And Then I Was Lucky to be Alive

I’ve been trying to write this post for over two months now.  But every time I try, I just…stop writing.  So this is what post traumatic stress is.  Huh.

I’m going to try again.  Deep breath.  Here we go.

In a previous post, I mentioned that March was a rough month for me.  But it didn’t start out that way.

I had been working my new job for about a month, and it was going well.  So well, in fact, that I had decided to adopt a puppy like I had wanted to do for years and years.  I had gone to the shelter on a Friday and picked out a completely adorable pup and was told I could pick him up in a week.

I spent the first half of that week fretting over my new puppy, wondering if he was scared in the shelter, frustrated that I couldn’t just go get him right then.

The following Tuesday I was coming home from work, just like always.  I had my iPod playing over my stereo.  “Call on Me” by Eric Prydz.  (If you’re going to google that song, don’t look at the music video.  Trust me.  It’s not something you want to see unless you’re a hormone-riddled teenage boy.)

I have a habit when I drive.  I tend to drift close to the white line when a car goes by me in the opposite direction.  I live in the country, and our roads are tiny.  There’s not much room, and if I had a dollar for every car that’s passed me with a tire across the center line I’d be a rich woman.  I took physics in high school.  We learned about the laws of motion.  That, coupled with photos of head-on collisions, makes me understandably nervous about incoming cars.

So I was driving along, listening to my music, when a car went by.  I drifted close to the white line, like usual.  Unlike usual, that section of road had no extra asphalt stretching past the white line.  So when I hugged the line, my right tires fell of the road entirely and onto the shoulder.

Going off the road isn’t that big of a deal, usually.  You slow down, you edge back onto the road as gently as possible, no harm no foul.

Except there were mailboxes a few yards ahead.

If I could have a do-over, I’d just breeze by the mailboxes.  There was probably enough room for my car to squeeze by with it’s tires on the shoulder. But I, in the panicked state you get when you’re doing something slightly dangerous, decided that, even though I’d only been coasting and slowing down for a few feet, I had to get back on the road right then.

Which, once again, usually isn’t a problem.  I was only going about forty-five miles an hour.  I’ve successfully gotten back on the road at that speed before. But, unfortunately, the shoulder was a few inches lower than the road.  Four inches, to be more precise.  The state had dug out the weeds encroaching upon the asphalt a couple of years prior, and the road had never leveled out like it was supposed to.

So when I went to move back onto the road, my car did a little hop as the tires hit the “curb” of the road.   I think the hop jarred my hands or something, because the next thing I knew I was in the other lane, headed for the other shoulder.

They say that it’s important not to panic in these situations, that over-correction causes accidents.  I panicked.  I couldn’t help it.  This sort of thing doesn’t happen to me.  I’m a good driver.  I only speed five miles above the speed limit.  I stop at stop signs.  I drive carefully.

So when everything went to hell, I over-corrected.  I was afraid I’d hit a car head-on if I stayed in the wrong lane. I twisted the steering wheel, trying to maneuver my unruly car back into the right lane.  So then, naturally, I was fish-tailing.  Once you start fish-tailing, it’s really hard to regain control of your vehicle.  Ask me how I know.

After weaving around the road a bit, I saw the right-side shoulder out of the corner of my eye.  I decided that it would be best if I got off the road, especially since there was a nice big yard for me to roll into.  The idea was that I could sort of coast or fish-tail to a stop in the yard.  That the shoulder and yard would save me.  So I let the car go off the road–it was headed that direction anyway.

That’s when I learned that the shoulder is not your friend, ever.

Not a foot into the shoulder, my front right tire dug into the ground sufficiently enough to flip my car.

...this is sad.

See? Not your friend.

It felt like a roller coaster loop.  Except instead of being thrilled, I was terrified.  It’s strange how similar those two emotions are.  My car came to a stop on its roof.  I only flipped once, since I wasn’t going very fast.  I wound up hanging from my seat belt, feet dangling towards my shattered windshield.

My first thought was that the seat belt hurt, and I reached up to unbuckle it.  Up, because the floor had suddenly switched places with the roof.  When I finally found the buckle and pressed it, I flipped in mid-air over my seat belt, landing on my knees.  Remember the shattered windshield floor?  Yeah, that was still there.  I missed it by a quarter of an inch.  My right knee hit the plastic separating the windshield and the door window.  My left knee hit the driver’s side armrest.

My next thought was that I had to turn off the car, because it was bound to explode.  That’s what my panicked self thought happened after a wreck.  That’s what always happens in movies.  So I frantically fumbled for the keys, found them, and turned the car off.  But I wasn’t able to get the keys out, and I couldn’t figure out why. (Until later, when I realized the car was still in drive while it was upside down.)

