I was going 80 on the 215, heading home from a 48. 80 mph is an acceptable speed at which to be traveling on Highway 215, especially when you’re running late for a Walking Dead date with your current boyfriend because you lost track of time at your ex-boyfriend’s 48-hour film festival.
It was just past the Decatur exit that Penny Lane (my 2005 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible) began to wobble. A wobbling car going 20 mph is scary. A wobbling car going 80 is terrifying. The smell of burning rubber filled the inside of my car and nostrils as I fought a wave of panic to make my way over to the shoulder without dying. Cars and trucks zipped by on either side of me, oblivious to my impending doom.
I made it, but just barely. About a foot from the solid white line that designates the boundaries of the slow lane, I felt safe enough to turn off my car. I took a moment to gather myself, then slowly opened the door and poked my head out to confirm a flat tire. Back left. A semi truck doing at least 160 roared by, nearly ripping off my door and face. I realized a foot probably wouldn’t be enough room to change the tire, but since I know exactly enough about cars to think that moving mine at that moment – even just an inch – would cause the entire thing to blow up, I left it.
I slammed the door shut and pulled down my vanity mirror, one of a few vehicular functions with which I am familiar. To my own reflection: “Why do bad things keep happening to me?” No response. It had been exactly seven weeks since my last flat tire. Tears began flowing with the power of the Nile. As I sat there alone, crying in the dark, I thought about all the other bad stuff that had happened throughout the past seven weeks. My grandmother’s Alzheimers had progressed, my dog started having seizures, and my relationship was beginning to lose its magic. It was a trying couple months and the last thing in the world I needed was to come face-to-face with death-via-flat.
Through sobs of self-pity, I searched for that red triangle button that turns your car into a disco ball, because I know enough about cars to know those flashing lights are a signal to really nice strangers who pull over to help you. But nobody pulled over. Eventually I realized I was going to have to save myself.
So I took out my iPhone and called my boyfriend.
“It happened a-fucking-gain.”
“My tire! It blew! I’m stranded on the side of the highway!”
“Are you okay?”
“No, I’m not okay! I could have died!”
“Baby, it’s just a flat tire. Where are you?”
“215 and something. I don’t know! Past Decatur. Close to Jones, maybe?”
“I’m on my way. Stay put.”
“Where do you think I’m gonna go?!”
In less than five minutes, Mike arrived. He was wearing pajamas, the official uniform of our Sunday night Walking Dead dates. His hair was fluffy, which normally would have bothered me. “Your hair is fluffy,” I normally would have said, hoping he’d take the hint and throw a little product in there. He took me into his arms immediately. “You okay?” he asked, after kissing the top of my head. I nodded, still enveloped in his tight embrace. It normally would have bothered me, his hugging me so tight. “You’re smothering me,” I normally would have said.
“I’m going to move your car over a bit. Stay over there.”
“But I want to help.”
He moved my car a few feet farther to the right. The engine didn’t blow up. I sat on my jacket a few yards back, my boyfriend lying in dirt to fix my car. When he got the bad tire off, I walked over to examine it/take pictures so I could instagram it. Another semi flew by, its force nearly knocking me over.
“Honey, please?” This time he said it sternly, which normally would have really irked me.
I moped back to my spot and plopped down on my jacket, then took another pic and decided a collage-type deal would be the best way to ‘gram all this. I was swiping through the filter gallery when my boyfriend caught my eye. I put down my phone and stared at him from afar. He’d been working out a lot lately, and it was really starting to show. His skin seemed tanner, too, and although he was a little bit sweaty, I found it sexy rather than gross. He looked oddly handsome until I remembered he’s a really handsome guy.
Sitting in my safe spot, gazing dreamily at a man who already belonged to me, I began to think that maybe I had overreacted earlier with all the sobbing and whatnot. It had been a shitty 7 weeks, don’t get me wrong, but perhaps it could have been worse.
“All finished,” my boyfriend said, wiping his hands on his pajama pants. “I’ll call my car guy tomorrow and we’ll get this sorted out. I don’t want your driving on that donut.” I know enough about cars to know a donut is a deep fried pastry with frosting and sprinkles, not something that you drive on. I thanked him anyway and he took me back into his arms. Then he kissed me. It was a strangely good kiss until I remembered he’s a really good kisser.
“Thank you again. I’m sorry I’m your girlfriend and bad stuff always seems to happen to me.”
“It’s just a flat tire, Jess. I’ll follow you home?”
The five-minute drive home felt like an eternity. I thought about all the good stuff that had happened the past seven weeks and realized it greatly outweighed all the bad stuff. I had the same revelation about my relationship.
When we got home, I changed into my Sunday night uniform and snuggled up next to Mike on the couch. We opened our DVR list to find The Walking Dead had been recording for about ten minutes, just long enough that we’d get to fast-forward through the commercials. I made him pause so I could go to the bathroom. Then I made him pause again so I could pour myself a glass of wine. I asked if I could pour him one, too, since I hate drinking wine by myself. Because he was already drinking his nightly protein shake, he declined, which normally would have really irritated me.
As Rick led his gang in their continued fight for survival in a world overrun by zombies, I couldn’t help but feel grateful for my own hero. I smiled and put my head on his shoulder.
“You okay, baby?”
“I’m fine,” I said. “It’s just a flat tire.”