|Ms Keogh, my more
significant other, was working late. No one but the
cat would be waiting for me at home. There was no
reason to hurry. Rush-hour traffic in the right lanes
would not allow me to merge. It appeared I would miss
the entrance ramp to Interstate 95. It wouldn't
matter, I could continue straight on U. S. Route One
and waste some time browsing at Triangle, an art
supply store. Then, a slot opened and I slipped in. I
made the entrance ramp and was part of the tightly
packed flow of vehicles heading southbound on
Interstate 95, a highway with three lanes in each
The CD player switched to the sixth CD in my
dashboard, the last CD of sixteen from the unabridged
book I was listening to, The Deerslayer by James
Fenimore Cooper. I entered and stayed in the slow
right lane of the Interstate. A gigantic, white
pickup truck in the middle lane was overtaking me.
Ms M, a young woman of nineteen years, was driving in
the left lane, the fast lane, of the northbound
Interstate 95. For "unknown reasons"
(Drunk? Drugs? Suicide? Sleep? Epilepsy? Hysterical
panic? Malfunction?), Ms M lost control of her car
and drifted into the middle lane to "tap"
Ms L's car. Ms M's reacted to her error by steering
left, driving her car across the wide grass median
that divides northbound traffic from southbound
I cannot remember now if I saw a blue car crossing
the median. The memory is vague, but I have the
notion I saw it briefly and wondered why, what were
they trying to do? Was it a police car making a
u-turn? Then the white pickup driven by Mr S pulled
ahead obstructing my view and I had no further
interest in the blue car.
The next second of my life was no longer than any
other second of my life, nor did it feel longer, yet
I was made more aware of the number of elements that
can get packed into a second of life. There was the
sound of a crash and the white pickup truck swung
preternaturally into my lane, too quickly for my eyes
to refocus on its sudden nearness.
This was the instance when I understood the impact
was unavoidable and about to occur in another
micro-fraction of a second. In that moment, I judged
it not unreasonable that I was going to die, if not
be horribly maimed for the rest of whatever life
there could be. No sooner did I arrive at that
conclusion then I was snatched up in a ballet of
sudden motion and rapidly changing configurations,
too quick to perceive clearly.
The screeching sound of friction on rubber, the smash
of sheet metal, impressed me with just how accurate
the movies make their sound effects. At the first
impact I could sense the change of direction in the
shifting weight of my jaw. A cascade of glass pieces
showered the car's interior. My eyes snapped shut
until I stopped feeling the hail against my cheeks.
There was a second jolt and I thought I had been
rear-ended by the car behind me, which was not the
case. (I had collided with the pickup again.) It was
all a blur of colors, predominantly truck white, sky
blue, then forest green. In another fraction of that
first second I knew I was still alive, possibly
uninjured, wondering how many more jarring collisions
would come until the fracas was finished unfolding.
The next fraction of this first second was longer and
there were no further impacts, so I thought I was
beyond the crash. My vision stabilized and I saw out
my windshield that I was driving towards a short
embankment that fell away into trees.
I turned the wheels, but the grass was slippery. A
touch of the acceleration pedal and the car obeyed.
My front-wheel drive redirected the car back to the
roadway, only it was too quickly. I had overreacted,
the car's rear swinging out. I reversed the steering.
During this swiveling that first second probably
concluded, and seeing that I was a safe distance from
anything, I slammed the brakes and the car came to a
rest sideways on the shoulder of the highway. I was
less than two hundred feet beyond the pickup. The
crippled pickup blocked all three lanes and held back
the tide of rush-hour traffic like a dam. I knew I
was out of danger and I was pretty sure I was unhurt.
A few red scratches on my face, but not really
I studied my immediate situation and found no injury
to my body. Quite the opposite. I felt invigorated
and surprisingly healthy. The driver's side windows
were gone, in pieces coating the whole of the
interior. The rearview mirror from the door was now
on the passenger seat. The door itself was bent in
against my shoulder. I took the CD out of the player
and put it back into its case for its return to the
library. Someone came running along the shoulder to
see if I was all right, but I waved him away and told
him I was fine. I called out, worried about the
others. Two other drivers were badly hurt, but alive,
Climbing out the passenger side I discovered blood on
the back of my right hand. I think it happened from
pressing against the seat when lifting myself out, I
failed to notice a piece of glass. It was necessary
to untuck my shirt and shake off all the glass bits.
I found them in my hair and inside my left ear, but
the safety glass did what it was supposed to do and I
found no further injuries. I thought to myself, this
will be remembered as an eventful day. I began
reviewing what I remembered, rehearsing it to get it
all accurately into my memory.
The police cars were already there. The fire trucks
came. Then the ambulances. Finally the tow trucks. I
stayed near my car, emptying it of its contents and
packing them into bags. Coming home from work I had
my briefcase. In the trunk I stored an empty knapsack
and tote bags. My rear bumper was missing. I looked
at my new 2003 Honda Accord EX Coupe, the five speed
with leather seats and trim, and less than 5,000
miles on the odometer, a car of only 3,073 pounds.
The driver's door was pushed in eighteen inches, but
it had held. The car has side airbags, but they
didn't deploy. Perhaps the car's brain decided it
wasn't necessary, after all, that door kept a Ford
F-350 Lariat Superduty Diesel V8 4X4 with dual rear
wheels, a vehicle of over 6,200 pounds, off my lap.
A policeman finally found me and took my report. I
was a poor witness. The pickup had blocked my view of
events unfolding and avoidance was entirely
impossible. It happened in a blur and afterwards I
sensed a surprising loss of vital memory, but less
than a fraction-of-a-second's worth.
When the officer finished taking my report, my
curiosity got the best of me. I could see nothing of
the seriousness of the accident from where I stood.
The right side of the pickup was facing me and still
blocked my view. The pickup showed no indication of
any damage, but as I walked around the front of it, I
saw the devastation. The pickup was deeply crushed
where there had once been a left headlight. Poor Mr S
was still in the cab being treated. He looked
confused. He had been knocked out, had a concussion,
but the medics assured me he would be okay. The real
shock was Ms M's blue Chevrolet sedan. It was in
ruins, the roof entirely gone. It took a moment to
realize the rescuers had to cut off the roof to reach
Ms M. They used hydraulic tools to lift the crushed
dashboard off her legs. She sat there staring
blankly, lost. The medics assured me she would live,
but she had a broken arm and maybe her hip and legs.
Remembering the colorful blurs and two thunks, it was
eventful to say the least. I was lucky the pickup was
passing me at the time, intercepting the blue
Chevrolet sedan that was moving against traffic and
maybe saving my life. If I had been a second or more
sooner, I would have been uninvolved. Had I been a
second or more later, I would have been stuck in the
backed-up traffic. I have speculated different
parameters. In some I avoid the accident all
together, but in others I am either maimed or die. I
could almost wish nothing different in that no one
died. I would like to believe my quota has been
filled and my future holds no more of these
intersecting destinies at high speed.
The same philosophy that stands by me every other day
did not require a major rewrite to apply on this
occasion. My existentialism remains intact. We always
stand at the threshold, at the edge of oblivion, and
since I have been spared serious injury, this event
offered no challenge to my philosophy.
The New Jersey State Police took me only so far and I
was dropped off at a motel in Pennsylvania where I
knew they had a comfortable lobby. I called Ms Keogh
at her job and had a short wait quickly filled with
various phone calls, to my job, to my insurer, to the
Honda dealership. And then Ms Keogh arrived. It was
like every meeting with her, I am always grateful at
the first sight of her, another chance to be
together, always grateful and not just on days when
the accident actually does occur. Every day I am
aware of my mortality.