No photo, just blackness.
The immediate aftermath:
I do remember actually seeing the airbag receding, the smoke from the gunpowder twisting in the air as it dissipated. I closed my eyes. My upper lip was numb, and my upper teeth hurt. There was darkness, and I went somewhere inside my mind into a sort of semi-conscious state. My first thought was how could you DO this to me?? directed at no one in particular, just the universe. I was aware at once of all the implications. I was not breathing. Breathe, I told myself. I had that shock-y feeling when little light tracers twirled inside my eyelids. Breathe. I never thought I was hurt, but I was aware that the shock of the impact was having some kind of effect.
The next thing I was aware of was the sound of Desmond screaming. I didn’t know if he was in shock, or if he was hurt. I reached down into the center console, in front of the transmission shift lever, to get my phone. I slowly dialed 9-1-1. I must have lost consciousness for a few seconds because I knew that some time passed, but when I looked down again the phone was still in my hand. I was going to hit the “send” button, but I already heard the wailing of sirens. I have always hated when I’ve had some kind of problem, like crashing on the mountain bike, or falling off a swing when I was a kid, and would always get up and carry on as if nothing had happened. I think if no one sees it, it didn’t happen. This time, there was no avoiding it, other people were going to have to help me. Oddly, for me, I didn’t mind this time. I needed help.
I am not sure in what order things happened next, but I know my husband seemed to be okay, to my relief. That was another thing I thought of, how with his neck that hurts to begin with, he did not need this collision on top of everything else. Desmond got out of the car at some point, and tried to open my door. It was jammed. I didn’t mind, I wanted to sit there and not move for a while longer. I needed to get myself together. I heard him telling the EMTs that I should get looked at, that he thought I had lost consciousness.
I heard someone come up to the door and ask “Is she okay?” I don’t remember if I responded or not. The door was going to have to be pried open. I looked through the cracked windshield and I saw the hood was folded up and I could not see past the windshield. All around me were broken pieces of plastic; I was sitting in wreckage. My beautiful little car. Desmond opened the passenger door and tried to pull the key out of the ignition because the “door open” bell kept dinging. He couldn’t get the key out to stop it. I told him I was okay.
Finally, the firemen pried the door open. It seemed to me that it didn’t take much to open it, I thought the door was just stuck a little bit. When the door was opened, the EMT asked me if I was okay and I said “yes, I just need a moment.” I think he said something like “all you have to worry about now is what color your new car is going to be.” I didn’t know why he was saying that, of course I would get my Sonata fixed. It’s a nice car, I thought, and I like it. A little front end damage, but it will be fine.
I sat there for a while with the door open, and then a police officer came over. He asked me politely for my driver’s license, and I said, “it’s in the backpack, behind my seat.” He took the backpack out and I told him to unzip the main section and get the wallet out. “It’s black with pink flamingoes on it,” I told him. I am sure he had already run my plates and knew that I had a clean record that goes back to 1980 when I was first licensed in this state. The officer was very polite during the whole thing. He was even apologetic that he had to ask if I was impaired. He said, “I can see that you are not, but I have to ask.” I also directed him to where the insurance card was in the glove box. That was almost all the interaction I had with the police during the entire ordeal. The policeman left, and an EMT took his place next to me at the open car door.
“Have you tried to get out and walk yet?” asked the EMT.
“No,” I answered.
“Well, let’s try now,” he said. My seat belt was still buckled, but the strap was hanging loosely now. The EMT reached across me to help unbuckle the belt. I seemed to be moving in slow motion. Once he released the seatbelt, I twisted slowly in the seat, then he gave me his hand to help me out. I really had no doubt that I was okay, but I was a little shaky, kind of shock-y as well. I stood up slowly and took a tentative step. I thought I saw people clap in the gathered crowd at the edge of the road but I could have imagined it. As if this were some kind of show for their entertainment.
My right foot hurt a little, but I probably had so much adrenaline coursing through my body that I didn’t feel like anything else was wrong. I had the presence of mind to reach into the backseat floor area and grab my backpack and an envelope that I had needed to mail but didn’t because the mail store (our first stop that day) had just closed. While in the backseat, I saw the center console armrest had fallen open, and that my glasses, which I had been wearing, were back there. They had probably flown off when the air bag deployed. I retrieved them.
The EMT led me around the back of the car, and in the dark, I did not see the damage to my car. We were walking toward the ambulance so I could ride in the front seat. Desmond wanted to get checked out in the ER, but he did not want to leave me at the accident scene. I was so thankful for him watching out for me. I am afraid of doctors and hospitals, so I wasn’t going to get checked out. I keep myself to myself, I thought.
When I finally made it to the front seat of the ambulance, I climbed in. The officer came running up and handed my license and insurance card back to me. How had this happened, anyway? I asked myself again, something I would ask myself over and over in the coming weeks.
As the ambulance moved away from the accident scene, I looked over at the other car. It was wrecked. I asked the EMT if the person was hurt and he said, “No, she’s fine, just got jostled around more than you did.” I was relieved that the person wasn’t hurt.
I thought the cops would probably come and talk to me at the hospital later if they needed to. After all, they knew where I was and that I wasn’t going anywhere else for a while. But no officer ever talked to me again that evening, and the next conversation I had with PD was the next week, and that was because I called them myself.
It was full-on dark now, and I was quiet during the ride to the hospital. I walked with Desmond to the ER they put us in. I was worried about everything. Later, we would compare notes and find that we saw – or didn’t see – the same thing. That other car had come out of nowhere, its headlights had suddenly appeared directly in front of my car, when there was no time to react and prevent the accident. How was that possible? We’d both looked at the road, I know I looked twice, and there were NO cars coming. What had happened??? The question rang in my head, reverberating forever after.
Meanwhile, in the ER, I stood next to Des while he was treated for a burn to his arm from the airbag deploying. He was x-rayed, and had a CT scan. My brother-in-law turned up after a while to give us a ride home, and hours after the accident, we finally got home. As Pat parked his truck and we crawled painfully out, it hit me that my car might never come home again.
The Christmas lights that we’d hung so happily that morning were lit, an ironic, and painful, reminder that I would not be able to enjoy anything for a very long time.