I would fail. Or so I was told. The MBA program was too hard for me. Never mind that I’d been a President’s Scholar and had managed a respectable score on the GMAT. Even my undergrad GPA of 3.8 failed to impress my academic advisor. “How hard is it to get an A in Painting?”
Fast forward through two years of graduate school to the Friday night before graduation. The next day, in black robe, mortar board, and maroon and white hood, I would walk across the stage in the cavernous university arena—where the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, and Garth Brooks had performed—and I would receive my master’s diploma in Business Administration.
Not only had I proved my advisor wrong—along with some classmates and a few professors who had raised an equally incredulous brow at my Bachelors in Art—I did it with a 3.7 GPA. I might’ve improved that had I studied more and not blown off an accounting midterm for a weekend trip to St. Louis and a Fleetwood Mac concert. But, barely 23 at the time, I rarely thought about consequences, and, c’mon, Fleetwood Mac.
But on that Friday night, it was water under the bridge. I partied with fellow graduates at the home of a friend, everyone contributing booze and food, celebrating our shared accomplishment. Sometime around midnight—I’m guessing—I slid behind the wheel of my 280Z. I whipped around the curves of Old Route 13 and ten minutes later hung a left on 127 South, a similar two-lane country road, passing the telephone booth beneath the streetlight at the corner of the intersection. Less than a half mile later, I turned right onto Carbon Lake Road, which would take me down a hill and past the lake to my rented home. Except that it didn’t. I was 100 feet too soon and dived down a 30-foot embankment crowded with birch and alders. My Z lodged at the bottom between trees, headlights kissing the earth, my seatbelt saving me from harm. Gin-addled, I took a few minutes to grasp what had happened.
Thinking I would return for my car—did I mention gin-addled?—I left the headlights shining so I could find it. I grabbed my purse and stumbled out the door in my 2-inch platform wedges, twisting my left ankle. Staying low and fighting the alders, I clawed my way up the embankment. Headlights shown in the dark, coming down the road. Fearing anyone spotting me would call the sheriff, I pressed the ground until they passed. Then I crept along the slope toward the phone booth.
Given the late hour, there was little traffic. At the intersection of 13 and 127, I struggled to my feet and made a hopping dash across the road to the phone booth. As I fumbled in my wallet for coins, a car pulled up. The passenger side window was down and the car’s only occupant, the driver, leaned toward it and peered at me, his face illuminated by the street light. He was about my age, nice-looking with dark hair.
“Do you need help?”
After crawling in the dirt through weeds and alders, I must’ve looked a needy mess.
“Can I give you a ride somewhere?”
Leaning into the open window, I asked to see his driver’s license. I remember his “are you kidding” expression, but he pulled out his license. He said he was a grad student. I asked for his university ID. There it was again, that silent stare. Nonetheless, he humored me. Returning both pieces of ID, I got in his car.
Heading down 127, we passed my unseen accident, then turned onto Carbon Lake Road. He stopped in my driveway. I thanked him and got out. He waited until I went inside before driving off.
Saturday morning, I woke safe in my bed, my mind clear but my memory hazy. Had I dreamt last night or lived it? I opened my front door and checked the driveway.
Two hours later, a tow truck pulled my car out of the ravine, not a scratch on her. She needed a new battery since the headlights I’d left on had drained the old one.
That afternoon, in front of a packed arena that included my mom and sister, I limped across the stage and received my diploma.
I suspect we all have times when we’re plucked from our native Kansas and dropped into Oz. Experiences that have us shaking our heads because we were strong enough, courageous enough, or just plain lucky to have survived them. Moments of craziness that read like fiction, but are all too real.
And so it is with this book.
Funny, I always knew that one day my life would come in handy.