Not all of the clichés are true, it turns out. My life did not flash before my eyes. There was no Enya or Hendrix music montage accompanied by blipping mental pictures of me as a toddler, clutching my older brother in abject fear as he carried me through the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum (those things scare the crap outta me to this day), or escaping my older sister’s clutches at bathtime to streak through the living room. No whirring visions of me as a kindergartener, staring into the mirror and bawling my eyes out after my first haircut left me looking like a boy (I am also still afraid of hairdressers). No psychedelic scenes of me and my Middle School BFF, getting busted by my mom as we, bathtowel-turbaned and bejeweled, performed a “VooDoo” ritual on a doll resembling a girl we hated. Not one single fleeting spectre of me in my sixth-grade Halloween costume (step off, Vanessa Williams—I, though unrecognized and unsung, was a black Miss America nearly a full year before you were, dammit!), my fuzzy-hatted high school band uniform (I also made a damn fine black Q-Tip before anybody knew about A Tribe Called Quest), my blazing red wedding dress, or my tear-away hospital gown, supine and stirruped, at the moment my son was born.
Basically, I was ripped off.
What I did get was a crystal-clear understanding of the fact that I am really kinda jacked up in the head, because all I remember going through my mind in the moments right before I drove head-on into the Ford F-150 that pulled out into my path a couple of weeks ago is, “What? OH. !@#$%&!&^#%$!#@!” And in the moments immediately following the collision, as I struggled to see and breathe amidst the plumes of airbag dust that had filled my car, my first thought was, “How good can I make this story when I write about it (because I will totally write about it)?” My next thought (because as I left work—which was only about two blocks in my rearview when I wrecked—that day, I was weighing my exercise options for the evening) was, “Damn—guess I won’t be running OR going to Bikram tonight . . .”
See? Told ya. Jacked up.
But my head wasn’t the only jacked up thing about the whole affair. Not by a long shot. First of all, the guy I slammed into was jacked up. Not, like, in a CRUNK way (though I have no way of knowing that for sure), but rather in a wholly oblivious way; I remain convinced that, for whatever reason, he simply did not see me as he pulled out of a parking lot and into the street in front of me—I was WAY too close for him to have actually seen me and thought, “Screw this bee-yotch, I’m going!” So I imagine that having a gal in a Hyundai Sonata plow straight into his truck without even braking (thus knocking him unconscious, which I’d say also constitutes jacked up) was as enormous and shitty a surprise for him as the sudden appearance of his big-ass truck smack-dab in my path was for me.
Then things got surreal; before I’d even formulated a single pithy adjective in my head to describe the experience, I was surrounded by a gaggle of men in bright orange safety vests who looked, through the air bag haze, like some weird tribe of ersatz (old school) Oompa-Loompas. As they swarmed both cars to determine if I and my partner in crash were OK, I actually started to laugh, partially because now the damn Oompa-Loompa song was in my head (“Who. Do. You. Blame. When your kid is a . . .BRAT?”) but mostly because WTF? Where did these people come from, and why the matching outfits?1
Then, before I knew it, I’d gone all Paulina. You can probably disregard this whole paragraph if you were born past 1975 or so, but for those folks who are old like me, remember the video for the Cars song “Drive”, where the model Paulina Porizkova is in a padded cell and spastically alternates between laughing and crying? Well. That was me in the first few minutes after the wreck (and purely by coincidence, I was in a car, and wondering, “Who’s gonna drive me home . . . tonight?” OK, that was bad), only without the youthful, perfectly-chiseled features or the love thang for Ric Ocasek. So by the time the orange-vested man who seemed to be in charge of the group pried open my car door (which was stuck shut) to prevent me from sucking in more lungfuls of airbag powder (because I didn’t have sense enough to roll down the window), I had swung clean away from maniacal laughter and was all worked up into a bawling frenzy. Unfortunately, that was the moment when it occurred to me to call Pretty Bad Dad, which means three things:
1. I utterly confused my husband by freaking out into his ear. (When I said “wreck”, he was thinking “fender bender” and could not figure out why I was crying SO. HARD.)
