Sailing Hardships Through Broken Harbors

Kathie Gibboney

The fence. I have passed it many times, hundreds of times, countless times.  It was brown, wooden and weathered with carved flame designs placed here and there. The fence was something familiar, part of the hometown landscape, sort of always there.

It was a rainy Sunday morning. I was going to teach Sunday School at Lake Shrine over on Sunset. My class about Divine Mother’s love was all planned, the materials for the craft project ready. I had chosen an appropriate Sunday School teacher outfit, which at times can be challenging in that my style is, shall we say, somewhat less than sedate.

I was quite pleased that I was not running late. I felt in control, although something in addition to teacherly thoughts kept playing through my mind. It was Juliet in the balcony scene because it is so well written and once, many years ago, I acted her well. Of course, now I am more suited to the part of the nurse, but I still admire Juliet’s boldness, intelligence, and spirit. In that scene she raises Romeo from a lovestruck puppy of a boy into a man.

Having had the privilege of standing on the magical stage of Topanga’s Littlest Theater, reading poetry the night before must have awakened my thespian leanings.

On to more practical matters. The Beleaguered Husband and I discuss the possibility of a turkey meatloaf for dinner. It was time to go. An aging Juliet and the Sunday School teacher went out the door. It was still raining. I decided a little Neil Young would be good for the ride down the Canyon, just for a while until I align myself with a higher self so as to be worthy of spiritually guiding some young girls, although sometimes in their wise innocence, like Juliet, it is they who guide me.

Neil Young is singing in that otherworldly voice of his, something about, ‘sailing heart ships, (or is it hardships?) through broken harbors’ and I’m not sure what it means but it sure is good. It’s only about ten in the morning, traffic is light, an enchanted drizzle is still falling. Being old and lazy, I am a rather cautious driver so as not to have to make last-minute decisions or lane changes, so, I’m totally surprised when rounding a curve.

I feel my car skid a bit on the wet pavement. I’m turning toward the side of the hill, so I turn the wheel the other way to straighten out. Suddenly my car is skidding across the lane and I can see oncoming traffic ahead. I’m trying to stop but my car just keeps going as if I’m on ice, and then spins out of control and coming up in front of me fast, is a fence and I can’t stop and see the fence looming closer and I know I’m going to crash through it and there’s nothing I can do, and this sure isn’t how I planned for the morning to go, and I guess I’m not going to make it to Sunday School and I don’t know what’s on the other side of the fence or if I’m going to die. Then there is the awful sound of my car smashing through the wood which sounds just like you’d think it would, like a sound track to a movie but this isn’t a movie. Then the car stops. And I sit there, and Neil Young is still singing.

I turn off the engine and see I am in someone’s front yard. I just want to tell whoever lives there that I’m so sorry to have taken out their fence and plowed into their yard. I jump out and wait for someone to come out of the house. They must have heard the crash. I’m trying to figure out how to crawl around my car and the fallen debris to knock on the front door. If there’s no one home do I leave a note or something?  And what would I write? “I’m so sorry to have crashed into your yard. I have insurance. Call me?’ Maybe I’m not thinking too clearly. Should I call my husband? The poor man. Oh, this is not going to go over well. We just had the breaks on the car fixed and look at it now.

Oh, I didn’t bring my cell phone. I never bring my cell phone. I’m so bad about it. That’s why you have a cell phone for gosh sakes. For emergencies.  And in accidents you’re supposed to take photos. But I’m not very good at taking photos either, all those out-of-focus Christmas card pictures. Maybe I should try to hitch a ride back to our house and have the husband drive me back here, so we can figure out what to do and call a tow truck. And Sunday School, I have to call them. I actually stand on the side of the road with my thumb out. I’m wearing a bright purple raincoat. Surely passing cars can see me but they don’t stop. Oh, I probably look like a crazy person, a crazy person who just crashed a car through a fence. And wait, if I left wouldn’t it be leaving the scene of the crime?  Is this a crime? A man comes out of the house.

He doesn’t look happy and who can blame him. But he does ask if I’m all right. I start to tell him how sorry I am, and that the car just kept skidding. He begins to tell me people driving too fast have crashed into the fence before and that someone recently hit his mother’s car, and this was not what they needed. And I can only say I understand and am so sorry and that I really wasn’t driving fast and that we have insurance. He informs me he has called the highway patrol and that they will be here soon. I ask his name and tell him mine. Then he goes back inside.

I rethink my actions behind the wheel. What happened? I was just driving along, not in a hurry, not late, not stressed, not passing any bicyclists, not texting, not reaching for lipstick, not eating donuts, seat belt buckled, windshield wipers on. What happened?  A man in a car pulls up and seeing the situation asks if I’m OK? He offers to let me use his phone and I call the Beleaguered Husband who is about to be in for more beleaguerment. He doesn’t answer, and I grant him his blessed ignorance for a while longer. The kind stranger goes on his way. The occupant of the home comes back out. Although still upset, he offers to let me sit in a patio chair, out of the rain. It is a gracious offer. In preparation for the officer, I rifle through the glove compartment for proof of insurance and the registration. Then suddenly, the patrolman is at my car door. He is smiling and I love him.

The homeowner joins us and we go through the situation exchanging names and information for the police report. I am not cited for any infractions. The officer even suggests that he see if my car is still drivable, and although pieces of it are falling off, it starts right up and is moved out onto the side of the road. The homeowner begins to share the history of the property explaining that it used to be a blacksmith shop back in the day when horses were a common mode of transportation. I want to know more but I’ve already caused enough calamity in his peaceful morning.

Then he asks politely, “Would you like to meet my mother?”  

I follow him through the yard and there encounter a woman carrying a purse covered with stars who opens her arms to me. I’m telling her how sorry I am, as she hugs me, a stranger who just crashed into her yard. It was sort of like being hugged by Divine Mother herself. Then she says, “I love your purple coat.  How do you like mine?”

She, too, is wearing a purple coat. Hers is velvet and lovely and I tell her so. She surveys the shambles I’ve made of their yard and explains, “Oh, it might look like junk but some of it has meaning and is valuable to me.” This is my kind of woman.

We talk for a bit and then I help move some rocks and wood from the street so people won’t run over them. The woman actually offers that she is sorry we had to meet like this and maybe we could hang out sometime. Then she thinks for a moment and adds, “Topanga Days. I’ll see you at Topanga Days.” And something tells me she will. I drive my car, or what’s left of my car home. Home to my life.

I contact Michael Anapol and give him the bad news. Then I call Lake Shrine to explain my absence.  My husband drives past the scene of the crash and reports finding a pot hole filled with water right at the curve that he thinks might have caused me to skid, but we’ll never really know. All I know is that I am lucky.  Lucky not to have hit another car, or someone in the yard, or not to have plowed all the way into the house. I’m lucky not to have hit a cement wall. I walked away unhurt and hugged.

Of course, I wonder, if that morning had been my final time on this plane, if I had shuffled off this mortal coil, if they had brought the curtain down, at least there at the end, I had Topanga in the rain and Shakespeare, and was on my way to teach children, and had had poetry the night before and seen Flavia Potenza in a great hat, and was singing along to Neil Young while wearing a purple raincoat, and looking forward to meatloaf. It might not have been a bad exit.

But I’m still here…and I’m smiling through my grateful tears.


Kathie Gibboney

It has been said that Kathie Gibboney invented the Unicorn, which she neither admits nor denies, as it might reveal her true age. Kathie is an essayist, reporter, and poet for MMN with her column, "My Corner of The Canyon." She lives happily in a now-empty nest in Topanga, CA with The Beleaguered Husband and a marmalade cat.

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