When I was younger and naïve, I thought myself to be both invincible and unstoppable… Then, at the age of 19, I literally smashed myself into a cold, hard, concrete wall of truth as to the contrary. It was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving; the air was cold, and it was raining slightly. I had just started a new job at a shipping warehouse a few months earlier, and we worked ghastly hours in the darkness, usually from four until nine am. I was due at four fifteen that day, but only got on the road at four, and living a little under twenty minutes away, I was pushing it in terms of punctuality. I thought I knew how to fix the problem: speed.
This turned out to be the wrong choice. At the time, I owned a 1991 Honda Accord which I liked to say had a mind of its own. It had electrical problems: the lights and radio would turn on and off intermittently. It leaked oil constantly, and even though I had had it for nine months, I had never changed, refilled, or even checked the oil. The windows would get stuck in various positions, and to this day I wonder if it leaked coolant. Coolant was another liquid I never bothered to check in the vehicle, another disastrous neglect of mine. In short, the car had major issues, and I completely ignored them. I guess I thought it was just as invincible as I was.
On the night that I chose to speed up, there had been three large semis in the left lanes next to me, and I wanted to pass them. I remembered a time when my cousin, a man notorious in my family for totaling cars, had driven my Accord with me in the passenger seat when he came for a visit. He had gotten the car up to over one hundred miles per hour before, and everything had been fine; I felt that I could do the same.
I couldn’t. I got up to about ninety-five miles per hour in the farthest left lane, past the trucks, before trying to go along the bend to the right. My car must have had other ideas, because as I turned, I felt the sharp snap in the steering wheel, and suddenly it was completely loose. I had no control of the vehicle. Strangely enough, instead of feeling panic set in, creating chaos in my mind, time seemed to slow down for me. I heard a voice in my head say, “Grip the wheel.” I held onto that wheel as hard as I could, and then my car crashed into the divide on the freeway.
I blacked out after the impact. During this unconscious moment, my car ricocheted all the way across 495, and traversed the freeway across four lanes, from the left to the right side of the road. It collided with the other concrete edge, and shortly after that I woke up. It was a miracle no one hit me in the process. Another miracle came to me in the form of a kind old man who had seen the whole incident; he pulled over behind me and called 911 for me. The ambulance came to take me away shortly after that.
At first, I was to confused and shocked to be hurt. In phone call to my boss later that day, explaining my absence, I told him I would be in on Wednesday. He laughed at me and said he’d see me on Monday, because I was in for a world of pain. But how could that be so, when I was so indestructible?
I was not indestructible. The cruel mistress known as the, “Day After Impact” found me on Wednesday, just as my boss had predicted. I was given morphine to help deal with the agony, which I gladly took. Unfortunately, the reaches of its pain-relieving powers were only so far, and I was still barely able to move. I also became incredibly ill as a reaction to ingesting the medication. I think a good deal of my pride was vomited out of me that day, along with the actual vomit.
I’m sure I ate my way back from all the mass I’d lost via Thanksgiving dinner the following day, but I couldn’t tell the details to anybody because I have no memory whatsoever of it. Concussions are strange things, and the instructions for dealing with them are even stranger. I was not allowed to look at screens, particularly in the dark. I was not supposed to read too much. There was to be no texting, emailing, or stressing out. I suppose it was lucky that my accident happened over a holiday break, because without that time provided to rest I would have broken every single rule given to me while attempting to work two jobs and be a student.
In the weeks that followed, while I was learning how to deal with my concussion, my priorities in life shifted. I had centered my world on such silly things before: clothes, beauty products, candy, money, and the like. I realized none of these things, which I had acquired from wasting the rewards of my new job, had saved me that night. Something bigger, perhaps something I didn’t understand, had saved me. I had always been spiritual, but I became much more religious after my car crash. I converted to Catholicism and taught myself to be much more responsible. I tried to avoid wasting my time and funds on material things. And lastly, I always took care of my car!
Perhaps it doesn’t make sense that I truly only have one regret from this experience. To some extent, of course I lament the fact that I desecrated my first car from being careless. My grandfather was a mechanic, and in some way, I think I dishonored his memory by treating the gift of wheels I’d been given with so little thought. However, seeing as how I magically survived such a horrific incident with a feeling of being watched over, I’d like to think he forgave me after seeing the whole thing from above. My true regret doesn’t have to do with the heap of metal my first taste of freedom turned into, but rather the person who saved me from it. I don’t remember the name of the man who called 9-11 for me, despite it being written on his jumpsuit. I never asked for his number, and he had used my phone to call the emergency line, so I never had a chance to obtain it from my records. I regret the missed opportunity at making a human connection, and my subsequent inability to thank the man who happened to see me at what was perhaps the dumbest moment in my driving history. As much as this fact stings me today, it has motivated me to try and learn from people in a way I didn’t bother to before, because someday those people might be a part of my life I didn’t expect. I learned to be more thankful, and I can only hope one day I can meet this man again and show my thanks to him. I used to believe in the common phrase, ‘don’t talk to strangers.’ Now I just try to remember to ask their names, so they aren’t strangers anymore. Maybe one day I’ll meet this man again, and he’ll no longer be a stranger to me.
This was originally written in February 2017 for an English class taught by Dr. Pulju at Montgomery College. The picture is indeed of my car after it had been towed to my father’s house.