2. I totally dropped the F-bomb in front of my boss. Upon learning from my coworkers that I’d been in a wreck just down the street, he sprinted (at least that’s the story I got) to the scene to find out if I was OK. He arrived just in time to catch my phone freak-out with PBD, and yes. There was cussing.
3. Here is the jacked-up Insta-Princess protocol for totaling a car: Crash. Begin crafting amusing story in head. Lament inability to exercise. Laugh at the Oompa-Loompas. Re-enact 80s video. Call husband. Cuss in boss’s face. My priorities are messed up, y’all.
Second of all, of course, our cars were jacked up. Don’t know about the other guy’s truck, but my car was totaled. I still don’t have the police report, so I can’t be sure what exactly happened, but one thing that initially bothered me about the whole thing (besides being deprived of the music montage of my life) was that I couldn’t figure out how I didn’t even brake! I mean, sure, my mind may have been on Bikram, but my eyes were open, for cryin’ out loud; how did I not even react? However, once I saw my car (the next day) . . .
. . . I developed a theory (based on the front-end indentation, which looks to me like the corner of something—like, say, the driver-side front corner of an F-150—smooshed straight between my headlights) that could answer that question AND the question of why the other guy didn’t see me. I believe that basically the guy turned left into me as he came out of the parking lot on my right. So basically, we were driving towards each other, for double-fantabulous crash momentum—hence no time to brake. Also, if my theory is correct and he was turning left, he probably had his eyes to his right, to make sure the lane he was turning into was clear—completely unaware that I was hurtling toward him on his left, loaded for bear. As I said, it’s just a theory—but it makes perfect sense to me. But I digress.
Thirdly, I was jacked up. And not just in the head, it turned out. As the vested men swarmed, I assured one after the other of them that I was fine. Nobody would let me get out of my car, however, so I sat trapped, waiting for paramedics, watching as more safety-orange-clad men tended to the other guy. “Is he OK?” I asked over and over again, while people more or less ignored me. Finally, I heard someone say that he was unconscious, which started me bawling all over again, until at last I saw him, foggy and confused but awake, being escorted from his truck. As he walked (assisted) past the front of my car, our eyes met for a second—but his were pretty much visibly bobbling around in his face, so I knew that as far as he was concerned, I could easily be Barry White in bird feathers, singing sweet, sweet, a capella polka songs just for him and his special someone. Even later, when I (still in my car, awaiting the arrival of paramedics) inquired again as to his condition, I was told that he basically had no idea what was going on. But I digress again.
At last, lights and sirens arrived on the scene, and that’s when I got the second-biggest shitty surprise of the day (the first being the wreck itself): Contrary to what I told the nice men in uniform, I was not, in fact, able to walk to the ambulance. When I (finally!) got out of the car and stood up, I found I could not put any weight on my left leg. I’d felt pain in my left knee as I waited in my car, but I thought, “OK, I must have thumped it on the dashboard—no big!” Similarly, my chest and hips hurt from the seatbelt, and my forearms were red and itchy from the airbag. But not for a second did I think I was incapacitated in any way! I guess the silver lining here is that I can say I got the whole ambulance experience, stretcher and all—which I think spared me from having to share an ambulance ride with the guy I hit, because I heard one of the paramedics who was tending to him ask one of the paramedics tending to me if I was able to SIT in the ambulance so that the other guy could use the stretcher and we could ride to the hospital together (AWK-wurrrrrd . . . ). My paramedic said no, which meant that we ended up waiting for another ambulance (with another stretcher) to arrive for the other guy. For the record, though, I did offer to give up my stretcher and take the second ambulance myself (because the other guy was still stretched out in the grass at the side of the road, and it was cold outside), but was told to stay put. So I did. And I cried.
