He’s sixty-two. He’s driving a Ford on the interstate. This is a big deal.
I know what you’re thinking: since when is driving on the interstate a big deal?
When the interstate is Atlanta 285.
Also, he hasn’t been behind the wheel in three years. Not since a botched surgery—which was when his life went downhill.
There were complications, which led to other complications, and recovery has taken time. He has a hard time moving his legs and feet, he uses a walker. It left him with crippling pain.
He became a bona fide shut-in. His only window to the outside world is his adult daughter—who lives all the way in Union City.
His lovely daughter helps him almost every day. And even though she has been pregnant, about to have her own family, she still labors without complaint.
Anyway, earlier this particular evening his daughter called. She had an announcement.
“Dad,” she said. “I had the baby.”
When he heard the news, he was so overcome he couldn’t form words.
“Dad?” came her voice on the phone. “You still there?”
No answer. He was crying.
But they weren’t happy tears, they were of self disgust. He despised himself. He hated being lame, and he hated burdening his family.
This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. Fathers weren’t supposed to load their daughters with caregiving responsibilities.
“Dad?” she said. “You there?”
His lips quivered, he breathed heavily. “I thought you weren’t due for two weeks,” he said.
“I wasn’t, but… Surprise.”
He choked back more tears.
“I’m sending Danny,” his daughter went on. “He’s coming to pick you up in a few minutes.”
“No!” he shouted. “Don’t bother!”
“What?” she said. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I said don’t bother!” he spat at her, “I don’t wanna come!” Then he slammed the phone.
He couldn’t explain why he was so angry.
The man sidled his walker toward his recliner and collapsed into a puddle of snot and saltwater. He swore at the ceiling. He threw things. A plastic coffee mug, jars of medication, his Parade Magazine from the Sunday paper.
And that’s when it happened.
It happened so fast it didn’t even occur to him what he was doing. He stood onto his feet, without his walker, and stormed into his bathroom on his own.
Soon, he realized what he’d done. His tantrum had given his legs some kind of superhuman strength. But how?
That’s when the idea hit him: If he could walk, maybe he could drive.
In a few moments, he was digging for an ancient set of car keys. He wandered into his garage, he lifted the automatic door.
He tried his Ford, but it wouldn’t crank. So, he removed jumper cables from a toolbox, hooked them to a riding lawn mower battery, and his car roared to life.
“This is crazy,” he told himself.
And maybe it was. He tossed his walker into the backseat, slid into his vehicle, and muttered a prayer.
And now here he is, going the speed-limit on the interstate.
If you can believe it, he isn’t even nervous. And why should he be? He’s driven thousands of miles in his lifetime. What’s a few more?
He sees the hospital sign in the distance.
He flips the turn signal.
The car veers into the turn lane.
Now he’s waiting for the green arrow.
He turns on the radio, flips the dial. He listens to soft rock.
“Hey,” he thinks to himself. “Is it just me, or do Seals and Croft sound better than usual tonight?”
He wheels into a space for the handicapped. He glances into the rearview mirror at himself. He’s crying again.
“I did it,” he whispers.
Yes he did. Three years is behind him. The rest of his life is staring at him.
He steps out of his car. He stands on weak legs. He is in pain, but only on the outside. Inside, he is nothing but confetti and late 70s soft rock.
He decides to leave the walker in the car.
Right foot. Left foot. He’s on a roll. Across the pavement he walks.
“Summer breeze,” he sings, “makes me feel fine…”
He reaches the front desk.
“The maternity ward, please,” he says to the receptionist.
“Third floor,” she says.
He grits his teeth. He limps across half a hospital, rides an elevator, and winces the whole way.
In a few minutes, he is holding a newborn against his chest, and he is realizing things. Big things.
And years after this particular evening, this man will one day write to a redheaded author. It will be after a taxing physical therapy session.
He will write:
“I know it’s probably not your kind of story… I mean, big deal, it’s not like I climbed Lookout Mountain or anything.”
And well, I have to agree with him on that. He didn’t climb Lookout Mountain. Not even close.
It was Everest.