Ever since the accident, I’ve been extra careful, especially when it snows. I can still feel the gravitational pull as my car slid across the ice, past a braking Honda Accord, and planted itself sideways in the ditch.
I’m sure my expression was one of shock. I kept thinking, “This isn’t really happening.” My brain had it on replay, the only phrase that made sense out of the chaotic wasteland that was my mind in those brief moments between driving down the road and being sideways in the ditch.
My mind still goes there every time it snows. I try not to drive by that spot, if I can help it, with the tree, and the house back a ways, and the ditch that I imagine still has the imprint of my Santa Fe in its depths. The car I slid past pulled over to the side of the road after I went into the ditch sideways, its driver scrambling out to assist me.
I am grateful for the kindness of strangers, always, but definitely then. I was in a state of shock. In my mind the whole accident was replaying in slow motion, over and over again. The man had to bang on my passenger window and yell at me several times before getting my attention.
He told me this after. I thought at the time that he was angry because I had almost hit his car, that he was coming after me for comeuppance. But he was there to help. He pried open my passenger side door and the car lights came on. It was odd because the day was so bright outside, the sparkling snow even brighter, but I remembered those car lights coming on because they broke me from my trance.
I shrugged off my seat belt and climbed awkwardly from my car, out the passenger side door, my savior helping me scrabble out, even though my limbs were shaking like leaves in a storm. “This isn’t really happening,” I told myself, but even I didn’t believe that. It was real, and it was happening. It was tragic, but just for the car. I was fine, even if shaken up.
I had been heading to Pizzeria Uno to meet my family, for a fine lunch, but that skipped my mind, so many stones skimming the surface before dropping deep down. When I emerged from my vehicle, two other cars were stopped by the side of the road, and I felt embarrassed. In that moment, when so many other emotions could have, and should have floated through my mind, the primary one was embarrassment because they had seen how inadequate I was in the face of the elements.
After all, none of them had gone sideways into the ditch. None of them was going to have to call the insurance company and watch their rates go up. But I also held my hands up to the sky, not for some kind of god, but simply in jubilation of having survived, of not having anyone else in the car with me, of basically being alive when nothing was a given, considering the conditions.
A woman and her significant other, two cars back, gestured for me to come sit with them, to warm up while waiting for whatever was to come next. I remember her. She was a teacher, I told her I was a teacher too, and she gave me a hug. I was shivering, and she turned the heat up in her car. The man in the back seat (I realized later he got back there just so I could have the front) patted me on the shoulder.
They were legitimately good people, the kind that weren’t supposed to exist anymore. I sat there in the car’s front seat and cried, softly, and they pretended not to see or hear it. They were good people.
That was seven years ago, but when I think of it the incident might as well have been yesterday. It is still so vivid in my mind’s eye, especially when it snows again. When the never ending upstate New York winter once again buries us in its avalanche.
So I drive down the road slowly, easing up when I feel the slightest bit of slide under my tires. Other drivers honk at me. They flip me off. They speed up and pass me, anger in their eyes, but I don’t care anymore. Safety has taken on another layer of meaning for me since the accident. Because I don’t want any more.