As I blubbered, one paramedic after another tried to talk me off the ledge by reminding me that it was just a CAR, that the important thing was that I was OK, that I could always get another CAR, but there would never be another ME, yadda yadda . . .
. . .which only made me start laughing again, because seriously—who cries over a Hyundai? Really, I wasn’t crying—or even thinking—about anything in particular; it was just a weird, automatic reaction, the way you get goosebumps when you’re cold, or like how your foot swings up when the doctor thwacks you on the knee with his little rubber mallet, or how you start twitching and rocking back and forth with your hands over your ears and mumbling, “No. BAD noise! BAD noise!” the second you hear the opening strains of Starship’s “We Built This City.” Or maybe that’s just me. Nonetheless, the “pep talks” snapped me out of it, and back into Paulina Pourizkova mode. So there’s that.
Anyway, when we arrived at the ER, my stretcher went in first, but the other guy got a bed immediately, whereas I was transferred to a wheelchair and rolled into the waiting room, where I waited for an hour or so for a bed. The boys (PBD and our son) arrived just as a bed opened up for me. PBD’s own dad was kind enough to come and fetch the wee boy from the hospital, feed him dinner and take him home, so that PBD and I were able to spend a romantic evening together while I retold the story to a thousand different medical professionals and got examined and tetanus-shotted (since I broke skin as a result of the wreck) and pain-pilled and X-rayed (chest and leg, both looked good). Then we began the long 45-minute drive home (“Mommy, you should have gone to a hospital closer to our house,” admonished my four-year-old son), during which the pain pills kicked all the way in, and I abandoned the constant swinging between laughter and tears, and instead took up wavering between stoner-like love for all the special little light-filled beings of the world, and post-bender-alcoholic-like nausea.
After a late dinner of Taco Bell, PBD somehow got my gimp ass up the stairs and into bed, and that was all she wrote.
Almost three weeks later, I have been to Texas (where I managed to make it to the Texas State Fair mere days before The Night They Burned Old Texy Down) and back, and to work on most of the other days, so you’d think that means I’m all better—but I still can’t run or do Bikram, stairs are not my cuppa tea, and the pain comes on pretty strong if I don’t stay on my 3 x 3 (three pills, thrice daily) Advil regimen.
Still, I’m trying to stay grateful that nothing was any worse. Both the other guy and I are still walking and breathing, my child was not in the car with me, and nobody at either the scene or the hospital was singing Starship. So I have a lot to be thankful for, right?
But that’s another cliché that’s not exactly true. Or maybe it’s a cliché that goes hand in hand with one’s life flashing before one’s eyes, like a two-fer, and since I didn’t get the first cliché, I didn’t get the second one, either. Because as much as I know *logically* that I am incredibly fortunate . . . well, just in general, really (awesome family, great friends, good health, decent job, a foot size that nets me awesome shoe-sale shopping coups, etc.), but especially with the outcome of the wreck, I just, don’t . . . feel it. I guess I sort of expected some grand epiphany, some new, Grinch-like lease on life, wherein my heart would sproing out of its confines and henceforth I would be dancing around with bluebirds as I got ready for work in the morning (even though I am afraid of birds—flappy little freakshows is what they are), smiling a cheery, love-filled hello to every passerby throughout the day, and randomly embracing strangers I found crying in sewage tunnels before handing them baskets of homemade baked goods and skipping on my super-thankful way. But so far, not so much with the gratitude2 OR the skipping.
I’ve even had lessons in gratitude recently; several months ago, I landed a (freelance) gig writing cover stories for a local magazine (each of which has focused on a single local she-star), and because of it, I’ve met a bunch of amazing women—two of whom have embraced precisely the fresh lease on life (in the wake of an Occurrence) that seems to have evaded me. One lost both breasts and a good portion of one shoulder to desmoid tumors, and the other discovered (the hard way) a serious heart condition at a way-too-young-for-this-crap age. And though I didn’t know either of them before these things occurred in their lives, and so cannot speak directly to an exact percentage increase in their respective awesomeness as a result of these circumstances, they both possess such incredible clarity about their lives and priorities, and appreciation for damn near everything, that you just want to be them when you grow up (although all bets would of course be off if you should for some reason be granted the opportunity to become Sheila E. instead, because, you know. SHEILA E.).
