We have a weird history with car accidents in this family - they usually mean something in the same way that fortune cookies mean something- like, oh! your whole life is going to change today; live well because what seems risky may pale next to what seems normal; today, you will not reach your destination, or do not look back, your future is in front of you. Given that the most recent fortune cookie I opened was empty, I am cautious about this line of thinking. But, the truth remains, car accidents tend to be harbingers of larger life events. So, I do wonder what the universe was trying to say to me at 7:22 when I became party to a 3 car pileup at an exit off of route 16 when a petite doctor and her Saab knocked into the back of me after she was set into motion by the Grand Cherokee behind her.
As I think about the sensation of surreality, the jumbled moments prior to impact, when, even though I can't see behind me I sense that something is about to happen, I realize how familiar this is. Just before these moments, we tend to anticipate them, even though we can't change them or fully understand them. They are a lot like our lives, even though we are scarcely aware of anything going on around us, part of us still knows when some epic storm approaches, ready to dismantle our current understanding and reassemble it in ways that might take us seconds or might take us years to comprehend.
When I first brushed with mortality in an automotive setting, I was 18. I was in the backseat of my Saab 900 rounding the corner in front of Killington Mountain when a red Civic crossed the center line and slammed into the front end of the Duster just a car before us. You've gotta love a Duster - I hold the car responsible for the fact that no one was harmed that day. For us, sitting in the next car in line, there was the sobering reality that if we had been 40 seconds more prompt that morning, we could have been creamed - which, was ironic, because we were headed north to Addison County, Vermont to jump out of airplanes - a fact that had kept us up all night on Greeta's porch tossing and prognasticating... willing our finest possessions to one another because we feared the risk we could be taking. Jumping out of an airplane turned out to be folly. The real risk we faced lay embedded in the everyday acts that we thought were so benign: cutting carrots, barefoot, while talking about global economics; walking down stairs in the dark and miscalculating their number; or, most perniciously, driving. My friend Ian handled the moment with grace, and pulled calmly to the side of the road, where, luckily, (and I'm dating myself here) a payphone happened to reside in the dirt lot of the state park. He was so cool that after we did our jumps, he returned time and time again, even joining the military to continue seeking out danger in daily life. Greeta went on to travel feverishly, and to dig in deep to our toughest problems in her work as a social worker in Burlington. Though I would not go out seeking danger, or adventure the same way, I walked away knowing that the real danger was in being complacent, in not realizing that we are dustmites under the couch of posterity, in taking what we have for granted.
The next time the dark forces of car wrecks would enter my life, I dreamt about it. In my dream, I backed into the side door of my grandfather's jeep. I was 19. I woke up knowing that something would happen because of this dream; I told everyone at work about the dream, and then, that same day, in the rain, I backed out of my parking spot at work - right into the side door of my boss's car. We know it's coming when it does.
At 25 I came home after a long day working two jobs. (This story still spooks me). When I walked through the door of my house I looked down at the table in the foyer to check messages, where I saw a hospital bracelet with my husband's name on it just as I heard him mumble my name from the next room. As it turns out, his first day after seasonal unemployment began went like this: 6:20 AM kiss Marjke goodbye. 8:00 AM awaken to a phone call from an eccentric friend offering an opportunity to purchase, slaughter, and butcher chickens (because they had previously discussed the thought that a person who cannot butcher their own meat should not eat meat to begin with), which Mark readily accepts. 8:30AM travel to said friend's home, and then to a neighboring friend's house to borrow a truck. 8:45AM head to a farm in Dover to purchase 10 roosters from a woman with two eye colors and a man pushing a single log around in a wheelbarrow. 9:15 AM return to the home of our eccentric friend and begin killing roosters with a Burmese sword in the woods, clean up the carnage, butcher, package and divvy the meat. 5:00 PM get into a little Toyota with an intersting history and drive home. 5:15PM try to turn left 500 feet from our driveway only to be pummeled from behind by a 96 year old woman travelling at 55 miles per hour - WHAM! 5:16:42 PM head straight for a garbage truck in the oncoming lane. 5:16:44 PM swerve sharply to the right, narrowly avoiding a calamity, only to head back into the lane where the 96 year old woman, he was briefly acquainted with before, was again barreling down on him. 5:17:00 PM finally bring the carreening blue box that he was inhabiting to a complete stop on the shoulder of the road, check his body for injury, and turn to his friend, make eye contact, and in unison yell "The Chickens!" 5:18:00 PM frantically pull plasic bags of chicken fromt he shattered back window of the Celica. 5:20:43 PM call roommate to retrieve chicken and other personal effects. 5:24:08 PM be seized by paramedics, strapped to backboards and loaded into the back of an ambulance. 5:24:24 PM watch as a police officer opens a garbage bag full of chicken entrails that was left on the side of the highway, grimmace and closes the bag, dropping a pair of chicken feet into a smattering of broken glass. 7:52:09 PM return home from a litany of tests. 8:04:33 PM kiss Marjke hello. 10:31PM conceive a child out of sheer joy in having survived. Life and death swirled over Mark's head that day, dancing with one another, both comforting and menacing, just daring him to proceed.
Most recently, I, under the influence of pregancy, slowly watched a car next to me "rolling", which actually turned out to be me - doing the rolling, that is - at a stop light - into the toe hitch of a Dodge Ram, which folded the hood of my Saturn in half to return the favor. I realized from that point forward my life, my mind, my perception of the world would really never belong to me alone, again.
I am sitting on the couch, now. Every breath hurts. I am left wondering what comes next for me. Children? Change of career? Death? Tough choices? All I can say is that I am grateful that the fortune cookie I opened was empty, because I know that can't happen more than once in a life, like some other things I can think of. But today, I am here; I have something to think of, lessons to learn, and a lot to be grateful for.