain had somehow tuned out completely. All i could hear was silence and then a ringing in my head. It was as if i was trying to operate the controls of an airplane while on acid. I was trying to pull it together but i’d lost my brain somewhere in the storm and i was just kind of floating around, looking at the situation, almost as if i wasn’t me but was watching me wondering what that person down there was going to do to get out of this one. I snapped back to reality, whacking myself in the face, “pull it together!” The car was still on. That meant the water hadn’t reached the engine yet. The rain was not slacking and in fact became harder against the roof of the car. I opened the door to see how high the water was. It was right at the bottom of the car. As i looked over i recognized the problem, the reason i was doomed to lose the car. The city had been doing construction on the highway. The rain had washed all the loose dirt down the hill, which was what my car was thoroughly lodged in. To the left of my car, at the bottom of the hill from the highway, they had erected a temporary concrete wall alongside the access road. There were no holes in it for drainage. The water was at least a foot deep against the concrete wall and with nowhere for that water coming down the hill to drain, it would keep collecting at the concrete wall until it was tall enough to spill over. By then my car would be buried. It suddenly hit me. I had to get out of the car. I had to leave the car and make a break for it before i couldn’t get the windows down, before the weight of the water held the doors shut. I knew people who had lost siblings, children, cousins, friends in flash flood waters. I knew how quickly it could happen. In remote areas, often times rescue crews couldn’t get to trapped ranchers before it was too late and they were found deceased in their truck at the low water crossing the following morning, nothing but a recording of their last words on the 911 call to offer the family. As the rain poured harder against the roof, i tried to think. I placed a call to 911 as i gathered my purse, my keys, my phone, and my gps. I hooked my jacket on my head, hoping to shield my purse with it, though i knew there was a good possibility everything would go in the water the moment i stepped down. I opened the door again to look. This time the water was right at my sandal, just under the ledge of the door. I heard the woman’s voice, “911 what is your emergency?” I answered, “i’m in my car. I’m stuck in flood water along the highway in boerne. I think i’m going to have to get out.” She asked me all sorts of questions about my location. She asked what side of the highway i was on. I tried my best to tell her. She said she thought she knew where i was and was sending someone. She told me to get out of the car if i still could. I said, “i will.” She said, “someone is on the way” and hung up. I always thought they were supposed to wait on the phone with you until help arrived but i was relieved she was gone because i was going to try to get out of the car and that would take both hands. At last minute i thought to grab my car insurance card from the center console. I don’t know why. I would have been better off saving the n95 masks. Why on earth would i not think to grab those?! All 4 of them were in the sinking car. But alas, i didn’t think of them. I flung the door open and hopped down into the water. It wasn’t as deep as i thought. It turned out the kia was just very low to the ground. Good for me, bad for the kia. Dear kia, maybe make higher cars, thanks. yours truly, otherwise satisfied customer. As soon as i had stepped down into the water i realized why the car became stuck when i steered it towards the edge of the water. My foot went into alarmingly sticky mud. I immediately lost one of my sandals and had to hold my purse on my back while fishing around in the water trying to feel where it was stuck in the mud. I took my sandals off and carried them. I was trying to reach the bank, higher ground, and get out of the water. Each step was a marathon of effort. My feet sank ankle deep into the mud and pulling each foot loose threatened to knock me off balance, landing my purse full of electronics in the water. When i finally made it to the bank, the rain stopped. Just like that. Not another drop fell. I was thankful for that fact because it meant better chances for the car, but it was ironic that by the time help arrived some of the water had drained from around the car, there was no blinding rain, and people currently driving through the flood water just fine wanted to know how i hadn’t seen what i was driving into when i had gotten stuck. My brain was too frazzled to make an argument so i just stood there. Since it had stopped raining i took my phone out and snapped a picture of the car for insurance purposes later, as i wasn’t sure at this point if the water would have damaged the engine.
A white pick up truck arrived. The man rolled down the window and shouted, “you stuck?” I wanted to say, “no shit, sherlock” but as he was there to save me i thought i’d better keep my mouth shut and try to be agreeable. I shouted, “yes!” He said, “Can you get back in? If you can get back in i’ll put my truck up against the front of your car and push you out backwards.” I nodded my head vigorously. Oh yes, yes please, oh yes do save the car and not just me! The detail i’d forgotten to mention was that in four months the kia sportage would be completely paid off; no car payment; outright mine. It would be so disappointing to lose the car to flood water four months before paying it off completely. I said, “give me a minute”. He said, “take your time.” I carefully navigated my way back through the mud. The water wasn’t quite as deep now and it was still instead of moving. I made it to the car and opened the passenger door. I hoisted myself in. I knew what was going to happen.
