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 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.
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.