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One Day in March   by Janee, 1/00

I awoke at my parents' house that morning early, having heard ominous forecasts the evening before -- sleet and freezing rain for central Indiana. I took my shower and performed all of my usual preparations to get myself ready for the day. I blew my long mousy brown hair dry and brushed it straight down my back, turning to smile at its perfect straightness in the mirror. Then a couple of minutes of face painting, and a glance at the young woman before me told me I was ready to take on the day. I used such a light touch of makeup, the difference in my actual appearance was subtle, but I had convinced myself that I simply could not be seen outside of the house without having performed this ritual. I smiled to my reflection in the fluorescent-lit mirror and then ran downstairs for a bite of cereal and juice.  

Vern was already there and we had our usual grunts of pseudo-conversation while I read the paper, this day a letter from a 34 year-old woman who had been molested by her uncle... for years ... was 10 or 11... feelings of guilt... consuming me... worried about my nieces... should I tell someone... and the advice, "First of all, it is not your fault..." I closed the paper and gulped down the dregs of my juice.

I had just finished with my studies of jewelry design and engraving at Gem City College in Quincy, Illinois just two weeks before. I was living at home just until I could save enough for my own apartment, which would likely be in Crawfordsville, 30 miles north. I was commuting the 45 miles west to Terre Haute daily for these first three weeks for my "internship" as a jeweler, before the company would put me off on my own to set up my jewelry repair bench in one of their branch stores.

I ran back up the half flight of stairs and brushed my teeth, then scurried back down. "Bye, Vern. I'll see you later," I said with one of those half-smiles that we save for those we love the most. Vern was at the door with his gentle kiss, his practiced touch on my shoulder, his look, not into my eyes, and his genuine words, "See you, Gino. Be careful."  

I frowned as I looked at my car, shiny from the ice. I had not locked its doors the previous night because of the predicted icing. The ice around the door cracked as I opened the door and my little sweetheart started right up. Grabbing my brand new ice scraper from underneath the seat, I opened the door and began to chip at the ice.

Having just gotten my driver's license in December, over my Christmas holiday, I shopped for and found the cutest little $2000 car, a lime green '75 Chevy Vega that had been owned by a studious and quiet teenage girl who hardly ever drove it. After three years, it had only 20,000 miles on it! I had taken that car back to Illinois, finished up my schooling, and then I had driven it back in February, laden with all my belongings. I had amassed several plants that I had transplanted into two-gallon crocks, a bicycle, a large toaster oven, a vacuum cleaner, two huge boxes of jewelry-making tools, and all of the clothes a 21 year-old might be expected to have, books, dishes, and other household and personal things. How I got all of my things into that tiny Vega hatchback remains an engineering mystery to this day.

By the time I got around to the front window, the defroster had begun to melt the ice there, freeing the wipers. I fastened my seatbelt, adjusted my hair, and headed down the road.

These were exciting days. My new career was just starting. During the year and a half of full-time internship at Vern's little jewelry store, I had done minor watchband repairs, engraved lighters and charms with the little Hermes engraving machine, and fixed the neck chains which were all the rage in 1975 and '76. This experience had whetted my appetite to learn to do more and so I spent a year at Gem City College.

Now, in early 1978, I was a trained jeweler with diplomas to prove it. I had opted out of the watchmaker's class after just three weeks, but I had persevered through both segments of the engraving class and both the jewelry repair and the design course. Having left high school for DePauw's early admission program and then having left DePauw after just a year, I had found myself, to this point diploma-less. I had been quite proud of myself as I received those Gem City diplomas that I had actually finished something!

My own parents couldn't come over for the graduation. "This is all just costing a bunch of money," my mother once snipped, "I don't know what you'll do with it." I had hoped till the last day that they might come. Well, I would someday have my own little jewelry shop and... 

I broke into my fugue, concentrating now, my little car running straight and true between the lines. The day was just as they had promised -- the wipers struggling to keep the icing rain off the windshield, the headlights trying feebly to penetrate the thick foggy darkness. If the road had been slick with the ice, I did not notice. 