Then I decided I needed to get out of the car, but the door wouldn’t open.  But I found that if I butt-bumped the door, it would inch open a bit.  So I rammed the door a few times until I could crawl carefully out of my car.  Then I sat in the dirt and trembled for a few seconds before a good Samaritan nurse lady came and got me.

When you’ve just been in an accident, people don’t arrive.  They appear out of thin air like guardian angels.  I swear, I blinked and five people were there.  The nurse-lady was the first on the scene, wearing lime green scrubs, a phone to her ear (911), asking me if I was okay.  The second was a stocky African-American man, head shaved bald, a concerned expression and a hand out to help me to my feet.  He half carried me to the third arrival–a short blond lady with a golf cart whose yard I had just wrecked into.  She let me sit in her golf cart and mumble half-formed thoughts and words until medical personnel arrived.

There were others, but I don’t remember their faces.  I had my spot on the golf cart, I wasn’t in pain (yet), and I was pretty much set.  My only requests were for my bag (which was laying on the roof towards the back of the car), and for someone to call my mom.  (This is a really big ouchie, mom.  I don’t think a band-aid will cover it this time.)

Everything became a blur of faces and the repeated question of if I was okay.  Nobody believed me when I said I was fine, that I didn’t think  I was hurt that badly.  The fire trucks showed up first, then the ambulance.  I let the EMTs check me out, and they took me into the back of the ambulance.  It could have also doubled as a freezer, it was so cold back there.  I tried not to think about how many people had died where I was sitting.

Right about then is when my dad showed up.  Mom had called him, and he’d booked it to get there.  I’d been doing pretty well emotionally.  Holding in the flood of fear and tears.   Staying calm and stable.  When Dad showed up, my fragile control withered.  Suddenly I was crying and clutching my father’s hand, choking through the questions the EMT’s were asking me to make sure I wasn’t messed up in the head from the crash.

When we got out of the ambulance (no, I don’t want to go to the hospital, I feel fine, I swear), mom was there.  More crying and hugging ensued.

The good Samaritan strangers had left one by one, with my thanks.  The fire trucks and the ambulance had gone.  The cops showed up and did something with a wheel on a stick, then decided not to write me a ticket.  (Thank you, officers.) One of the officers stayed with us while we waited for the tow truck. Everyone we knew that worked in Lumberton stopped at the wreck and talked to us.  It got to where I was embarrassed, frustrated, achy (Hello, pain! There you are.  I wish you’d just stayed away. Where’s the pain meds?), slightly depressed,  and wanted the whole thing to just be over already.

Finally, the tow truck showed up.  They loaded my broken, battered car onto the truck and hauled it home.  We’d been home all of thirty seconds when my pastor showed up.  Apparently I’d been big news around the county that day.  Nothing travels faster than Southern small-town gossip.  My pastor was very supportive, told me how fortunate we were, that cars were replaceable.  He said all the right things, gave us hugs, then left us to deal with the situation.

As for me?  I called work, got the next day off, and slept for sixteen hours.

We did go and get the puppy later that week.  And I did manage to buy myself a new car.  Sort of.  I’ll be paying it off for the next five years.  That debt will go well with my student loan debt.

Car!

At least the new car is pretty. Runs good too. Vroom vroom!

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4 responses to “And Then I Was Lucky to be Alive

  1. Anne Hershman

    Katie, I’m so happy you’re okay. Again.

    • Me too. I’m hoping I can start to heal up emotionally and stop being afraid of cars and the road and uh….everything driving related.

  2. Goodness gracious! It’s great to be alive, is it not?

    I’ll be honest, whenever I’m on a two-lane highway, I exist in a constant state of pissing myself, but more regarding whatever lunatics are oncoming than the dangers of an unforgiving shoulder (which I’ve never considered as a threat). Every time I see a car coming my opposite direction, I stare it down and internally plead with the driver to please grant me a few more hundred yards of safety.

    • Life is sweet, for sure.

      It’s actually a good thing that you’re nervous about two-lane roads. I’d be more worried if you weren’t. People are ridiculous about driving and frequently pull stupid stunts…and I’m right there with you with the internal pleading. I internally chant “don’t do anything stupid” repeatedly until the car passes–especially at night when I can’t really see what the other car is doing (or not doing, in the case of turn signals–which people really should start using more).

      The shoulder isn’t as scary as incoming cars. It’s actually not scary at all, until you’re depending on it to save you from a crash. Then, it’s a foul betrayer. Downright cruel. I guess it doesn’t have “save careening cars from destruction” in it’s job description. It must be reserved for emergency potty breaks and yelling at kids to “stop fighting with each other or I will turn this car around!”

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