I almost died this week. It’s not something I’d recommend.
The short version: I was scooting along the highway on Monday morning, heading to the kennel to pick up the pup after taking a redeye home from New York Sunday night. I was about to ease into the left-hand turn lane when a driver who was evidently a) speeding like mad and b) not paying attention to the road slammed into me with a force I can’t even quantify. It shot my car into the wide grass median, completely out of control, moving at an angle that was quickly edging me headfirst toward oncoming traffic.
“I’m not going to make it out of this,” I thought, clear as a bell.
Realizing a second later that I had a chance to maybe, just maybe, stop the car by turning the wheel, I made a quick decision. “Don’t turn too far,” I told myself, having no idea if the steering or the brakes were even operational, since they seemed to be under the control of a force greater than they were. “Just a smidge. Maybe it’ll be enough.” Thankfully, it was. My car came to an abrupt stop, slowed — I’m guessing — by the traction of the earth beneath it. All I could do was sit there and shake, realizing over and over again with shock that I was still alive.
What happened next was a blur. I remember a girl running toward my car, cell phone to her ear, and when I looked back, I saw a Range Rover parked at a crazy angle in the median some 50 yards back. She’d seen me get hit, and I’d been heading straight toward her as my car was jettisoning across the grass. If I hadn’t turned the wheel, we would have had a head-on collision, each of us going at least 50 mph. Range Rover vs. Fiat. I’ll leave the math up to you.
I think about death all the time. All the time. I had my first taste of it at 16 when my brother committed suicide, and then as each grandparent, one by one, died of old age. My uncle, of an aneurysm. My cousin, again of suicide. My mother, of an embolism. Others, in ways I refuse to talk about. I grew up living under the daily fear of two cops showing up at my parents’ door, telling us another brother of mine was gone because of his addictions (which thank god he’s now actively winning the fight against). I’m constantly walking around thinking I have some silent disease that’s killing me slowly, that I’m the next one to go. It’s been that way since I was a kid. I think it’s why I write.
I’ve been in at least ten car accidents, two of them severe but several involving being rear-ended while sitting still at a stoplight. The last time that happened, right after I moved to Austin a few years ago, it left a dent in my car but I let the guy drive away without calling our insurance companies.
“Just promise me you’ll do something nice for somebody today,” I said. He seemed stunned, but agreed.
Aside from my little car’s five-star safety rating and perhaps the grace of a guardian angel or two, I have no clue how I walked away on Monday. I’ll find out today if Frank the Fiat is no more… it’s not looking good. But that’s okay. It’s been stopping me in my tracks all week to think about how a half-second’s worth of hesitation, or how misgauging the turn of the wheel by a millimeter or two, could have changed everything.
Add to that the shock of last week’s events, from which I was sitting just an hour away in a coffee shop in Greenwich, CT as it was happening, talking to a client about gearing a website more toward mothers who want to do good in the world, and let’s just say I’ve been really, really quiet this week. No need for a lot of talking. Just thinking. Reflecting. Kissing the boyfriend. Hugging the dog. Indulging in a weird sense of detached heartbreak for others, standing in stark contrast — or maybe harmony — with an overwhelming thankfulness for this second chance I’ve been given. There’s probably some survivor’s guilt in there, too, having sidestepped so many awful things in life. I suppose I’d better do something amazing before my number’s actually, legitimately up, which as we’ve all been reminded lately, could be any minute.
Step one: being thankful. Step two: maybe caring less about being uncool or seeming clichéd. Uncool and alive is a combination I can live with.
And I plan to.