This past Monday, I was involved in a hit-and-run car accident, and the “suspect vehicle”, as I’ve learned it is called, was being driven by someone who was drunk. This accident happened at 1:00 in the afternoon. I am still shocked, because after the person blew through a red light, collided with two other cars and hit me, I watched the car disappear from view. I couldn’t believe it was leaving. “No, they just can’t stop,” I’d said to myself in that split second of time, because I could not comprehend that someone would leave. The suspect vehicle would later be stopped/caught, several miles away, after causing yet another accident and taking out a couple street signs.
Once learning from the police at the scene that the driver was drunk, I was stunned. Do people really still drive drunk? WHY IS THIS STILL HAPPENING? On this day, every person affected by this driver walked away. No one needed medical treatment at the scene, though I imagine everyone has, like me, needed it later. Our bodies are not made for that kind of impact.
Which is where I am left now. The After. After is so hard, isn’t it? Because my insurance company has been wonderful, my car is already in the body shop putting this mess behind it, and I am just here, left to think about how to recover, how to deal with all the details, and beginning again without letting those thoughts of what could have been take over.
On Mondays I am a babysitter. Well, I am a babysitter on lots of days, but on Mondays I care for the one-year-old daughter of one of my best friends. Our regular routine is to go visit my dogs and let them outside in the afternoon. The houses are less than three miles away from one another. This is a short, routine trip. And so I cannot tell this story and explain my feelings here in The After without including that I had this baby in my car. This girl, the most precious thing in her parent’s lives, was in my car.
And she is fine. She never knew what happened. She thought the nice firefighter that helped me move my car to the shoulder of the road was there to see her. “Hi! Hi! Hi!” But the feeling that has stayed with me has been so hard to deal with. Tears well in my eyes just thinking about it. The anxiety I have getting into a car right now is a big struggle, but the anxiety of even thinking of driving with anyone else in the car again is unbearable.
We were all fine. She is fine. Her parents were calm and trusting and amazing. But I am not quite fine yet. Physically, I have pain. Pain that is hopefully going to improve and eventually not exist. But emotionally, I am not quite there. I keep seeing it all. I keep seeing the grill of a huge white pick-up coming toward my driver’s side window. I keep thinking of how lucky I am to have a good, safe car. Thinking of how much had to go right even in the midst of something so terrible. I keep thinking of how if someone is that drunk at 1:00 in the afternoon, then logic tells me there are drunk people out there all the time.
I know that this is probably normal, I know that eventually time will ease this anxiety, and that it won’t always feel so fresh and raw and scary. Until then, I find myself having to think moment to moment. To deal with the details, but not much more. I take one thing at a time, and I try not to think about the next time I will be in the car, the next time I’ll pass through that intersection, or the next time I’ll hear tires squeal. If I get too far ahead, I feel like I don’t know where to begin. So I just take deep breaths, remind myself that everything is okay, and begin again.
That’s really what I feel like right now, like I can only do the next necessary thing. And if the emotions well up, and I get too anxious, I just have to breathe and tell myself to back up and begin again.