In which my friend gets into a car wreck as I drive behind her, and in which I suspect I have some kind of OCD.
A strange day, today.
The moment of impact replays in my head like a GIF. White car appears as if by magic, an explosion of parts and sound, tiny red car spins like a boomerang, watching from my window. Only later do I realize the miracle that my own car wasn’t hit – by all accounts, it should have been. Maybe there really was some kind of magic in the air.
Said to myself clearly: Okay. My friend has been in a car accident twenty feet from me. What do I do now? Pull over carefully. Turn on blinkers – check. Get out phone. Dial 911. Dialed, didn’t press call. Too busy.
Other woman had gotten out of the white car, standing on the sidewalk. I asked, Are you hurt? No, she said, shaken, dazed, sad in the face.
Good. Sit down.
I ran to the red car, in pieces. Nothing visible through the windows except airbags and smoke. Smoke from the airbags? I think so.
Never asked myself, What will I see? Just had to get the door open.
Opened the door. Called her name. She moved a little, made some noise. I crouched down, lifted the airbag. Are you okay? Stupid question. She mumbled something incoherent. She said, I didn’t even see her.
Another woman on the phone already with police, doing a better job than I. Glad she was here. A man stopped, not a runner, but looked like one. Helpful. Some people care.
Stayed with her, crouched down, hand on her arm. Not sure if comforting, but had to do something. Told her paramedics were coming, not to worry. Told her who I was. Not sure if she knew who I was.
It was barely raining. I wanted it to be the other woman’s fault, but it was neither, and both. She was so sad, shocked on the sidewalk in her skirt and heels, on her way to work. Shiny white car, quarter panel blown in. Black plastic parts and diamond headlights sparkling along the road. License plate and black honeycomb grill in the grass, like a joke. White car leaking brown fluid into the road. Looks like cocoa.
They’re coming. They’re on their way. Airbags smoking, car stank of smoke.
They came quickly. Cut her out of her seatbelt. Cut the airbags away. Ambulance wailing.
Told the officers what happened. They were polite, professional, let us go. I could do nothing more for her, so I went. I was only six minutes late for work. The other woman mumbled Sorry as we went, as though she was inconveniencing us. I felt sorry for her, but had nothing for her.
I feared for my friend, but more than that, I kept thinking – that would have been me. That should have been me. She took my place. She took my place.
When I was younger, lightning struck the house next door during a bad thunderstorm. We ran outside to see flames licking across the roof. Flames in the rain. The same storm flooded our basement. I kept picturing the lightning arcing towards out house and at the last minute changing its mind, leaping to the gables next door. It should have been us. They took our place.
Makes a girl feel like she’s bad luck or something.
Over and over it plays, smash, smash, smash. It wasn’t my accident, for some reason. But I remember. I remember everything. If I forget, something bad might happen. To me, to someone I love.
Play it again. Maybe it will make some sense.
Later on I try to normalize the day. It wasn’t, after all, my accident. Angry cats became loving, gazing up at me with the slow-blink of understanding. Angry dogs submitted to being held. Boss brought doughnuts to try and lighten the mood. Smooth the wrinkles, stifle the tears. It wasn’t, after all, your accident.
Text my husband to be careful on the road with our son. The usual post-traumatic appreciation of the briefness and fragility of life. He never responded. Probably for the best.
I was so upset I almost prayed.
I will not fear; fear is the mind-killer.
Play it again, I can’t forget this. It’s my job to remember.
All these women I idolize – my heroes from games, from books and stories – would they have been so upset by a simple car wreck? What would they have done? What Would Hawke Do? What Would Shepherd Do?
They are no help to me now. I want to be somewhere imagined… not recalled.
It plays on, and it’s time to let it go. Or rather, relegate to long-term storage, because forgetting doesn’t happen to me.
I failed. I couldn’t normalize anything. I couldn’t help. I could only watch, dumb, mute, hands wringing themselves.