Blown Out of Proportion / by Courtney Mehlhaff

When I was in high school, I worked at a drugstore. Part of my job was delivering prescription medication and other supplies to people who weren't able to leave their homes. This frequently included transporting full oxygen tanks and returning with empty ones.

Now, the only thing my boss ever told me about O2 tanks was, "Don't bang them together or they'll blow up," which, as you can imagine, made quite an impression. But even though it felt like I was piloting a load of active bombs, I didn't have any good way to secure them in the delivery van other than seatbelting them into individual seats.

One day, I must have stopped a bit short at an intersection, and one of the tanks slipped out of its straps. I heard it hit the floor, followed by a loud hiss, and my 16-year-old brain immediately thought, "This is it. This is how I go." And I fucking bailed out of that van right in the middle of the street. Luckily I threw it in park before diving for safety.

I don't know how long I stood there cowering before it dawned on me that I had not been consumed by an apocalyptic ball of fire. I also don't know how long it took me to realize that nothing had actually exploded -- the valve at the top of the tank had simply twisted open, and air was shooting out. 

I do remember looking around to see if anyone had witnessed my vehicular panic attack. As luck would have it, there were no bystanders to tell the tale of a delivery run that ended not with a bang but with a whimper.