Tag Archives: car accidents

The Things My Car Has Seen

I’m not sure how to end this.

I want to take the empty plastic key and set it down on the kitchen counter and turn around, get in the car, and drive the hundred miles to my apartment. I want to turn the engine off one last time, close the sunroof, pop the CDs out of the disc changer in the trunk. I want to know why we hold onto something so inhuman like it has a heartbeat.

Nobody can tell me.

Nobody can understand why handing in your first car, turning it over when you’ve sat inside for the last 15 years, can feel like the end of a chapter.

It’s just a car. It’s not like you’ve been driving it that long. It’s not like it was ever really yours, legally, until June when you finally signed some papers and took ownership.

Maybe not. Maybe it’s just because it was the first time.

It was the first time BMW became a household name. The first time my sister and I learned to stop eating in the backseat. The first time I looked out the backseat window and caught a glimpse, in the haze of a late-summer night, of a hot air balloon floating through the fields, the treeline crackling our view of it.

It was the first time, the second, third and fourth time, I kissed death’s forehead and prayed it wasn’t all over.

I have been mildly terrified, since the year I became a teenager, of driving in the winter weather. Of losing control of my grip on the road. Of spinning wildly into the other side of the road—or worse, flipping end-over-end.

Someone, a boy, once told me that if the airbag ever went off, I would die on impact. That’s how close I had to sit to the steering wheel.

Two years ago, a week shy of Thanksgiving, I felt the give, the woosh of losing my grip on something, as I spun backwards and came to a stop in the median of a major highway.

The car holds 50,000 miles of mine. It has seen my first kiss, my last kiss, the missed curfew and the diner parking lot.

For six or so years, I have immediately rattled off the mileage like a caveat, like even though I was driving around the Ultimate Driving Machine, it was really old. Really driven. Really holding the memories of 225,000 miles between the grooves of its tires.

Really holding my midnight anxieties, the silent drives in a southern town, the Taylor Swift songs on sunny April afternoons.

And I’m not quite sure how to tell it, “Ok, thanks. I’ll take it from here.”

I’ll take it from here. I’ll take it from this place it has only just gotten to know. I’ll leave it somewhere it has always calibrated its tires to, the place it missed deeply and irrevocably on weeks when it was sitting in a parking deck, hundreds of miles away, wanting to idle in that driveway.

It’s what you do when it’s time to say Goodbye. You turn over the keys, bring it back to its home, and leave it there.

Imagining Car Accidents

I spent an irrational amount of time on Wikipedia, trying to pinpoint exactly what to call it. This half-fear, half-nerves sort of feeling that only crops up when somebody else starts putting his pedal a little too close to the pedal.

But there isn’t a word yet.

I wouldn’t say I’m afraid of car accidents, because to do so would have you picturing me cowering at the sight I passed on Sunday afternoon as a steaming pile of grass was sprayed and batted down until it stopped smoking hundreds of feet into the air.

And really, I was craning my neck to get a better angle. Sitting in stop-and-go traffic, hoping to catch a glimpse of the reason for chugging along.

So I would say this: I’m terribly good at imagining nonexistent car accidents.

It’s a sickness, really. You sit in your small little fifteen-year-old baby, begging God to just be nice for a couple hundred thousand miles more, because you’re new to this whole post-grad thing.

Before that, it was, “But I’m in college still. But I don’t have a steady income.”

Before that, “I’m just a teenager.”

I don’t remember when the imagining started. Just that it was never real bad.

Months ago, though, I caught myself covering my dropped jaw while speeding down a four-lane highway spritzed with vehicles. And you know what?

Nothing. Had. Happened.

No weaving without turn signals. No racing by in the right lane. Nothing.

I’ve had a lot of car accidents crop up in my life, but rarely were they mine. Only once did I sit in the driver’s seat shaking for a good five minutes because Taylor Swift was singing me a lullaby about making it out of this trip alive.

And I’m thinking sometimes we fear the things we cannot see or the things we imagine are just around the corner, even if they aren’t. Even if just around the corner turns into six or seven or forty-five years from now.

It’s scary, losing control. Of the steering wheel. Of your life. Of the road in front of you as you set out on a journey that you think you know by heart if you follow the signs.

But it happens to all of us. In the flash of someone else’s headlights blinding us. In the screech of someone else’s brakes stopping us. In the churning of our stomach acid when all we know, when we really sit down to think about it, is that these next five seconds are ours.

The problem, then, is not in imagining car accidents that never happen or shaking beneath our seat belt when they do. It’s in forgetting, for any length of time, that we are somehow alone in those paralyzing fears and uncontrollable tragedies.

Whether we stand, alone, off to the side and let the firefighters douse our charred car or we wrap our arms around someone much younger who needs to shield their eyes a bit longer from the reality of life, we have to remember that.

And we share stories on the phone between January 1st and December 31st because it is what you do when only the power lines string you together.

We used to measure ourselves by the shirts we shared. Now we lay rulers down between our heartbeats and handprints.

She stands at the top of the ambulance stairs, face splattered with burgundy blood, jeans ripped at the knees, hair hanging in wisps around her hollow cheeks. And I do not know what words to form aside from Thank God.

Thank God she is my best friend. Thank God she is alive. Thank God I found her along the side of the road. Thank God she called me.

The red and blue lights flicker in slow motion and I start running past cop cars, ringing in the new year with a handful of heart spasms and aching limbs. Sure this world was ready to rip my best friend right from my greedy fingertips and tell me I had to grow up.

Grow up. Seventeen and scared. Seventeen and stupid. Silly. Sarcastic sometimes.

But surely not sure she’ll give me a tomorrow that doesn’t end in a coffin. Sure the black ice ripped one soul from me already and that I could not see another red car flip end over end into another December goodbye.

A January casket. A February Valentine’s Day without them. Our birthdays in March that turns one of us into an adult and the other not.

I know, sure that every other year ends in Goodbye, that I don’t want to ring in the new year hanging my head. Eyes rimmed with someone else’s regretful tears.

We are too young. We do not know how to call for help when our cars smash into trees and the windshield fragments into a spider web and our neck jolts and it’s too dark. Too slippery. Too late.

They said a passenger would have died. And I want to crumble knowing that might have been me. Could have been. So easily.

Instead I reach for the phone before it rings, hear the humming of her radio, the sound of the speeding air gushing through her open window, know that she is driving somewhere new this time.

There is no way to live a life avoiding the same road that tricks your tires and tumbles you into a tree. The road that winds around black and yellow lines and holds dangers you’ll never see.

Dangers creep up on December 31st and January 1st and every single day between.

They find you when you’re three or three hundred miles away, answering the phone and holding your breath. And sometimes, the scars will be the only reminders when you finally run back to the crime scene. The cars will have been cleared away, the wounds wiped up with antiseptic, but the heart will continue to beat ba-dump ba-dump the minute the steering wheel shifts and you lose control.

You will never get used to dangers. You will never get used to the idea of losing. The idea of one second smacking your plans into a new order.

We share that moment. The shirt she was wearing when she spun out of control. The same color eyes and the side of us reserved for falling for boys, doomed for catastrophe.

And we share stories on the phone between January 1st and December 31st because it is what you do when the power lines are the only thing stringing you together.