My website is not exactly finished but I’d like to get back to blogging. I tell the writers I work with, that they shouldn’t shy away from writing the “tough stuff.” It can be cathartic and freeing to put down challenges and bad moments on paper. So I’m taking my own advice. Ten years ago this month, something happened that changed my world. Here’s my story.
“Is this happening?” I ask myself. “Is this really happening?”
A car is… a black car is… coming straight towards me. It’s crossing the centre line, heading right for my vehicle. I’m watching it all happen, unfolding in cliché slow motion. Frame by frame. I’m watching it happen. Like it’s not happening to me. Like I’m in someone else’s scene, someone else’s story.
There’s no room for me to go. There are vehicles in front of me, beside me and behind me on the two-lane B. C. highway. There’s a wall of rock on my left side and on my right, a sliver of sand that drops right into a lake. I’m waiting to see which side will be chosen for me. Time is suspended. Before and after doesn’t exist.
It reminds me of practicing getting out of stalls in my Cessna 152, a small two-seater aircraft. Stalls happen when you angle the airplane towards the sky and fly up and up and up until the engine can’t sustain the lift. Then the plane lets out a sharp cry, a sound, an alarm, before it slides down to earth. If you don’t lower the nose and add power, you’ll spin and spin and spin all the way into the ground.
Waiting for that stall alarm was always a scary moment. But you had to wait. Suspended in the air. Waiting for the second before you’re allowed to turn on the power full thrust and pitch the plane forward and start flying again.
Back on the ground in my car, I wait. There’s nothing for me to do but wait.
Impact. It’s happening.
The moment the other car hits me, it sends my car — my brand-new, first-ever car — spinning on an axis I have never experienced on land. I turn and turn and turn with the car. A ball rolling down a hill. Everything is silent although I know the metal and plastic of my vehicle are screaming, as it’s scratched and punctured and dragged over the highway asphalt. My arms and legs and head are flung this way and that way and my knees hit the steering wheel.
Then all is still.
The car has landed and I’m lying on my left side. My mouth is filled with crunchy bits that I hope aren’t my teeth. Phew. Just sand. I seem to be okay. I seem to be fine. I seem to be intact. I seem to be in one piece. What happens now?
I take off my seatbelt but there’s no way I can clamber away. The driver’s side window is open so I crawl through the gap between the vehicle and the sand, and stand up.
The wheels are still spinning, the wheels that aren’t in the lake. My car’s backend is swimming. There’s another vehicle upright in the water beside it. A third car is smashed against the rock wall on the other side of the highway. People come out of their upright and complete vehicles, taking photos of me and the scene. I find it funny because I’m the journalist. I’m not used to being the centre of a story. I wonder if I have to cover the collision for my own paper. It’s going to make headlines as we’ve just shut down the main route from Vernon to Kelowna the day before Thanksgiving. I bet many people are going to miss their flights. Including me.
“You’re bleeding,” a man calls out to me.
I feel a line of warmth wander down my face. Then it dribbles off my chin and splats, a big red blotch, on my beautiful green leather shoes. This is happening.
The emergency vehicles arrive and I’m put on a spinal board, then a stretcher and loaded into an ambulance. There’s a small boy put in the truck with me. He’s not hurt. He tells me he’s seven and is the son of the driver who hit me.
“Dad’s going to be angry at mom,” he says. “That’s the second car we’ve wrecked in a week.”
The paramedic tells me they put the boy in with me because his mother is seriously injured. On the outside, I look fine too, except for my bloody facemask. I feel sharp pains in my neck and the paramedic hopes it’s not glass poking into my skin. I hope it’s not either.
The paramedic is on a hockey team that I’d like to be on. I ask her how I can be one of her teammates. She laughs and says she’s can’t believe I’m thinking about hockey when I’m being rushed to the hospital. But I am. Sports are a big part of my life. I’m training for a triathlon. I’m an Ultimate player, a skier, paddler. It’s how I release stress. How I think about things. How I figure things out. I like to mull over sentences and paragraphs in my mind while I’m running or swimming. The physical and creative energies combine to make my words better.
When I get to the emergency room in Kelowna, there’s no glass in my head. The physician says being a triathlete saved my life. If I wasn’t in such great shape, I might not be here. I might not be alive. We both don’t understand that, in the collision, someone did die. Someone did disappear and will never been seen again.
A few hours after being in emerg, I’m released that evening. Alive but not well. My forehead is stitched up like Frankenstein. I have scratches and bruises all over my body and pain all over, too. What happens next is that I take a cab home, where my cat greets me. He’ll be my only companion over the next three days. It’s Thanksgiving and I was supposed to be in Victoria with my aunt and uncle.
I talk to my parents in the Maritimes and tell them what happened. It feels like I’m telling them a story about another person. Like it happened to someone else. Not to me.
My parents are upset and want to fly out to see me but I say no, please don’t. It’s OK. The person in the story I just told you about is fine. She’ll be good with her talkative cat and some sleep. She’ll be OK.
“Good night,” I say to my parents. “I love you.”
What happens next is I go to bed and the next morning, I can barely get out of it. My joints are as stiff as a rusty Cessna door. My back pinches me hard and tells me to stop moving. My head hurts as I try to remember what day it is. Do I have to go to work? No, but there’s a running session this afternoon with my triathlon club.
I can’t go. I can’t do it. I’m hurt. I’m injured.
What happens next is that over the next few weeks I watch my body mutate into a different form, a different person. The Me before the crash moved fluidly. She could pick up her legs with ease and jump over a fallen log. She could kick her feet in the lake and stretch out her arms and lead a group of swimmers to the farthest shore. She could dive onto the grass for the Frisbee and then cycle for hours without a break. The body I have now has lost its balance. It trips over invisible lines. It moves sporadically and has no endurance. It can’t even sit or stand for longer than five minutes. What happens next is I realize that body is mine. But it’s not me.
My physical form has survived the crash but the Me I’ve known for 34 years, is gone. The Me I grew up with, the Me who walked and biked and swam and had hockey practices on Wednesday nights, has disappeared. That former Me isn’t woken up at night by pain. That Me isn’t asking herself why a woman crossed the centre line on a perfectly sunny day in early October and changed my life.
What happens next is that I know I’ll never have the answer to that question. What happens next is the newer version of Me moves on, moves past the scene where the former Me was shook into the air, coming back to earth when her head shatters the driver’s side window. What happens next is I know the newer version of Me will never be able to run a marathon or launch high, high, high into the air to grab a Frisbee. What happens next is the newer version of Me knows she has to go to physiotherapy and massage for the rest of her life. What happens next is the newer version of Me lives with wounds scratched and punctured deep below the skin. What happens next is up to me.