Michaela almost died during her work shift.
After completing a more than 50-hour workweek, she boxed up her belongings and moved into her own apartment. The physical and emotional toll of sorting through her personal belongings, reflecting on her past decisions and contemplating her next steps were draining.
Perhaps more than she realized.
Exhaustion, stress and a flipped truck
As Providence would have it, her stressful weekend ended with a snowstorm that finally reached the mid-Atlantic after crawling across the United States, wreaking havoc on air and land travelers for days. This gritty mixture of snow and sleet greeted her as she climbed into the work van to pick up supplies early Monday morning.
The exhaustion of many stressful months with legal entanglements, sobering regrets and relentless anxiety had caught up with her in a slow, sleepy nod.
Her eyelids seemed so very heavy that fateful morning. She fought the fatigue as long as she could until finally, she capitulated as her eyelids drifted slowly down — if just for a moment.
That moment was all it took for her vehicle to travel up a large rock, surge into the air, land on the ground and then roll over several times.
She and the boxed items she was transporting were tumbled about, banging into the van’s steel sides and windows and each other. When the vehicle finally came to rest, Michaela was lying inside on the passenger window, her face cut and glass in her hair.
Getting back behind the wheel
Miraculously, my coworker survived.
I saw her two days later after learning about her harrowing experience. I was shocked at her determination to return to work, let alone drive another work van for deliveries and pickups. In her mind, she did not have a choice. She needed to pay her bills.
But she was desperately needed at work as well. She is one of only 10 employees, so the incomplete work left in her absence would not be so easily absorbed, making her contributions essential to the efficient functioning of this little business.
Having the strength to overcome a traumatic ordeal and return to work is not foreign to me. I found myself in a similar situation when my son was a toddler.
For several months after the custody agreement was signed, my son’s father was visiting Joseph weekly according to schedule. This tidy, little plan afforded my son and me some semblance of order, until one evening when his father decided to extend the visit without informing or asking me.
I called to demand that he return Joseph but he refused, saying he would bring him home the following day — some time.
No one would help
I called my attorney who reached out to him and received the same response.
With the custody agreement in hand, I called the police and described the situation to them. The officer’s response? He could not bring the child home even if the father was violating the court order. And he shrugged dispassionately after I told him I had sole physical and legal custody.
No one could — or would — do anything. Left with no other recourse, I restrained myself and followed my attorney’s advice: Stay home, try to be calm and wait. My attorney told me that he believed his father would return Joseph — at some time — and assured me that he would be a fool not to do so.
It was a June night and I remember sitting on the steps outside of my home, smoking a cigarette and trying to figure out how to handle this predicament between crying jags. I slept very little.
My boss, my hero
The next day I arrived at work exhausted, struggling to maintain some modicum of composure despite the searing desperation that was consuming the little strength remaining in me.
Instead, I broke down before a coworker and told her the details of the previous night and the uncertainty of today. She collected my boss, Francis, and I recounted the evening’s events for him. After quietly listening, his response shocked me.
“Let’s get your son,” he said.
I sat in the passenger seat of his minivan as Francis drove us to my son’s father’s apartment. My friend Sam met us in the parking lot. I had called him earlier to tell him about the ordeal and he was eager to help us.
Francis chatted briefly with Sam outside while I sat in the minivan, trembling in fear. Mouths were moving. Eyes were glancing from place to place. Fingers were pointing. A plan was being formulated. Without fully realizing it, I had placed my trust in the hands of these two brave men.
Plan in action
Then they parked their vehicles behind my son’s father’s small sport utility vehicle, effectively blocking him in.
Francis and Sam stood near the SUV and eventually encountered my son’s father, his new girlfriend and Joseph. I remained in the minivan, watching the group talk, during which I could observe my son crying in the back of his father’s SUV.
Francis and Sam managed to create some distance between my son’s father and his vehicle. Sam gestured to me to get out of the minivan and I rushed over to get Joseph.
As soon as Joseph saw me, he reached out to me with both arms, calling my name, tears streaming down his little, red face, as he struggled to free himself from the car seat. I quickly opened the door and, with shaking hands, fumbled with the clasps, frantically trying to undo them. The voices behind me seemed to grow louder and louder.
Then I felt a sudden pain.
My son’s father slammed the door into me, pushing me further into the SUV and into Joseph. I managed to regain my footing, removed Joseph from the car seat and fled to Francis’ minivan. Unbeknownst to me, my son’s father was reaching around the car door to grab my head and pull me back as I was retrieving Joseph, but Sam stopped him.
Once in the minivan, Francis drove Joseph and me to my parent’s house. Sam stayed behind with my son’s father, who had called the police. I later learned that Sam described the situation he had witnessed to the officer, and despite my son’s father’s protests that I had taken their son unfairly, the officer did nothing. Interesting how quickly the tables can turn.
When I arrived at my parent’s house, my mother greeted us at the door. I had notified her about the situation, so she was fully aware of what had transpired that morning. She scooped up Joseph and held him tightly in her arms.
Back to work — the same day
Instead of staying home, I climbed into the passenger seat of the minivan with Francis. He suggested I return to work and I agreed with him.
I knew my son would be safe with his grandmother, and I knew I was desperately needed at work. We had only three editors — not including me — overseeing a large reporting staff, so the incomplete work left in my absence would not be so easily absorbed, making my contributions essential.
The courage to push on despite personal obstacles. The courage to preserve the honor and dignity of those you care for. The courage to fight for what you believe in. The courage to be responsible. These were some the insights I gained from Michaela, Francis, Sam and myself.
But great courage comes from great love and for me, that was my dear Joseph. My love for him makes each daily struggle worth it.
On Thursdays, I will be sharing a blog about a day in the actual life of a single parent. Every fourth Thursday, instead of a personal post, I will put together one where I assemble news on and about single parents nationally and globally.
I would love to hear from you! Feel free to send any comments and questions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am also on Twitter @parentsonurown and can be found by searching #singleparentandstrong.