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1:17 a.m. - 2005-10-29
part 1: Impressions of an accident

Tuesday, October 17th at 7:45pm. Iím in my car, driving through a hilly park area in Livermore. Up ahead I can see the taillights of my loverís car, Iím following him to his house because the road is remote and obscure and itís easy to lose your way. Iíve already worked all day and Iím exhausted but Heís come down with a stomach flu so I offered to drive down and take care of him. We're almost there.

I cant remember how fast I was going but I know it was much slower than I usually drive, because I was almost out of gas and I was trying to conserve it for the trip back. I'm driving around a corner that straightens out into a steep downhill area so I press down on the brake pedal and the car doesnít even slow down. It seems to slide out from underneath me like a bathroom rug, the back end of the car fishtailing, the momentum pushing me towards the edge of the road and the drop-off beyond, and now I can hear it too, that awful squealing sound of skidding tires. Iím trying to straighten out the car but the back end is swinging back and forth wildly and I canít control it. Iím barely managing to keep it on the road. Iím still going too fast. I press the brakes harder and I hear the tires squealing louder but I still seem to be picking up speed going down the hill. Moving back and forth across my windshield is a small, steady light, a lightbulb on a booth right in the middle of the road. I see the entrance booth to the park and its ďvĒ of low, fat cement poles in front of it and I know Iím going to hit it and I cant do anything about. Suddenly the wooden wall of the booth is everything, its filled my vision and I had time to realize it was because it was so close, because I was hitting it. They say that airbags open too fast for you to see it but I saw it. In what had to have been 1/10th of a second I had time to see the front of my hood start to buckle. To accept that this was actually happening. To feel disbelief that I was having a second car accident so soon after the first one. To wonder if this is how I die, and to feel embarrassed about it. To see the airbags explode into beingÖ.

And then, for a second, there was nothing.

My eyes are open and Iím sitting upright in my seat. The airbags are deflating and the air in the car is full of what I think is acrid grey smoke. I figured out later that it was the powder coating from the airbags, but my only thought then was that the car was on fire with me inside. I pull the handle on the door and push but it only opens about 2 inches. The crash has bent the frame and the door is stuck. I push as hard as I can but my limbs are weak and shaky. I see taillights of my loverís car stopped ahead. What is he waiting for? Didnít he see?! Didnít he hear?! I find my purse on the floor and grab my cell phone and flip it open and press send. (I knew he was the last person I called and it would call him again.) I notice thereís a chunk torn out of my wrist about the size of a fingernail and its bleeding everywhere. I lick the blood off it survey the damage. Not too deep. It can wait. I hold the phone open in my hand, screen facing me while I push on the door again and I watch it searching, searching, searching for a signal and I start to scream. I still think the car is on fire and I canít get out. I hear myself screaming, squealing and dry-sobbing, making the noises of the trapped and helpless as I flail myself against the door. Iím fighting with everything I have and finally I feel metal bending somewhere and the door starts to give. Iím squeezing out the door and one of my shoes gets caught. A quiet still-sane part of my brain registers this but I canít stop myself, I have to get out. Some animal part of my brain that would have chewed the foot off if it had been stuck in a trap.

Outside the car finally and it begins to register that the car isnít on fire but this no longer seems important. My cell phone beeps and I look down at it. No Signal. Iím alone in the dark, in the middle of the road, in the middle of nowhere. Iím hurt and Iím terrified. Survival instincts are fighting against the rising panic but I havenít the faintest idea what to do, when the lover pulls up, having turned around to see why I wasnít following.

At the time it felt like an eternity, obviously, but looking back at it Iíd say that from the moment my brakes locked up to him pulling up next to me was less than 90seconds.

He jumps out of his car and pulls me upright and looks me over. I tell him Iím okay and he puts his arms around me and thatís all I need. Iím safe. He puts me in his car, drives up to the top of the hill and makes all the phone calls for me. As we wait for the police and AAA I examine myself, sitting still and going over every bit of myself in my head, feeling for anything that feels broken or wrong, but I know Iím all right. Iím beginning to calm down and the shakes begin. In the wake of a massive adrenaline rush I always get them, shaking and near violent shuddering. He asks me if Iím cold and starts to roll up the window, but I ask him to roll it down again. The smell from the airbags is all over me and it was making me feel sick. It keeps bringing back that moment when I was trapped in the car and I tell him about it and then I really do start to cry. Some of the many, many bruises were already starting to color and I knew I was in for a lot of pain to come. I was already thinking about having to call my dad and tell him I wrecked another car. About having to go back to public transportation which means sticking with the shitty jobs I can find close to home. How no one would ever insure me as a driver again, and I began to wish I had simply died in the crash. This is patently stupid of course, and remembering how hard I had fought to get out of the car I started to laugh derisively at myself.

Laughing through pain always reminds me of a story my uncle Lee once told me, and then I began to laugh genuinely. The absurdity of the situation really dawned on me and I laughed even more. Iíve totaled 2 different cars in less than a year. Only me, this could only happen to me! The lover looked at me as if I were doing exactly what I was doing, and then asked me why I was laughing and I told him the story.

My Uncle Lee grew up in Texas, land of bad-ass-ery. When he was in high school he fractured his arm during a wrestling match and called his dad to come pick him up from school. His father told him that since it wasnít his leg that was broken he could go ahead and walk home. And he did. Every step of the way jostled his arm and made it hurt worse and worse and worse. After awhile he just started laughing to himself because, as he said ďThe pain was so ridiculous you just had to laugh.Ē Iíve always loved that story, and itís saved my ass more than once.

The Lover looked at me, amused and a little admiring, but I could tell he still didnít get me so I paraphrased. ďSometimesĒ I said, ď things suck so bad that they really are funny.Ē


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