That November night was an evening like so many others, cold and dreary. It would end up being extraordinary.
My two daughters, separated by four years and divided on so many subjects, were in perfect disharmony again over another silly issue. One daughter wanted the window down for some fresh air while the other demanded more heat.
I kept my cool for the initial spurt of acrimonious words, offering a compromise by lowering the window halfway. I was more determined to keep my eyes focused straight ahead as our little car navigated the tricky curves of the Southern State Parkway along the south shore of Long Island.
“I’m cold, Daddy,” one daughter said, mechanically pushing the window up, igniting a fierce retaliatory response from my other daughter in the front passenger seat.
“No!” was her reply.
The window slid up and down several times, distracting me as I drove in the left lane.
“Stop!” I finally shouted.
It momentarily quelled the battle. A few seconds later, I heard the window slide down. And up. And down. And up.
By now, rush hour traffic was all around me as I headed back east to go home. I had enough. I reached over to push a button to give me control of the window. I took my eye off the car in the middle lane next to me and in that split second he crossed in front of me.
I stopped short and my left tire hit the narrow barrier. The car bounced up and down like a rubber ball, then spun around 360 degrees. It felt like we were in slow motion. I felt a momentary sense of relief as I could feel two tires in the back settle down. Yet, we spun around again 360 degrees. I remember thinking, “Oh my God, I’m going to hit someone and hurt them. Oh my God.”
It’s safe to say now during this brief moment I was preparing myself to die so I let my body relax. But it was only for a second or two. I fought to regain control of the bouncing car and steered it away from traffic and into the median on the left. The car darted off the highway and into brush, speeding toward a group of trees as I pressed hard on the brake.
My oldest turned around and said to her sister, “I love you.”
She then said to me, “I love you, Daddy.”
I kept pressing on the brake as the brush and branches scraped and battered the frame of the car. We came skidding to a stop, banging into a tree. The car was smashed in but we were unharmed. I made sure everyone was fine and sat there for a few minutes. I got back on the highway and drove home – in silence. No one asked to put the window up or down.
I walked in silence past my wife and went upstairs, turned off the bedroom light, laid down, and cried. Some tears were from fear, fear that I could have been the reason why my daughters never got to live through their childhoods. There were tears of joy, thankful for this “miracle.” There were tears of gratitude, too. I was grateful that I would have more days and memories with my daughters. Grateful that I am a father, so blessed to live in a beautiful town and wonderful country.
Grateful. It’s what Father’s Day means to me. Grateful to still be here and able to hug and tell my daughters, “I love you.”
Michael John Sullivan is an author living on Long Island. His second novel, Everybody's Daughter, was published by Fiction Studio Books. His first novel, Necessary Heartbreak: A Novel and Faith and Forgiveness, was published by Simon & Schuster's Gallery books. He can be reached at michaeljohnsullivan.com.