I had just dropped my twins at kindergarten and was steering the minivan toward my 2-year-old’s nursery school—debating whether my friend and I should use our hour-and-a-half break to run four or six miles and listing sharply toward four—when my cell phone pinged. I hoped to see a message about someone arranging a happy hour or maybe more details about a friend’s upcoming nuptials. But instead, when I pulled into the preschool parking lot, I read a distress text from my husband: “Locked my keys in the car. Can you drive out to Malvern and help me?”
We live in a town just outside of Philadelphia, about four blocks from the city line. Malvern, where Jeff was attending a meeting, is the kind of deep suburb rich people seek in order to spread out their wares, to secure a “bit of land.” Somehow it seemed fitting that my husband would finally make his way there only to get locked out and that I would be tasked with fetching him back to reality. But Malvern was a distant mecca I’d rarely visited—a place to which I’d lost my return visa.
“It’ll take you about 35 minutes to get here,” texted my husband, a chronic under-estimator. Automatically I knew the trip would last appreciably longer, consuming the sum of my scant respite. And I feared I’d get lost. I sat behind the wheel of our minivan, grumbling at Jeff’s entangled directions to “take Bryn Mawr Avenue past Kent’s house, go right on Darby-Paoli Road, take a left on Goshen Road, follow that for awhile, go right on Providence Road, find the intersection near the blacksmith shop, go right on Warren Avenue after the Radnor Hunt Club, follow Warren Avenue through a stop light, enter Malvern Prep, and drive past the tennis courts and football field” until I found his car.
I must have missed the clause about cross-country rescues when we exchanged our vows nearly 12 years ago. Wasn’t it sufficient, I wondered, that I’d borne Jeff three children and made a baked ziti the previous night for dinner?
“Forgive him,” counseled the tenderhearted Miss Anne when I stormed onto the playground, plopped Jane in her hands, and explained that I might be tardy for singing because my husband was stranded in the hinterlands.
“Forgive him,” she repeated. “It was a mistake.”
“I know,” I said, “but it’s really hard for me. I don’t do these kinds of things.”
And the one time I did make a mistake, leaving my keys in the car ignition overnight and draining the battery, I didn’t bother my husband. I called AAA.
I felt like Holly Hunter in “Broadcast News” when her boss quips, “It must be nice to believe you always know better, to always think you’re the smartest person in the room.”
“No,” Hunter replies. “It’s awful!”
Nevertheless, I decided to test run the preschool teacher's compassion and embarked on my reluctant odyssey. As I drove past Echo Valley Farm, past On Point Farm, past Creighton Farm, past Little Valley Farm, along stone walls, beside covered bridges, around horse-cluttered pastures and past an estate whose for sale sign advertised a “pond”—I began to envision myself a missionary journeying to aid those in need. By the time I finally reached the Malvern Preparatory School’s gracious campus and wound my way through its fields and parking lots to where Jeff was anxiously peering into his car, my anger had evaporated. Plus I had to pee.
“I’m sorry you missed your run,” Jeff said.
“That's ok,” I said. “I’m sorry I was cross.”
Actually, by then I was secretly pleased. I had an irreproachable excuse for skipping my morning exercise, and I felt myself nearly bursting with goodwill, having executed not one but two humanitarian deeds within the course of a single morning: rescuing and apologizing to my husband.
But then Jeff punctured my moral conquest by offering a gallant suggestion.
“Don’t you have a few minutes before you have to go pick up Jane?” he asked. “You could take a few laps around the track!”
I felt my hard-won benevolence leak out the window during the long ride home.