Thursday, November 12, 2009

How to Total Your Car in One Easy* Step

Just between you and me, I'll be kind of glad when 2009 is over. So far this year my husband lost his job (and decided to use this time to finally follow his nearly life-long dream of being an author) and also was hospitalized with some stomach issues. This year I dislocated my ankle and broke my leg the first weekend of July, resulting in plenty of pain and nerve damage, of course, but also in my missing out on what would have been my first San Diego Comic Con, my 20th High School Reunion, my kids' first day of school, and even prevented me from the simple but important act of picking out a birthday card for my daughter's 15th birthday. You might thing "wow, that's a lot for one woman to deal with in a year". You'd be right, but that doesn't mean more crap can't happen!

On the night of November 3, I got into my car  for the first time since the night I broke my leg back in July.  I've always loved my Subaru, with it's extra perks like heated leather seats and 6 CD changer. We got brand new when my son was just a toddler and my daughter was still in elementary school. I'd been a used-car gal since I first started driving, so having something brand new was a treat all its own. I've hauled my kids to scout meetings, day camps, school functions, the park, and so on. There are a lot of memories associated with that car, which often felt my home away from home since I was in it so often.

Maybe if I'd known November 3 was also going to be the LAST night I'd ever drive my car I would have taken more time to appreciate it (and, honestly, some time to clean out all the clutter that's often associated with a Mom car).

I was driving southbound on the interstate with the intention of visiting my friend Lois, who lives about 1 1/2 to 2 hours away. Her son David and his girlfriend were going to hop on a plane the next morning and move to another state, where they will hopefully have a good chance to get decent jobs and housing. It was about 6:00pm on a cold but clear evening and traffic was thick but moving. I was in the far right lane, and even as a slow lane we were still going between 60 and 65.

One minute I was focusing on making sure there was plenty of space between me and the vehicle in front of me. The next minute, my steering wheel jerked HARD to the right, and I was just hanging on and trying to stop. This won't be easy to describe, because honestly, it was as if things were going on all at once yet in slow motion at the same time, but I'll do my best. Some things I specifically remember experiencing or sensing, and other things are sort of after-the-fact realizations. I'll go ahead and apologize in advance if some of this stuff doesn't make sense.

My car veered off the road to the right and up an embankment in a spot where there was no guardrail. At the top of the embankment was a fence and a lot of young trees, and I remember seeing tree branches slapping against my windshield. The next thing I experienced was the taste of dirt on the air. I remember thinking that was weird, and then realized it was suddenly much colder inside the car. I noticed that the things in my passenger side seat were in the air, and it looked like clothes in one of those big dryers at the laundry mat. I remember thinking "oh, I must be rolling. That's not good." That's when I felt clods of dirt and grass raining down on my head. The rolling had busted my moon roof.

I landed with a thud right side up, but at some point I'd spun because I was now facing southbound traffic. I heard a roaring sort of sound, and at first I thought it was probably my heart racing. Then I realized the front half of my right foot was wedged underneath the brake pedal, and the roaring sound was being caused by my having my right heel wedged on top of the gas pedal pressing it all the way down. The motor was still running, and I didn't learn until later that I'd landed against a guardrail. Almost as soon as the car stopped rolling there was a man with a cell phone heading towards my car. He said something I couldn't hear, and I pressed the button for my front side windows - in hindsight I can't believe they worked! - and he repeated himself. "Are you okay? I'm on with 911. Help is on the way." My response to his question was "did I hurt anyone?" In that moment, that was my biggest fear. He said no, that it was only me, and that's when the shaking and the tears started for me.

Another car with a young couple had also pulled over and were trudging up to the car to ask if I was alright. I kept telling them I thought I was okay but definitely shaken up. I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket and called my husband. I don't remember what I said for sure, but it was along the lines of "I rolled the car" or "I wrecked the car". Naturally he freaked out and said he'd be right there, but I didn't know precisely where I was, so I said "just look for the trashed Subaru and some flashing lights". The woman from the second stopped car advised me to hang on a moment, and she figured out the precise location with the GPS on her cell phone so I could tell my husband where to find me.

