My son the college student appeared in my bedroom at precisely 9:14 a.m. Saturday, after I was awake, but before I had my contact lenses in, a relevant fact since it meant that I could see well enough to recognize the person perched on the hamper but not well enough to tell what kind of condition he was in.
"I had," he announced, "probably one of the most messed up evenings of my entire life last night."
As any mother of an 18-year-old can tell you, that kind of statement covers a lot of territory. I sat up in bed and glowered. "What happened?"
"I didn't get arrested or anything like that."
Nobody had dropped the bomb overnight, either. I wasn't very impressed. My voice got a little testy. "What happened?" I repeated.
"It's a long and complicated story and I just want you to let me explain and then you'll understand what happened." I knew immediately that the worst fears of teen-age drivers' parents had come true.
"You had a car accident."
"Well, yes, but mother, please just be quiet and let me explain."
One thing I didn't need was a long-winded explanation leading up to the specifics of the disaster. My voice, as they say, rose:
"Was anyone hurt?"
"How bad is your car?"
"It's not that bad. My car's not the problem."
"What are you talking about?"
"It's your car."
My car, as far as I knew, had been safely tucked away for the night in the carport. "MY CAR," I hollered, "WHAT WERE YOU DOING WITH MY CAR?"
"MOM, CALM DOWN AND LET ME EXPLAIN."
"WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO MY CAR?"
"LET ME EXPLAIN."
"NO. I WANT TO KNOW IF IT CAN STILL BE DRIVEN."
"YES. Now, will you let me tell you what happened?"
It seems that my son and a group of his friends had decided to go into Washington Friday evening so one of them could pick up the remainder of his summer pay from a restaurant. My son's car had been left idling, with a driver in it, outside the restaurant while these heavy financial transactions were undertaken. Time passed and the group finally headed home, whereupon they ran out of gas.
A Good Samaritan stopped and took a couple of them on a search for an open gasoline station, not an easy thing to find late at night in the suburbs. They returned to the car with gasoline, but it still wouldn't start. This kindly stranger then drove them to my house. Two of them walked to their nearby home, leaving my son and a friend at my house. They started worrying that the abandoned car would be hauled away or vandalized, and decided to take my car, go for more gas, and try one more time to start his car.
Which is what they did. Once they got the car started, my son was reluctant to let it stop. He entrusted his friend, who is used to driving an early model Volkswagen, with the task of bringing my late model Chevrolet Caprice station wagon safely home. My son decided to let his other friends know the car had been rescued. As he was pulling into their driveway, his friend braked, skidded on the wet pavement and hit the back of my son's car with the right front of my car.
The two of them spent most of the rest of the night worrying about telling me the news. My son's friend was so upset that he actually entertained the idea of waking me in the middle of the night to tell me how sorry he was. My son talked him out of that one.
I heard the story and decided the least he could do in penance was fix me a cup of coffee. While he was gone, a friend called and I told him the story. "It's easy to be philosophical about these things when it's happened to someone else," he said, "and I'd be as outraged as you are if it happened to me. But just think what could have happened: some drunk could have bashed into those kids while they were pouring gasoline into the tank and they'd be paraplegics now, or dead. So you've got a bent car. They've learned a very valuable lesson about what can happen with a car at a very cheap price. I hope you tell them that you're just grateful it wasn't worse." Which, after a cup of coffee and some reflection, I did. My son's friend, who had never had an accident and felt awful about "wrecking my best friend's mom's car," as he put it, was relieved and so was my son.
The next day there was a story in the paper about a 19-year-old student at the same college my son attends who fell asleep at the wheel in the middle of the night and killed himself and four other persons.
After that, it wasn't very hard to be philosophical about a bent car. Not hard at all.