Have you ever been in a car accident? Gosh, I sure hope not! I mean, the odds are pretty good that you will be. Probably not a serious one, please. I’m worried about you. What, me? Oh, heavens no, don’t worry about me either! I mean, I was in a car accident just recently, about five weeks ago in fact. I guess that’s why it’s on my mind. I’m the sort of person who only thinks about something once it really affects him. Which is a lie, because I think about the Large Hadron Collider opening a black hole a lot.
1. My expectations were defied.
I’ve been in other car accidents. I’ve had time dilate. I haven’t seen my life flash before my eyes, but to be fair, I was very young. I might have simply missed it. None of that happened this time.
Once I realized that the car that pulled out of the shopping center to my right, trying to make a left turn into oncoming traffic, was not going to move out of the dead stop they were at in my line, I was bracing for the impact. This was really only a second of time, but it only felt like that too. It was quick, it hurt, and the next thing I knew there was an airbag in my face and I didn’t know where my glasses were.
2. I didn’t know exactly what to do. I knew enough of what to do.
I climbed out of the car and staggered over to theirs, meeting their passenger halfway. Oh my god, is everyone okay? They are. She has her phone in her hand. Are you calling the police? I am. Okay, then, I’m going to sit down.
After thirty seconds or so I decided that I probably wasn’t going to make it to work on time despite leaving early, so I called them.
And that’s all I did.
A sharp-minded person probably would have remembered to do more. Take photos of the damage. Take photos of my wounds. Speak to the actual driver of the other car. Properly thank the passing motorist who stopped, ran over, asked if he could help, and then brought a towel and water from the store. I just tried to stay still and calm enough to answer the paramedics questions when they arrived. It was touch and go for about fifteen minutes, but once they loaded me onto the stretcher I was cognizant enough to start making jokes. He’s gonna be okay, doc!
3. My injuries were minor.
As I told people afterwards, I was injured just enough to incur the cost of an ambulance ride. I’m not upset about this; another oft-repeated phrase is that was a crash I could literally live with. It turns out, aside from a banged up knee, the brunt of my wounds are from my left arm flying towards the windshield and punching the glass while the forearm received burns from the airbag. This is not the worst thing in the world. I’m very lucky.
4. There’s cable in the ER.
Nothing profound here. It just takes really take the edge off of wounds that won’t stop bleeding when you get to watch some Adventure Time.
5. No one knows what a car crash wound even looks like.
With stitches in my knuckles and bandages wrapped around my hand and arm, it was obvious to nearly every customer at my job that something had happened to me. Or was it? Because their incredulous questions were never phrased, “What happened to you?” but rather “What did you do to yourself?” Did they expect a bragging tale about a bar brawl in which I was bested by some burly bear of a man brandishing a broken beer bottle? They must have, because it was usually disappointment (and, once in a while, belated concern) that crossed their face when I told them about my sudden vehicular stoppage.
6. I can’t decide between buyer’s remorse and predestination.
It’s in my, and everyone’s, nature to second guess our choices and how the events in our life have unfolded. Sometimes this can be a learning moment, knowing now what not to do again, and other times it’s a futile gesture, like trying to blow back the breeze. But it’s never a good thing to dwell on it, to wish with all of your heart that you could change the past. You never can. I feel like this is something I’m sometimes guilty of.
That didn’t really happen here. My housemate likes to point to the fact that I left early as the culprit, and how I should never do it again. A coworker asked me what song I was listening to when it happened, wondering if it would be forever tainted for me, like the song you first make love to. Maybe it’s the fact that I was clearly and legally without fault that I’m not falling into a woe-is-me despair. I’m not sure.
But at the same time I worry that I’ve accepted what did happen as what had to happen. My turbulent past has been recast as a plan, an event that was scheduled like a dental cleaning. This doesn’t have any real effect on my life, but it’s still a strange thing to realize when I’m planning out my finances for the month and think “Oh I was always going to spend that chunk of money there on a down payment for a car.” Am I the rat in the post-maze interview who, when asked why he went left instead of right, says, “There was a right?”
7. I’m not as interested in cars as literally anyone else in my life
The second question friends and coworkers would ask after “How are you?” is “What kind of car are you going to get?” I know, I know, they’re just trying to engage me in conversation on the events in my life, but the speed with which that question came always felt like an accusation, like I was scamming the insurance company to dump my tiny 2004 Beetle.
But even weeks later, after I’d healed enough to no longer require bandages, I had no idea what sort of car I wanted. “Something that runs,” I kept saying, but that’s hardly a way to go shopping and a real conversation killer. When pushed by the representative from the dealership my credit union is partnered with, I sheepishly pointed to my legs and said, “something that will fit these tree trunks.” So in that respect, it’s unsurprising that I ended up with an SUV.
8. I don’t know when my anxiety will recess to the background.
Some of it is the fact that I’ve been driving a tiny car for five years. Most of it is because I just got into a wreck that totaled that car and could have done more than just send me to the hospital for some cuts and abrasions. But I am predictably terrified of driving now. It’s understandable that I am, but I don’t want to be. I’m a big guy, and I’ve been a big guy all my life, and people tell me I must have played football. But that life has been spent trying to avoid being Baby Huey, obliviously destroying everything in my way. Sure, I run into tables and door frames a lot, but I try not to run into people or fine china and that takes a lot of constant effort. Now that I’m back behind the wheel of a car, one probably more than twice the size of my old one, my insufficient spatial awareness is a storming cloud in my mind, washing away the confidence that eighteen years of basically okay driving had built. I’ll get used to it. We all get used to everything and that’s something I excel at. Right now, though, it’s enough to make me never want to leave the house.