A mother longs to have reined in a reckless part of herself.
If I had to do it over again, I’d say, “Sorry, but you can’t. You’ve only had your license for two months.”
He’s asking if he can use my Nissan Stanza wagon to ferry six fellow Berkeley High football players to scout a game at Skyline High. The Stanza wagon is a fun-to-drive, but slightly top-heavy small wagon. I love that it’s a stick shift and that I have to pay attention as I maneuver around town. I want my children to gain the same experience. Skyline, while not far from our South Berkeley home, is on top of the hills above Oakland. Getting there involves about 15 minutes navigating the narrow freeway along the foothills and a steep two-lane road up to Skyline Boulevard.
I know he can manage that on his own. But the distraction of his teammates could make it too risky. I know how passengers can distract. Trying to navigate with a car full of kids always tested my driving skills.
But I let him anyway. I let that courageous and sometimes reckless part of me take charge. Why not? I had been raised by parents who encouraged us to climb the 60-foot Norway spruce tree in our backyard, ride our horses bareback through the woods, swim across cold mountain lakes, and travel alone as teenagers across the world.
“OK, you can. But you’ve got to make sure each guy is wearing a seat belt.”
I tip forward, closer to him, making sure he hears me. He looks me straight in the eye.
“I will, Mom,” he responds with a steady tone, a reassuring tone he uses infrequently. A flicker of confidence fills me enough to ease my fears.
Three days later, he is off at his game, and my husband is off playing golf. Carless, I finish writing for the day and start making dinner. I shuffle around the kitchen in my floppy sandals, digging in the freezer for a forgotten package of ground beef or a bag of frozen shrimp. I pull a box of rotelli pasta from the cupboard and assorted salad makings from refrigerator produce drawer. I decide I can sauté some shrimp in garlic butter and parsley from my backyard and pour it over the pasta. I calculate timing. When to start the water boiling for the pasta? When to begin melting the butter? Should I chop the garlic now, a good hour or so before I expect my family to be home? Or wait? And how quickly can I set the table? Overcoming indecision, I wait, deciding to grab a half hour to finish reading today’s Chronicle while sipping a glass of wine.
I settle down at the dining table, spreading out the newspaper, fingering the cool glass of crisp Sauvignon Blanc.
The phone rings.
“Mom, there’s been an accident. I’m OK. Really, I’m OK.”
“Where are you? I can find someone to give me a ride over.”
“The Moraga Avenue exit.”
I dash across the street, hoping my neighbors Jim and Marianne are home. Jim soon opens the door, his eyes widening as he sees the terror on my face.
Jim leads me to his car and drives as fast as he can up Claremont and on to Route 13. We head south. We see the flashing lights of emergency vehicles on the northbound lanes and quickly exit at Moraga, dip under the freeway, and stop at the bottom of the exit ramp. I jump out and run as fast as I can in my floppy sandals up the ramp toward the freeway where my wagon is lying on its side, surrounded by several ambulances and police cars. I quickly find my son. We embrace, our trembling bodies holding each other as tight as we can. He is weeping. Tears pour down my cheeks. A tall highway patrol officer stands near his parked motorcycle, watching us quietly. I learn that the only passenger in the car who was not wearing a seatbelt had been thrown from the wagon after it hit the curb and rolled. He was dead. Dead on impact.
Over the past 46 years, Naneen Karraker honed her writing skills by passionately arguing for reducing overreliance on incarcerating people in the United States through letters to the editor, op-ed pieces, pamphlets, grant applications, and speeches. She and her late husband, a criminal defense attorney, raised two sons in Berkeley.
Read more essays in The Consequences of Actions