I was covered in mud. as i hoisted myself into the car the mud from my feet and legs smeared all over the floor, the seats, the center console, the cup holders…i was depositing thick globs of mud everywhere. I couldn’t stop to think about it. I had a bigger problem at hand. I had to get the car out while the guy in the pick up was still willing to help me. He too was less than impressed with my driving skills. I wished i had thought to tell him the windshield was just a view of blinding white when i got the car stuck in the first place. I turned the car on and put it in reverse. It still turned on. That was a good sign that the water hadn’t gotten high enough to reach the engine. The guy yelled out his window, “you steer, i’ll drive.” I said, “okay!” He pulled his truck up to my suv ever so slowly and bumped it, making contact with the front of the kia and dislodging me from the mud. He didn’t seem to want to put his truck too far near the mud. He kept waving me to the right, right more, right more (which would have been my left because i was traveling backwards). I was too exhausted and frazzled to put words to why i would rather drive down the center of the road, so i remained silent, unable to even process my own reasoning and thoughts, operating on instinct, while he became more and more annoyed with me. Later i would realize that i hadn’t wanted to move more towards his right because his truck was driving and i was only steering. I could not control how fast we were going or if we could stop for a minute. His truck was pushing me and i was steering but the dashboard still read “lost traction”. I was still in the water. I was drifting to the right naturally though i wasn’t steering that way. I made a concrete attempt to steer to the left as the water pushed me to the right and his truck continued to push me backwards. I was getting dangerously close to scraping that concrete wall and i didn’t like it one bit. I had no interest in playing bumper cars with a concrete wall. So as annoyed and frustrated as it made my savior, i kept trying to steer the car towards the middle of the road. Eventually, my tires touched ground and i broke free from the hold of the truck, putting some space between our vehicles. I backed up some more and then turned into the methodist hospital parking lot. I waved an emphatic thank you for rescuing the car kind of wave and he drove off. I parked the car in the hospital parking lot and got out. I couldn’t believe any of that had just happened. I couldn’t believe i had gotten away with the car in tow! I could see a few spots where the paint was chipped and the license plate holder was broken. The license plate itself was bent from where the truck had pushed the car out. I knew i had some “ford gray” car paint in the tool shed and i was pretty sure i could find it. I would apply it upon arriving home to prevent the car from rusting where the metal was exposed. I bent the license plate back into shape. I didn’t think the holder was necessary to tinker with. It wasn’t essential so i left it flapping in the wind. Perhaps if it loosened a bit more i would pull it off. I kept a whataburger cup of emergency water in the drivers side door. Now i used it to wash the mud off my feet and hands and get the big chunks off of the seat i had to sit in to drive home. I was a bundle of nerves but outside the rain had ceased, the sky had lightened, and it was as if it had never happened. The furious storm had come and gone. It was so strange. All of a sudden it was done. I got in the car and began the long drive home, trying to ignore the symphony of unpleasant sensations happening to my body as the mud dried on my limbs and the clothes remained wet and sticky, soaking the seat beneath me.
I called my friend Monica and pulled over on the side of the road to tell her what happened. It seemed so unreal. I had to tell someone just to process it. As i was talking to her a cop car going the opposite direction threw on its brake lights. I sighed. The red and blues switched on and here he came behind me. I said, “hold on Monica, the cops are here.” She said, “the cops?” I said, “yeah, this day just gets better and better.” the cop adjusted his belt and tapped on my window. I rolled it down. He said, “car trouble?” I answered, “no, i dont have cell reception in my town so i wanted to finish this conversation on the phone with my friend before heading home.” He chuckled, “oh! Okay, okay.” He told me to have a good day and walked back to his car. However, he didn’t pull off right away. It made me nervous, like maybe there was some law i didn’t know about that made it illegal to linger in non-parking-spot places alongside the road. I hurried to finish my conversation with my friend, though i hadn’t spoken with her in a while and really wanted to talk more. I then made the last leg of the journey home. The landscape in my town was dry as a bone.
I let the dogs out and made sure the chickens had water. I went to the shed and found the “ford gray” touch up paint pen. I painted over all the exposed metal spots at the front of the car. Then i filled a bucket with water and scrubbed at the car seats as much as i could. I never got all of it off. I cleaned up the floor and the center console as best i could with baby wipes dipped in water. Then i stripped all my clothes off and took a shower. I put a pitcher on the shower floor and dunked my pants into it. I tried to stand over it so the soap and shampoo made it into the pitcher to be used on the pants. The water in the pitcher turned brown. Each time i dumped the pitcher out and filled it with fresh water it turned brown again as soon as i began churning it. It took me a good half hour of churning but i got all the mud out of the pants. This was important because at this time pants didn’t grow on trees and they would have to be worn regardless of whether they were stained. When i was finished i realized i was freezing. I was wet and the a/c was on. I got so focused on erasing all the evidence of near disaster, i forgot about getting dressed. I dressed and hung the pants out on the laundry line.
I stood at the curtains of the front door and peered out at the scene in the yard for a good hour. The dogs played in the dog run. The chickens scratched in the dirt for bugs. The car sat intact and still with us, parked in front of the porch, the “ford gray” paint still drying where i had placed it. Life went on.