Twenty-four Miles… December 23, 2011

Jonathan in Miami

It was three days until Christmas.

I was so young, so inexperienced and so poor. I had two children–one four and one two-and-a-half years of age. In the previous week I had developed a severe toothache which became infected and caused my jaw to swell. I didn’t go to the dentist for three reasons: (1) no money, (2) no insurance, and (3) no real assurance.

I had hated the dentist since I was a tiny kid and my parents took me to see a chap who didn’t believe in Novocaine. (I was unaware that pain relievers were a spiritual issue, but apparently, to this fellow, they were.) Needless to say, I was not anxious to have someone pry into my mouth. But it finally hurt so much and I was getting so physically sick that I broke down and went to a dentist, explaining that I was without funds but would “gladly pay him on Tuesday for a hamburger today…”

He was reluctant–not so much over the money, but because I really required oral surgery and he didn’t have the time to do a good job. But sensing my desperation, he decided to just slit my jaw open on the inside and squeeze out all the infection and then give me antibiotics to take and hope for the best. I had never taken antibiotics before, so they immediately made me feel loopy, a little sick to my stomach and gave me a strange vacant sensation.

So returning to my story, it started to snow.  I was in Westerville, Ohio, which was twenty-four miles from my little apartment above a drugstore in Centerburg. I use the word “apartment” here for the reader’s understanding; actually it was just a large room that was formerly used for storage, and the industrious pharmacist had placed a refrigerator, a toilet and bath and had rigged up some sort of heating and cooling system that generously cooled in the winter and heated in the summer.

We were poor. (Oh, I remember. I already told you that. We were macaroni-and-cheese-with-chicken-hot-dog poor–only having a two-burner hot plate and an electric skillet, which had a cord that only worked directly on alternating days. We had to be quite ingenious in our meal planning. So we would have sweet-and-sour macaroni and cheese with chicken hot dogs and jump the next night to barbecue macaroni and cheese with chicken hot dogs. On Sundays we would have a special surprise: macaroni and cheese and chicken hot dog meat loaf.)

Anyway, back to my story with my tooth and adventures with antibiotics. Three days before Christmas it started to snow like it normally doesn’t snow in Central Ohio. What I mean is, it actually snowed like they forecast when it usually doesn’t. It was the closest thing to a blizzard I had ever experienced in the Buckeye state. I needed to get home but I had an old car with no heater and tires that had lost their hair months before, leaving them quite bald.

Also, quite bluntly, I waited too long. By the time I made the decision to drive the twenty-four miles to be with my family, the streets were completely blanketed. But I was young and stupid (which may be redundant). It was pitch black with nobody on the road when I turned on the old 3-C Highway and journeyed northward towards Centerburg. Within just a few miles, the road disappeared and my only landmarks to know where to drive and not end up in a ditch were the telephone poles on both sides of the highway, which I tried to stay precisely between.

About five miles down the road, I started to get a headache, my neck cramped and my heart started to palpitate. I thought I was dying. Part of me believed I was having a heart attack or stroke and another part thought I was reacting to the antibiotics mingled with my apprehension about the storm and my insufficient tank, rolling along in the inclement weather. I crept like a turtle at twenty miles per hour, believing I was going to pass out at any moment.

Fortunately, there were no cars on the road, only a snow truck that had slid off into the ditch, but still maintained the integrity of its blinking yellow light. I realized that if I couldn’t keep my tires rolling forward, that I, too, would end up buried somewhere in the snow, slumped over my steering wheel, gasping for air from my sudden infestation of illness.

I was scared.

Scared is a bad thing–but it does afford one quality contribution–it makes us think about what’s important. On that stretch of road, with snow falling all around me and ice-cold air blowing into my face from my alleged heater, I realized that I had much to do and had tackled very little of it. I was living in a space that was insufficient to my needs, trying to duck out early in the morning so my landlord would not ask me for overdue rent. I was getting fatter by eating low-quality food and failing to provide basic needs. But as important as all of that was to the betterment of my life, the main thing that troubled me was that I had stagnated my dreams while insisting I was pursuing them. I was a musician, a writer and an artist but I spent more time explaining what I wanted to do than actually performing my vision. I was about to die in the middle of a blizzard in a beat-up Chevy from an overdose of antibiotics due to botched surgery on my jaw and would never be able to celebrate this Christmas with my little family.

I just cried.

It’s not good to cry when you’re driving through a snow storm. My windshield was already smeared with all sorts of slush and sludge, and the tears only served to further diminish my vision–but I didn’t care. I cried. Part of it was feeling sorry for myself, part of it was that my mouth still hurt from the surgery and some of it was that I was lost. I said one word.


That’s it. Actually, even to this day, it is the most effective prayer I have ever uttered. As I came out of my little plea, the snow stopped pelting my car and turned into a mere flurry. The road became clearer. My neck stopped hurting and I was able to drive the remaining miles without fear, to arrive at my home and grab my two little boys, throwing them together into one bed with my wife and myself, covering us with all the blankets in the house and giggling ourselves to sleep.

The road became clearer.

But often we have to be willing for it to freeze over and threaten our complete demise before we can actually see where we’re going. Did my life drastically change after that? No–but I did make a great, gradual improvement.

Twenty-four miles took me into the heart of my problem, gave me a frigid view of my condition and then, when I relented to reason and cried for help mercifully set me free.


Merry Christmas! Listen to Jangled, below — the snazziest mix of Jingle Bells, Carol of the Bells and Silver Bells you’ll ever hear!


To see books written by Jonathan, click the link below! You can peruse and order if you like!

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