More than most of us have had the same dream at one time or another. I’m not talking about dreams shared of world peace or financial security, nay. I’m talking about the nightmare that we all used to have as kids: we have all dreamed of being trapped at school. This week, that nightmare briefly became a reality in Rocky Gap, Virginia. If you live anywhere near there, you know what I’m talking about.
First of all, anyone around here is used to the horror of the tunnels. Both East River and Big Walker have, at different times, made our lives very difficult. For some reason, the tunnels must present an optical illusion that the road becomes narrower, as many flat-landers feel the need to slow down to creeping speeds and clog up traffic behind. But even this aggravation was nothing compared to Wednesday.
It’s actually hard to talk about. I will probably have to have therapy to get over it. I can’t imagine the poor kids involved. It’s one thing for an adult to suffer such trauma, but it is quite another for a child. Some harsh lessons were learned this week. Life is not always kind.
Life, unfortunately, is sometimes full of angst and suffering. It was no different this week at our high school. To add to the pain, there was no warning that anything was amiss…until it was.
As some of us made our way to our perspective practices after school, there was a brief rumor that there was trouble. "There's a wreck at the tunnel," we heard. With no disrespect to anyone involved in such a horrible situation, it isn't outside the ordinary around here. Interstates, and especially the tunnel, bring a lot of that. Sad truth. So at least in my mind, little was thought of it. It was not long, though, when we figured out this was not going to be cleaned up so quickly this time.
While some practiced basketball and some practiced MACC, what was actually going on was a tractor-trailer wreck. This was no regular accident because evidently it was hauling sulfuric acid? Don't quote me on that. That's just the last tale I heard. They were aplenty that evening.
At some point, the level of drama and excitement in my practice rose exponentially. Several kids, nearly simultaneously, asked if they could call their parents. "Well, I reckon, but what's up?" It's the wreck on the interstate, they said. Oh yeah, that. I still didn't get it.
You know how it goes. Anytime something is "going on," the rumors will fly. Never underestimate the appetite for drama. I used to say the "teenage appetite for drama," but I think there a lot of adults who are the same.
Gradually, practices came to a close, and then...where are the parents to pick their kids up? It was at this point I realized for the first time the gravity of the situation. The parents are going to be late...very late.
The parents weren't the only ones. Thousands of people were affected by the wreck. The tunnel was closed "indefinitely." That word was sensational. Indefinitely??? Now really, all that means is that we aren't sure when. But it carries the connotation and understanding that it's gonna be a real, real, real long time, Clark.
We are kinda stuck here in general. The land between the tunnels, they used to call us, at least before they changed the county thing to "Tunnels of Opportunity." My father abhorred the tunnels. Well old enough to remember when they were built, in the 1970s I believe, my father determined that they were all political. He said they could've easily just dug out the mountains, but the tunnels were built as a tourist attraction. Now I don't know about that for myself, but that's what he said, and I've thought about that a lot when everyone who lives near here or has to travel through here has been inconvenienced to the hilt by those darn things, and to think they aren't even necessary? It's enough to get you downright annoyed. But back to the evening at hand...
By this time it was dark outside. While most kids were picked up right on time, there were a few whose parents were unable to get through. The roads into the Gap were impassable, as all traffic was at a standstill.
Normally, this kind of disaster contains a weather element; the power is out because of a hurricane or blizzard. In times like these, we are bound and brought together by the excitement and shared singularity of the event, unpleasant thought it may be. While I don’t think Wednesday’s incident had anything to do with the weather, it did have the same effect.
Minutes turned into hours. Regularly we went outside to reassess the situation. Bleak turned to bleaker. Is that a word? It is now. In the words of my friend Amy, who was also stuck in the traffic, when the tractor trailers turn their engines off, you know you’re going to be sitting a long time.
Several kind-hearted folks called to offer to come get stranded kids. As nice as that was, they didn’t understand the situation. No one can get to the Gap, so you won’t be able to either. Nice thought, though. Stay home where you are.
I truly bonded with another trapped teacher. Kirby Mustard, my new BFF. Like Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock trying to stop that speeding bus, we were having quite the opposite problem. No one was speeding anywhere.
I joked to her that if we didn’t get out soon, we would have to break into the cafeteria. I kid, I kid. We weren’t there nearly that long, but at times it seemed it.
I came to realize in retrospect that it wasn’t the length of time, it was the not knowing. I’ve been told it is considered cruel and inhumane to not tell a person the length of their sentence. I understood after Wednesday. It was the unknowing when we would be released that made each minute seem so much longer.
After awhile, guess what happened? I’m not sure, to be honest, but all I can tell you from my finite prospective at the school was that the traffic busted loose from its gridlock, the last parent arrived, and I was reprieved!
What actually happened that night? Some might say a whole lot of nothing, but those who lived through the Great Stranding of 2019 would disagree. What happened to us? We laughed and giggled and lived through our nearest death experience, of that day at least. If you weren’t there you won’t get it. The close calls, the honking horns….Kirby and I are looking for matching tattoos to commemorate the day. Whatever happens now we know we can face it, right, Kirby? That’s right. Bring it. Cue Gloria Gaynor!
A teacher and mother, Meagan Morehead Bradshaw lives on a farm in Bland County; contact her at email@example.com.