I woke up and saw the fence looming. My hands were gripping the steering wheel as I slammed my foot on the brake pedal, knowing that I was too close. I would never be able to stop in time.
But the car wasn’t even running, never mind careening towards an imminent accident. My heart was thumping as I stared with wonder at the fence a few inches in front of my bumper.
Slowly I came to the realization that I was sitting next to our apartment in Easthampton. The fence in front of me was the one that bounded the parking lot behind our house. I had fallen asleep after pulling in and parking, but before my hands had released their grip on the steering wheel.
I looked at my watch. It was 2 am; I had been asleep for only a half hour.
It had taken a lot longer to reach home than I expected because of my sleepiness. I’d stopped a half-dozen times to jog around the car trying to wake up enough to drive another 20 miles. I had napped for 10 or 20 minutes in two dark roadside rest areas and afterward poured an entire bottle of water over my head, not caring as it soaked the fabric seat. I had shouted and screamed and sang at the top of my lungs, but it was not enough to stem the tide of exhaustion.
It was Wednesday morning. I had slept a few hours Monday night, but I had been without sleep for the entire week-end before that, if you didn’t count shutting my eyes and laying my head on the light table for a few minutes.
Monday noon was Wheeler Dealer Magazine’s scheduled press slot and if I missed it, it would throw the whole schedule off. If I wasn’t there on time, the layout for our small advertising magazine would be pushed into the pile of things to do when the press crew had extra time – it might be Thursday before the issues were printed. That would push distribution into the weekend when traffic and store closings would cause even more difficulties. Our sales would be hurt also, because many readers wanted to snatch the issue up in the first couple of days hoping for a miraculous deal on a used car.
I had picked up the finished issues at four Tuesday morning in Holyoke and finished the day’s route at nine Tuesday night after delivering magazines all over western Massachusetts. I was delivering to convenience stores and trying to open new outlets for the automotive photo advertiser that I had run mostly by myself for the last few months.
We couldn’t afford to hire anyone else and David had to keep his job, because the ad revenue and sales income didn’t pay the bills yet.
Running a business, the American dream, was our dream. We wanted the freedom of working for ourselves. And eventually we did have some of that freedom, but also found that some of the freedoms of working for one’s self are not as free as they seem.
But that night all I had was overwhelming fatigue. Right then I didn’t care a bit about the dream, I just felt sorry for myself as I cursed David for seeing the ad in the local paper that said “Like photography? Want to own your own business?”
I knew I should go inside to bed but even thinking about it seemed too demanding, so I sat there until I fell asleep and slept for another two hours in the car. At least this time I had my hands in my lap instead of clutching the steering wheel.
Before another year passed, David would quit his job and begin working with me and shortly afterward we would hire several people to do the job I was doing that week. We would continue to publish the magazine for 18 years, and during that time I fell asleep in some other strange places, but none as disturbing as the night I almost ran into a fence with a motionless car.