About this time I noticed in my peripheral vision a couple of men walking around the slope of the embankment behind me, and it was then I realized my whole back window was gone. The men were out there picking up things that had come out of my car and were putting them back in through the missing back window. There was a bit of time when I focused on little things: I realized my headlights were on and turned them off to avoid blinding oncoming traffic, I called my friend Lois to tell her I was sorry but I wouldn't be there after all, I figured my car might be in bad shape so I started picking things up around the inside of the car and putting them into bags or baskets or whatever I could find, I found my purse and strapped it on so I wouldn't forget it.

Soon there were plenty of flashing lights. Apparently when you call 911 about a car accident they ALL come running. The firemen were sent away (no, I do not know if any of them were "hot" or not). The EMTs helped me get out of my car, which was a challenge since it was on the up side of the incline and I've still got limited feeling in my foot so I'm still using a cane. I don't think I gently leaned on the poor EMTs for help so much as I probably dislocated his shoulder from holding on so tight.

My sense of humor is one of my coping mechanisms, apparently, so when the EMTs were asking how I could best get on the road side of the guardrail my brain comes up with "I'm a farm girl, I can handle a fence." (Maybe they should have checked me for a concussion...) Their "examination" of me consisted of asking me if I was hurting anywhere, if I could please spell my first and last name, if I could give them my date of birth, and if I could tell them where I live. They talked to me a bit about why I needed the cane and made an effort to help me calm down a bit. They really were wonderful to me, but I do think I was still pretty adrenaline-packed, so I'm not sure how long they stayed with me. I know they stuck around until the police officer was free enough that they could hand me off to the cop. They asked if I felt I needed to go to the hospital, and I think I said something about feeling okay but going if they felt it was necessary. They essentially responded by wishing me well and driving away, which I took to mean I was going to be just fine.

The police officer on the scene was wonderful to me, too. I was sitting on the guardrail and shivering. He said I should sit in his squad car until my husband got there, and that he had some paperwork for me to fill out anyway. He led me to the car and we bypassed the front door. He explained that the front seat was full of stuff so I'd have to sit in back, but said "don't worry, there's no handcuffs involved." His little touches of humor combined with empathy really helped me calm down, and the paperwork was a good way to distract me and help me breathe. On a side note, I recommend only really short-legged people commit crimes, and that they do so alone, because the back seat of a squad car has NO leg room! I had to sit nearly with my back against the door and legs up in the seat.

My husband finally arrived, so I switched and got into his truck to finish up the paperwork. He got out and looked at the car, talked to the police officer, and essentially took over so I could sit in the truck and have my nervous breakdown in peace. I tried to get out of the truck a couple of times, but he discouraged me. I realize now he was worried if I saw the car - truly looked at it and saw how very damaged it was - I'd crack. So I sat in the truck, called home to the kids to try and let them know I was doing fine but the car was another story, used my iphone to get on Facebook and Twitter to let people know the bare minimum ("I totaled my car, but I'm okay - more later", essentially), and did a lot of praying and thanking the universe for my safety.

The next day we went to the lot where my car had been towed (they had to use two different tow trucks, because the car was wedged into the guardrail in such a way that they needed to LIFT the thing up and over the rail before they could put it on the bed of the tow truck). The following are the photos I took of the car that day.

Some may think I'm crazy, but it's worth mentioning all the same. Seconds before I hit whatever that mystery road debris, an image popped into my head. The image was of me and my Dad on my last visit to see him alive. He made me sit on his lap (which involved the arm of the chair and lots of "hovering'), pulled me to his chest, cradled my head in the crook of his neck, held me close, rocked me and sang the song I'd made up when I was about 3 years old. The lyrics are "Daddy's little angel, yes I was. Daddy's little angel, yes I was." For no "obvious" reason, THAT is the image that popped into my head immediately prior to the accident. Some might call it a coincidence. I'm not an overtly religious person, but I am a spiritual one. I personally believe that it was my Dad, letting me know that he was with me and would keep me safe.

*Easy - to quote  Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride, "I do not think it means what you think it means".


  1. Holy crap. What an incredible story for my first visit to your blog. DO NOT keep it up! Glad to hear you're doing great.

  2. I've totaled a car before but never rolled one. That could've been SO much worse, you were lucky. Thanks for sharing the details!


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