And OK. I realize that in comparison to what these women went through, totaling a Hyundai and being able to (sort of) walk away is small potatoes. It’s not even potatoes, it’s like a single, stale instant potato flake. However, shouldn’t that fact, coupled with knowing women (one of whom is now my Facebook friend, so we’re like, practically besties) who’ve faced and survived ginormous mutant potatoes inspire even MORE gratitude in me? I mean, I have NOTHING to complain about, right? But alas, not much has changed. I’m still kinda cranky and impatient and self-pitying and selfish and burned out, and most days I still don’t really care what’s going on with my hair.
I know some of what PBD calls my “despondency” has stemmed from lack of exercise (and when did I turn into one of THOSE people?). I have been walking our dogs more often than they’ve ever been walked before, but that’s not really doin’ it for me (though the pooches are thrilled). So this past Saturday, in desperation, I ventured to the Y and hopped aboard an elliptical machine for 45 minutes (the knee annoyed a little bit, but not enough to warrant stopping), and it made me want to kiss everyone (ask PBD), so I think exercise is definitely the key to a better mood. However, by Monday, my euphoria had given way to what is shaping up to be a booty-kicking cold, so I haven’t exercised since. (Neither have I kissed anyone since.) Instead, I’m subsisting on Halls cough drops and trying to buoy my mood with the little “pep talks” on the wrappers. I’ll letcha know how that works out. In the meantime, it IS good to be back . . .
1. Turns out they were coworkers of the guy with whom I collided, and they had been outside loading a truck when the whole thing went down, hence the fact that they were on the scene with lightning speed and all gussied up for the occasion.
2. I did make a conscious effort to inspire gratitudinal feelings by seizing a small opportunity to do something nice for someone I don’t know. Last Sunday morning, my son and I headed to Wal-Mart to pick up a cheap slow cooker to replace the one I broke a couple of weeks ago (dropped the damn insert in the sink and it chunked in three), and Mama is all about the slow cooker dinners these days (because how awesome is it to come home to dinner that’s pretty much ready–and so easy to chew?)! Anyway, there was an older gentleman in a military uniform outside the entrance, talking to people and handing out some sort of flyer. Pathetically, my initial intent for good deeding was merely to hear what the dude had to say instead of avoiding eye contact and shuffling my child on past him as if he were wearing a tinfoil hat and flashing us while singing God Bless America.
Turned out that he was collecting care package items for troops in Afghanistan, and the flyers he was handing out had photos of some of the soldiers, along with a categorized wish list of stuff they needed (non-perishable food items, razors, socks, etc.). I nodded politely and started to shove the flyer into my purse, but then I thought, “What the heck?” and so handed the flyer to my little fella, who is learning to read. I explained to him what it was for, and told him I wanted him to read the list and choose one thing for us to buy and donate to the soldiers.
It took him about three seconds to find a word he recognized: “CANDY!” he bubbled enthusiastically. Since “Candy” was merely the category heading, I asked him to look at the list below the word and choose one KIND of candy to send. Instead, he chose two—Skittles and Gummy Bears—so we bought a couple of bags of each, and he carried them through the store himself (even though we had a cart), put them on the conveyor at checkout, and asked the cashier (unprompted by me) for a separate bag for them. Then he put them in the donation box outside the store, and had a pleasant conversation with the gentleman in uniform about how he, like our soldiers, enjoys Skittles and Gummy Bears. Then he kept the flyer to show PBD the photos of his newfound candy comrades.
And that kinda cheered me up for awhile. It does even now, when I think about it. I guess you take it where you can get it, even if it comes from causing cavities in the teeth of our troops.