I leaned forward, my eyes fixed on the road ahead.....As if it would help me to see, I leaned forward in the seat, my eyes fixed on the road ahead as the town's lights gave way to the less urgent lights of the countryside. I squinted as an oncoming car's headlights reflected brightly on the shiny black road in front of me and I shivered as it passed.

I glanced over to the radio, turning its volume up as Earth Wind and Fire sang, "Every man has a place, in his heart there's a space and the world can't erase his fantasies. Take a ride in the sky, on our ship fantasy. All your dreams will come true, right away."

I thought about my own dreams. My own little jewelry shop! Someday it would be mine. I would buy some little place from a retiring jeweler, just as my friend Dave had done in northern Ohio. And I would be in charge of the whole thing, setting it up all from scratch. My parents could come and visit then. They would be so proud. The pavement hummed under my wheels as the ticking of tiny ice balls pelted the roof.  

I turned off the little country road onto the four-lane. I saw the yellow light intruding upon the hazy dark bluster in front of me at the same time that I heard the spatter of gray grit against my car, obscuring my windshield as the wipers fought to fend off the sleet. I looked over to the source of my consternation, as I passed it, squinting through my confusion. "Indiana State Highway Department" ... huge truck.. but what was it doing? The realization hit me ... the sand truck! 

Suddenly my car was moving too fast, way too fast! I barely saw the little bridge and I glided across it, the back end of my car swaying now, my arms reacting instinctively, steering INTO the skid. Too fast! Too fast! The back of my car now skating frantically, now to the left, and my brain weightless as the back end swung insanely to the right. I knew I knew I shouldn't. I heard the admonition, but I had to ignore it. The car was going too fast, too fast! Gently, gently, my teeth clenched, my body powered by the shock of this nightmare, I pressed the brake pedal. Gently, oh God! gently! Oh, please, too fast! Too fast! Music playing frenetically in my head, the blackness and the useless headlights, spinning, spinning crazily, and then it was over. It was still; my car had stopped.

I brought my hands to my face and ascertained quickly that I was really me and I was okay and that my car was facing backwards on the other side of the highway, comfortably resting against the side of a most hospitable snowdrift. I drew a deep and ragged breath, then, quite deliberately, put the car into "Park" and turned off the engine. 

The dark shadow of the man waved his CB mic to me as his huge diesel tractor trailer rolled cautiously past my all-too-peacefully resting car, and it was just a startlingly few minutes before the tow truck arrived. Don happily hooked up my car, deftly pulled it unmarred out of the snowdrift, and then nonchalantly said, "That will be fifteen dollars."  I had no money so all I could do was leave Don my Visa card. How could I not trust smiling Don? He gave me the card for his shop, cleverly named "Don's Auto Repairs and Towing" -- it was just up the road -- and I promised to stop in there right after I got off work.

 "Ooooooooh love to love you, baby... ooooooooh love to love you, baby," I imagined that my voice perfectly matched the hollow aluminum sound of Donna Summers' tune. My Michelins confidently traversed the pavement, which, in the short time that had elapsed, had become simply wet, the ice having disappeared into the heat of so many rumbling tires. I suddenly became aware of the pain in my hands and I chuckled, realizing that my hands had been clutching the wheel so tightly that I had certainly made new fingerholds. I leaned back and stretched my arms to alleviate their shaking. I shook my head against the clanging of the leftover electrified adrenaline rush in my brain.  

I pulled into my parking spot and smiled to myself as the nine slow bongs of the courthouse clock told me that it was just 9:00; I was just 30 minutes late. I combed my hair back through my fingers as I dashed up the back steps. Rick and Dan were there, torches already fired, their visors focused on some of the gold bands that comprised our days' work. They barely looked up as I cheerily greeted them, effectively disguising the remnants of my morning's panic. I wonder if they even heard me giggle as the Bee Gee's crooned "Stayin' Alive."