I was driving to work today and remembered it was July 9th— car accident day. Yesterday I forgot all about it, which is so typical, and didn’t remember until I was sitting at the light on Fairfield and Taylor today, on my way to the Boys & Girls Club. I looked at the clock and it was 10:15. Automatically I thought—wow, they would have still been cutting me out of the car. I was irritated in my memory that they hadn’t hurried it up already.
I texted Sprinky and said, “Do you know what today is?”
She texted back, “Oh yeah. Car accident day. Glad you are alive ☺”
I was glad too.
I was also really glad that I was not one of those emotional people who freak out over things like “anniversaries” or “flashbacks” and that I didn’t feel the need to call in to work or speak with anyone about it, that I was a triumphant, resilient enough person to just drive to work and say, “Oh yeah. That old accident?” and then flip the radio station.
But then, without my permission, Sprinky’s face popped into my head and I remembered her expression when she walked into the ER. I remembered trying to lift my head to tell her I was okay, but being held down by the neck brace and the Velcro on the backboard. I remembered tears pouring out, and the BGC staff standing around the corner behind the curtain. I remembered the guy pacing outside my car window calling everyone in my phone book, pulling at his hair and saying: fuckareyouokayshitfuckdon’tmoveshit! And I remembered those terrifying seconds between when the guy hit me and when the wheel of the semi came through my window. I remembered that panicky feeling of knowing I was going to die right there and that no one would even find out for, like, two hours. I remembered how scared I was after it all stopped and I was waiting for help to arrive.
The terror of that day—of 10:15 four years ago—clamped onto me, and before I knew it I was sobbing through the intersection—like, not a pretty little reasonable cry, but hiccupping and wailing and dry heaving, the kind where people in the car next to you mouth: are you okay? And you nod and then wipe your nose on your work shirt and breath in another staggery little cry.
When I got to the Club one second later, I sat there for a minute and called my dad (who was unavailable), sat there some more, breathed into a paper sac, wiped my face and went inside. I felt like I could pull it together. Then someone went and said “hello” to me. I lost it all over again and that caused a mild panic for the administrative staff, because they had never seen me act like this.
They tried to send me home, but I told them that I could not afford to go home, because my friends could not pay me an hourly rate to sit at home and console me. And then I told them, crying like a crazy person, “And I’m taking the kids swimming today. I love swimming.”
I think they were telepathically transmitting the number to Parkview Behavioral between them, but they offered nicely to work something else out so I could take some time if I needed to. They even said I could just leave and come back in a few hours.
Instead I told them (like any girl who knows her psyche) if they could just give me some good gossip, I think I could get my mind off it and I’d be fine.
They told me something juicy. Sure enough, that did the trick. An hour later we were discussing the van schedule and I didn’t shed another tear all day.
I ended up meeting Sprinky for lunch at the little downtown Starbucks, though, and after a few conversations about California and work and the price of gas—with a few random interjections like, “Then I got so scared when they started cutting the car” followed by, “Do you know how many calories are in this?” normal breathing was restored.
The experience itself seems so lonely, probably because I was the only one in the car and the other guy died. All I can do is try to explain it, which is never as satisfying as I think it’s gonna be. But lunch was great, and at closing time today when all was said and done, I felt like patting myself on the back and saying, as if I were 27 and 4 at the same time, “Yeah, that was scary. But it’s over. Let’s just go home.”
Here is the original story, written in 2005, one year after the accident: July 9th 2004