Meeting the maker

Image: Not on the High Street

Image: Not on the High Street

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.

a.

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12 thoughts on “Meeting the maker

  1. Lisa Z says:

    Beautifully written dahling. I lived every second of it with you and I am thankful you are still here on earth…and will be for a long, long time!

  2. I’m so glad you are okay and that you didn’t have your dog in the car with you at the time! May you have a peaceful Christmas with those you love. =)

    • Agreed. That was one of the many sobering thoughts that occurred to me as I started processing everything. So thankful no one — not just myself — was hurt and that Bogey was safely far away from it all. Counting my blessings over here. Merry Christmas to you too.

  3. I think about death pretty much all the time too. I have an extreme fondness for graveyards, too, that grew out of it, originating from when my father died of a very rare form of skin cancer when I was eighteen, the week before my freshman finals. Three semesters after that, my great aunt died of a strange and unexpected form of lung cancer that slowly spread of every organ (she never smoked and never lived with or near smokers). The semester after that one, my uncle–my father’s only surviving sibling–got double pneumonia at the same time my boyfriend’s dad was diagnosed with testicular cancer. I spent the entire Christmas break taking the stairs between the oncology and the critical care departments–though it didn’t look good for a long time, they both made it. Then I got a tumor the next semester. With that pattern, I thought I was cursing everyone. I was so happy when I graduated and everyone was healthy for awhile.

    My uncle, the same one I mentioned earlier, tripped and fell and hit his head on the sidewalk in September while visiting a yard sale with my aunt. He was as healthy as a 79-year-old man could get and very careful about medicines and doctors appointments and diet. And he just tripped. And fell. While trying to find a deal on a dusty antique tool forgotten in somebody’s garage. It caused severe brain damage, and then a stroke, and then a heart attack. He died on Thanksgiving morning. I keep wondering and worrying about whose next. It’s starting to feel like there’s more family in the graveyard–all the same graveyard, so I can walk around and see them all–then out. It’s exhausting.

    I’m glad you’re okay.

    • Oh Hannah, I’m so sorry for what you’ve been through. I definitely know what it’s like to walk around feeling like you’re cursed and contagious. You’re not, though… it just feels that way. I have a somewhat macabre fascination with forensic pathology, probably for the same reason you’re fond of graveyards. It’s interesting how this stuff manifests itself… we look for answers and reasons and comfort in the likeliest of places, I guess. And those of us who are lucky enough to write for a living or at least have access to forms of expression that help us get through it… I think, in a weird way, we’re the fortunate ones.

      My heart goes out to you for all the loss you’ve experienced. For me, I reached a point where I stopped being able to say goodbye to people, even for short periods of time, because — and you nailed it with the word “exhausting” — I was just bone-tired of goodbyes…even little ones like people going on trips, and bigger ones, like breakups. You’ll reach a point, though, where the air just sort of clears for a while and that paranoia starts to fade away a little bit. I don’t know if it ever leaves, exactly — but I do think you’ll get a big reprieve from the pressure of it all after a while. If you like to travel, by all means, do as much of it as you can. Something about flying, and walking on weird earth, and listening to other languages can lend a feeling of oneness with the world and a sense that we’re not as alone as we might feel when we’ve said too many goodbyes. It’s healing for me, even though I don’t get to do that much of it. I think that, with your curiosity about the world and way of expressing yourself through your blog, it could be healing for you too.

      I hope 2013 is a year full of new possibilities and hope. I really think it will be. You’ve been through enough. Time for a bit of lightness for you. You deserve it.

  4. Todd lynch says:

    Im hearing gratitude.that is the very thing that keeps me in recovery as opposed to active addiction.im so grateful for a new perspective.regretful of the hurt i caused my family.grateful everyday for a freshstart.may 9 2009

  5. Wow, Amy! I sure am glad you are here to tell a tale. I’ve been there once and the moment that you think “this is it” is frightening. Love your closing thought about uncool – which I don’t suspect you are!

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