When you see car accidents in movies, everything goes totally silent and into slow motion. The movie makers must do this because they’ve talked to accident survivors. I assume this is the case because if they were to interview me about being double t-boned in my Saturn, that’s how I would describe it. Slower than life and quieter than silence.
In 2000, I was driving to meet friends for brunch, alone in my car. I didn’t see the light, and ran a red. Two cars powered into both my front passenger and driver’s side doors. There was no sound. There was no sensation. Everything went soft and quiet and slow. I don’t remember the airbags detonating, though they did. I don’t remember glass shattering, though it did. I do remember a sort of lazy twirling of the car that must have happened after the impact. A bit like sliding on snow where you’ve lost control of the car but it’s no big deal because it’s a slow slide/turn and nothing’s in the way.
I remember seeing a group of people standing some feet away looking in the car window. I remember the paramedics or police officers poking their heads in and telling me not to move. They used the “jaws of life” to get me out, but I have no memory of that.
Someone asked me several times if I had been drinking. My response clearly confused them, “No, I haven’t had anything to drink, I’m an alcoholic.” (I was trying to say it’s been years, that I’m sober.) I remember being in the ambulance, but not clearly. I thought I remembered it pretty well until Maya and I took a tour of our fire station where I learned that it would be very unlikely that I was head at the back of the truck like I thought.
My mobile phone was with me, and it rang when I was in the ambulance. It was Josh, surely wondering where I was. “Hello, I’m in an ambulance” I think I said. I put the phone down and the paramedic took it from there.
At the hospital they had a hell of a time getting both my IV in and my catheter placed. I still am only vaguely clear on what happened, but I do remember thinking, hey, this sucks that I’m lying here all naked down there and open to this group of people trying to shove something up me.
I was awake when they did the laparoscopic check for internal bleeding, inserting the tube thing just under my belly button. I remember very vividly the POP feeling as they went through layers of me. I held someone’s hand and squeezed it tight. They couldn’t give me pain meds, I think I remember, because it would mess up their diagnosis of me.
And, oh, I remember Josh’s terrified face when he arrived in the ER. He’ll have to correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure I said to him, “I need need to not worry about you now.” As if that’s what he wanted, me worrying! He was scared, he was showing it, and I wanted to help him feel better. Sure, I’d just been in an accident of the type that is typically fatal for the driver. But I needed his permission to not worry about him.
This past weekend I found these old photographs of the car, and me, from the accident. About a week ago a pickup truck almost rear ended me. Very fast and very close. I had a physical reaction. Shock. It felt as if I was back in that quiet slow moving car. I was able to pull over and catch my breath, bring myself back to the moment. But, this accident has been the most concrete example for me of how fluid and changing memory is.
As bits keep coming back over the years, I have no idea what is real or what I’m imagining. Sometimes they feel so real but couldn’t possibly be (the direction I was lying in the ambulance). Sometimes I’m surprised I didn’t remember before. As poets have forever tried to describe love, I think I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to capture the clear silence of that crash.