Monday, August 25, 2003

October 2002
Part Two

On October 22 I have to drive to Denver for a dental appointment. The next day I am driving home across the eastern plains of Colorado when, unknown to me, I drive into an area that had icy rain earlier that morning. The road I am driving on is a two lane highway that sits about four feet above the fields on either side of it. I am driving along at 70mph with the cruise control on and a Sarah Vaughan CD playing loudly when I drive on to black ice. I feel the car's backend start sliding toward the right. Just before the tires lost traction and the car began sliding I had been singing the lyrics of a dopey song from the early 60's that had popped into my head:

Blue, Navy Blue, I am sad as I can be,
Cause my steady boy said ship ahoy,
And joined the Na-aa-vee
Then I hit the ice.

I try to straighten the car out by gently steering to the right and the backend slides back towards center and then continues sliding to the left. I turn the steering wheel back to the left and turn off the cruise control. At the same time I whisper to myself, begging, "No, no, please, no," because I know I am going to fast to stop the skid and because I am afraid I am going to die. The second I turn off the cruise control I hear a big, "Thump!," and it feels like someone has kicked the right side of the car, which sends it into a spin. I take my hands off the steering wheel; remove my right foot from the gas petal and my left foot away from the brake, knowing there is nothing I can do to prevent what will happen next. I know at some point the car will slide over the edge of the road and then flip and start rolling. I am utterly calm. I am calm because I know I am no longer alone in the car.

Back in the early 90's I was in therapy. One day I was driving home from a session where all I talked about was my father. My father was an alcoholic. He was also unstable and suicidal. He wasn't around much during my childhood, leaving for good when I was thirteen. When I was 20 he killed himself. My first thought when I head he was dead was, "Good, he can't hurt anyone anymore, including himself."

What was bothering me that day was the fact that my father never said goodbye to me. Each time he left he went without a word. No, I'm wrong, one time he said he was going out for a pack of cigarettes and did not come back but all the other times he just disappeared. That day the more I talked about him the sadder I got. By the time I left the session I was slightly depressed. I kept thinking about it in the car and all of a sudden I realized that I had never said goodbye to him either. The thought stunned me. I whispered, "Goodbye, Daddy," and started crying. I was crying so hard I had to pull over to the side of the road and stop the car. As I sat there sobbing out my grief I suddenly felt a presence in the car. Someone was sitting next to me in the front passenger seat. I think it was my father.

Now I feel someone in this car with me and again I think it is my father. This is because of that silly song that popped into my head right before I hit the ice. My father was in the Navy during World War II and the Korean War. The Navy was a big part of his life even when he was no longer a part of it. Why else would I start singing that song?

The car does not leave the road but spins straight down the center of it. On the third spin I think, "People pay a lot of money at the amusement park to experience this." The fourth spin sends the car sliding off the road backend first and I watch in the rear view mirror as it races through the air toward a 10-foot high dirt embankment. As it is moving backward through the air it is also dropping and when it hits the ground the right front wheel catches in the dirt as the car whips around, slowing it down, until it stops about a foot away from and facing the embankment. I have been waiting for the screeching sound of metal ripping and glass imploding so the silence that now surrounds me is deafening. I sit there quietly while in my mind I bang my head against the steering wheel while screaming, "Leave me the f*** alone!" I feel like a puppy that has been lifted by the scruff on the neck and shaken soundly for not paying attention.

Whoever was in the car with me is now gone. What should I do now? The sound of CD playing blast through my head and I reach out and turn it off. I start the car and carefully drive back up onto the road. I have decided the only way to handle this is to pretend it did not happen.

The car seems to be OK but the steering wheel starts to shake when I reach 40mph so I pull over and get out of the car. As I step out I almost fall down because of the ice. By keeping my hands on the car I am able to walk around to the other side of it where I find the right front tire off the rim. I start walking back to a farm that I had passed. The only way I can do this is by carefully stepping on the rumble bars scored into the asphalt along the edge of the road. The couple in the farmhouse is very kind to me and the husband drives me back to my car and puts the spare tire on for me. I drive to the next town where they replace my damaged time and I then continue homeward.

It isn't until about a week later that the full impact of what happened hits me. I can't understand how I could have an accident like that and walk away unhurt. I should at least have a damaged car. The only reason the tire had to be replaced is because I drove on it after it was flat. I am in agony wondering why I am still alive. This bout of angst sends me back to Shirley Maclaine's website. I write about my accident and ask why I am not dead. I have a lot of replies and I am surprised by how caring people are as they try to help me as I grapple with this. In the end I decide just to let go; the same way I let go in the car when I knew there was nothing I could do. Sometimes you have to just accept and not question.

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