Monday, February 02, 2009

Mood: Retrospective
Music: none

Ten years ago today, I was in a car accident.

I was four months pregnant with my second child at the time. My then 2-year-old daughter was in her car seat in the back. Fortunately, the girls were both okay. Aside from losing consciousness for a few minutes, some whiplash, and some other issues with my back that still nag from time to time, I was physically okay, too. We were lucky - it could have been far, far worse.

Looking back, I have a half-formed idea in my head of a sort of parallel between the situation in which the accident occurred, and my life at the time. A sort of overlay on the whole thing.

It was a Tuesday afternoon. I was working for H&R Block, and had an evening shift since we were also living in and managing a small motel in Erie (we lived in the house on the grounds). It was payday at HRB, and I was going to go pick up my sister in one direction before heading the other direction to the office to pick up my check, go to the bank, and take her out to lunch.

I was trying to pull out of the motel parking lot. Where it was situated, there was an intersection to the right, and the right turn lane began just after the driveway. It was a fairly busy time of day, and I was trying to make a left turn. This meant crossing two eastbound lanes of traffic to enter the other two westbound lanes. Not fun even when it's not lunch hour.

The light had turned red, and I had been watching up along the line of traffic to a banked curve, where I had a nice view of both oncoming lanes (to my left). A white van had stopped just before the driveway to leave me room to get out, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw him motioning. I glanced to see him waving me around, indicating I could pull out and make my turn.

I nodded, turned my head to look left again (habit), and saw a little green car coming up the shoulder right at me! The dumbass was trying to cut up along the shoulder (and across the driveway, where I was sitting) to get to the right turn lane. Well, the van driver had given me the all clear, I could still see the curve beyond the green car and it was clear, so rather than get hit by the green car, I pulled out. Mind you, this all happened in the space of seconds.

I pulled out and heard the single most horrendous sound I've ever heard in my life, accompanied by another sound that took me a second to recognize - my own scream. It took seeing the white hood of my car come up in front of my windshield (it had folded) for me to realize I'd just been plowed into. After that, it was in slow motion and silent - the hood of the car lowering and the blue Ford F250 that had hit me coming into view as our cars bounced back a bit, the slow, slow skid as his momentum carried us a few feet, the odd little hop of the truck body up, then down as it came to a stop.

And then suddenly, everything was at normal speed and terribly loud. I could hear the engine of my car revved up, roaring like it was redlining. I distinctly remember thinking "That's not a good sound for it to make" and reaching up to shut it off. I shut it off, dropped my hand away from the ignition, and that's the last thing I remember until a young guy, probably in his early 20s, managed to pry open the door on the passenger side about a foot and squeeze in beside me. I looked around, and there was chaos everywhere - fire trucks, an ambulance, people in yellow firecoats all over the place. And I was stunned. But it didn't occur to me at that point to really wonder where they'd all come from, or how long it had taken them all to get there.

This guy starts asking me questions, starting with "are you okay?" and I just automatically nodded out of habit, not really having figured that part out yet, or even bothered to wonder about it myself. He asked me if I'd lost consciousness and I said no. It wasn't until later that I realized that I obviously had, and didn't realize it. I think by this time, I was probably in a bit of shock, because everything had a sort of surreal, dreamlike quality to it.

A fireman managed to open the driver's side door and asked me if I was okay, and I said "I think so" and my hand automatically dropped to my belly - I was 4 months pregnant, not to the obviously showing part yet. His eyes got big and he asked if I was pregnant and I told him yes. Well, after that, everybody freaked out. They wanted me to go to the hospital. In the meantime, mention of the pregnancy had reminded me that my 2 year old was in the back seat behind me (she'd been quiet this whole time), and I was a bit alarmed, trying to get turned around to see if she was okay, and the EMS folks were alarmed, trying to get me to go to the hospital. Chaos for a bit.

I got turned around, and there was a woman who looked remarkably like my aunt talking to my daughter. My daughter was absolutely fine - she wasn't upset at all! She was chattering away at this woman, laughing and smiling as though nothing had happened! I was utterly relieved, and SO grateful that this woman (who was part of the ambulance crew) had thought to check on her and keep her occupied and calm (while I was pretty much a zombie).

Well, they made me sign a form that I refused to go to the hospital. I would have gone, but what would I have done with my daughter? My husband at the time was out with my sister's husband, looking for a part for a car they were fixing. I couldn't very well leave my daughter unsupervised, and I would have worried about where she was if anyone offered to watch her while I went to the ER. So, I didn't go, but made promises that I would go see my doctor. Which I did (be proud of me).

Anyway, things seemed okay. So then they had me get out of the car so they could move it back out of the road. I did, and was standing off to the side with a couple of the firefighters as another bunch of them pulled the vehicles apart (the truck had actually ridden up onto my car a bit, so I think there was a tow truck pulling on the truck). I was fine, until they got the vehicles apart and I saw what was left of my car. That's when I fell apart. I was hysterical. I was hyperventilating and kept saying "oh my god, my husband's going to kill me" and "oh my god, my car!". I was starting to lose the ability to stand up, and the guys sorta dragged me over to sit on the porch, and that wonderfully helpful woman came over and helped me calm down. Bless her!

Well, after that, they were making arrangements to tow the car. They were chaining it up to a truck, and I had to get stuff out of the car. My daughter was still in the car seat, since we all agreed she'd be safer there than running around the scene. I was in shock. Trying to think of what was important enough to get out of there. My husband's tile tools were in there - he couldn't work without them. And if you've ever been in an accident, you know that every single item that is under the seats comes out. And you find yourself with a hell of a lot more stuff than you ever dreamed was in your car.

So I'm sorting through this stuff, taking things out and shuffling over to the porch with them. I lean into the passenger side back seat and am gathering things when someone starts unbuckling my daughter. I start objecting, saying "Hey! Leave her there!", and by the time I get my head up, my voice dies away and I'm washed with a feeling of utter relief. It was my husband. I immediately said "I'm sorry". (yeah, yeah, I know)

He asked why they were getting the car ready to haul away, and I told him they were taking it to some yard somewhere. He said "Hun, we run this place. The car can sit in the back corner of the parking lot for now." I blinked, then yelled at the salvage people "Hey! Unhook this thing!". I felt like they'd been trying to take advantage of me, despite the fact they had no way of knowing it was okay to leave the car there.

So anyway, that was the accident itself. Then the trips to the doctor, the chiropractor, etc. We were moving to NC in a month, and were down to one vehicle. I went to work that same night of the accident, even though I couldn't stop shaking. Dressed up in my office attire, shaking like a leaf, doing taxes. I'm an idiot.

The thing that catches me now, though, is that at the time, we were planning on moving to NC. Tile jobs were few and far between for the ex. We had come back to PA for a year, after living in NC a year, and now were headed back to NC again.

PA or NC. The green car or what's beyond the white van. Either choice, you end up smashed, but at least the path of the van had odds of being clear. And that's sort of how we viewed the move to NC. We were barely surviving in PA, and NC held the chance that the ex would be able to find work. The coastal area is huge for building, and they put a lot of tile in those big beach houses. But there were no guarantees.

Fortunately, NC worked out better than what lay beyond the white van! We still ended up 'smashed' was November 4 of that same year that I began the process of getting away from him. By April of the next year, I was on my own with a 3 year old and a baby. Maybe the accident was part of what made me reevaluate things, I don't know.

After about a year, I met my current husband, and about 8 months after that, moved to where I am now. For the first time in my life, I've lived in one house for more than 2 years. I've lived here for 7-1/2 years now, and while the place has seemingly shrunk as our family has's home.

And the driveway is far from a busy intersection.


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