The Speed Limit of Exit Ramps

The drive to the acute rehab center from my house generally takes about 25 to 30 minutes, but it’s rush hour and I-77 is a clogged vein. I’m a city girl, used to traffic, yet I find myself gripping the wheel from the stress. The traffic thins, and I peel off on I-485, the eight-lane belt, hanging on the belly of the city. I’m fixated on the moon — its white glow, the sharp delineated edges of the sphere, the pale blue sky and the line of gray fluff like dryer lint that only partially obscures it. I’ve read some fine moon descriptions in my time and seen the moon rendered in movies (my favorite image being the moon with a rocket in its eye), but nothing equals the thing itself. Words are only fingers pointing to the moon.

I veer toward the exit ramp for the hospital, slowing down so as not to fly off the edge in a show of centrifugal force (it’s a ramp after all, not a centrifuge) when the car behind me swerves to my right as if to pass me on the one-lane ramp. Adrenaline shoots along my circulatory system and amplifies as the driver now swerves to the other side inches away from my bumper.

In the rearview mirror, I see him in his brown Toyota, twisting the steering wheel back and forth with a maniacal expression. Questions pulse through my brain. Is he drunk? Is he trying to kill me? But no, he’s just intent on terrifying me. At the end of the ramp, he dodges around me and grimaces like a constipated troll.

I want to scream at him, do violence to him for threatening me with a two-ton weapon, and all because I wasn’t going fast enough? What about the car in front of me? Was I supposed to fly over it? A minute later we’re at the same traffic light, and since I’m right behind him I take a photo of his license plate.

Then I do something I’ve never done before. I call 911 and tell the dispatcher what happened. To my surprise, she doesn’t scoff at me or tell me to stop wasting their time. Instead she takes the information and says she’ll put out a BOLO on him. She asks if I want the police to call me when they stop him. Not necessary, I tell her. I only hope he’s got an ounce of cocaine in the glovebox or an alcohol blood level way over the limit of .08. Wishful thinking. He’s just one more prick who believes it’s perfectly legitimate to make a stranger fear for her life.

I’m still hopped up on adrenaline when I enter my ex-husband’s hospital room. He looks up from the bed and says in the exact same voice my mother used to use: “You’re here.” That voice full of relief, blame, anxiety, and pathos.

I tell him about the maniac driver and calling the police, but he’s not hearing me. He is in a tunnel of his own pain since the stroke.

“I blacked out on the toilet,” he says. “I was light-headed but they wouldn’t listen. The next thing I knew they were lifting me on the bed.”

He tells me that he vomited and then, “I shit on myself.”

I sit beside him in an unwieldy chair and clasp his hand as if we are on a rickety little boat, buffeted by belligerent winds. I don’t generally feel old or fragile, but right now mortality has crashed the party that once was our lives.

“I feel like Merlyn,” he says, referring to a dog we once had. He had a gimp leg and was allergic to everything under the sun and had a constant skin condition that sometimes attacked his eyes and created a stench no amount of bathing could cure. At the age of seven, he came down with an agonizing auto-immune disease. Every time we intended to take him to the vet to be put down, he would rally and we just didn’t have the heart. Eventually, I did it.

“If you wait too long to give him the shot, there’s a lot of suffering involved,” he says.

I know what he wants — an exit ramp. But all I can give him is this. My presence here, now, with moonlight soaking the world outside while a few miles away an asshole in a brown Toyota hands his expired driver’s license to a bored cop.


  1. Phyllis A Robinson on September 25, 2023 at 12:49 am

    The anger over the insane driver adding to the anxiety over your ex in the hospital was palpable. I physically as well as emotionally felt what was expressed in the last lines.

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