Saturday, December 10, 2011

anger. pride. fear. relief. gratitude. guilt.

They say that when you're about to die, your life flashes before your eyes. They also say that when you're involved in very serious situation, you may find yourself thinking of something random instead of something important.

I don't know much about the first one, but during the car accident Friday night while I was hanging upside-down by my seatbelt and calling for my brother, I kept thinking to myself, "Wow, those people who made the movie Crash got that one scene pretty damn true to life!"

Let me start at the beginning. 

I had Friday off because I was working Saturday. Jon always has Fridays off because he works long shifts Monday through Thursday. He was doing his thing and I was doing my thing, and suddenly we were snippety at each other, over something so trivial I can't remember what it is. I was getting all worked up on the inside about how he has yet to help with the thank-you cards and if he had just admitted to me that he didn't really want to, I'd be annoyed but they'd have all been done months ago and I wouldn't still feel guilty and is he going to pull this with changing diapers and giving time outs and homework--omg am I going to be the bad cop for life!?! On top of that, I thought he was taking too long getting ready. He said maybe I should go without him and I stormed out the door without so much as a look backward.

I had never done that before. I tell the guy I love him at the end of every phone call even if it's a 2.5-second conversation to say that he's arrived to pick me up. I ALWAYS kiss him goodbye like I saw my parents do all those years. We've even stuck to the whole "don't go to bed angry" thing. But I had let the simmer turn into a boil and was so angry. It was inane. And I knew it even before the door was closed behind me, but was too proud to turn around.


I went over to my parents' house--I had wanted to set up the Christmas tree before my mom got home because she always complains that no one helps her anymore. I've put this thing together like six times; a 10-year-old could do it. She got home, shook her head and pointed out that the middle part was never going to fit in the stand no matter what I tried. I then assembled the entire thing in 45 seconds. I had been struggling with it by myself a whole hour--checking the phone every five minutes to see if Jon had messaged me.

I was upset about being angry and I just wanted to hear Jon's voice. My mom called me out on it as soon as she walked in the door, and later my dad said I didn't seem myself. He warned me that it was a full moon that night and to be careful (he says that a lot). I left to go pick up my brother from the airport. Apparently they assumed I went to get Jon first and wasn't going alone.


It was 20 degrees out. There had been a dusting of snow in the morning, more like a layer of fake cobweb that people put out during Halloween all over the grass and the trees. The streets seemed fine. I knew I was off because of the argument, plus dad's moon thing, so I was driving extra carefully at the speed limit. Plus this horrible thought kept creeping into my head, "Just watch, self, you acted like a fool and didn't say goodbye to him, what if you got into an accident? He'd have to live with that." I know that sounds like something people say after something happens, and I admit that I have these morbid thoughts ALL the time and nothing happens, but it really was going through my head the whole day. Stupid spotted tongue.


My brother drives a fancy car that beeps at him if he doesn't have his seatbelt on. Oh, how I loathe that sound, and I had to hear it every time he'd call me on speaker when he was driving in Alabama. HATE. I always lectured and yelled, but he would never put it on--something about how it chafes. Seriously, it's a really annoying sound, I don't know how he could stand it. I got out of my car when I got to the airport, hugged him hello and slipped my phone into my coat pocket as he was putting his bags in the trunk. On the drive home, we were discussing dinner, the new-but-really-from-Madelyn's-wrecked-car stereo Jon had put into my car last week and other random stuff. I remember noticing that my brother put his seatbelt on as we were pulling away from the terminal and being thankful I didn't have to nag him. 

Everything was normal. I was still driving at the speed limit. I was in the left lane, there was a semi tractor-trailer next to my right and the shoulder to my left. The truck seemed like it was coming closer, my car drifted toward the shoulder--was there ice there?--I pulled it back to center. I heard my brother yell my name as it swerved back and forth a couple of times before I wasn't able to regain control. We swung around and hit the solid concrete median head-on, and my little black Altima flipped over onto its roof and slid, parallel to the median. The scraping of top of the car was such a distinct and disgusting sound. It all happened in less than five seconds.

Everything was foggy. There was this rancid, chalky smoke in the air. I had glass in my mouth. The airbag had knocked my glasses into my eyeballs so hard the lenses were smeared from the inside and they were hanging down at a weird angle. I kept asking if my brother was ok over and over, until he yelled at me to snap out of it. He was surprisingly calm, asking if I was hurt handing me my purse. I couldn't get the seatbelt off, but he was able and fell into the crushed glass on the inside of the roof. Something like eight people stopped to help us, one of whom yanked the door open, and--I'll never forget this--said, "It's pretty smoky, we didn't want you to choke. Plus this car could catch on fire any second. You guys better get out NOW."

I couldn't get my seatbelt off. People kept yelling for me to turn off the engine, but I couldn't get the key to move. The steering wheel and dashboard seemed a million miles away, as if I were fully reclining in my seat with my hair sticking straight up. I had no concept of the space where my legs were. I pushed against the roof to hold myself up so someone could unbuckle me, I don't know who. I was staggering around and couldn't stop checking to see if my brother was ok. He crawled back into the car to root around for his phone while I was panicking that the car would catch on fire with him inside. A very nice man named Pete who was on his way home to Indiana from his job in Wisconsin let us sit in his car until the police came.

As I was sitting there, all I could think of was what kind of horrible person could let this happen with someone else in the car, especially someone I love more than my own life? My God, the things this boy has had to face, how hard he's had to fight for his life, and it could have all been gone in a second? My brother had a pretty bad laceration to the temple, his left eyelid was purple and swollen to ten times its size, there was a burst vessel in his eye that made him look like it was bleeding, his shoulder, neck and leg were hurting. My face was bruised from the airbag, I was sore here and there, and I had glass in my mouth. Neither of us wanted to go to the hospital, but I knew that I couldn't force him to go if I didn't too.

I called Jon. He's not stubborn in a fight like me, he answered. He didn't have a chance to say hello before I apologized. The poor guy didn't have a car, or I'm sure he'd be on the road before I got past the word accident. I asked him to call and tell my parents gently and ask them to get him and come to the hospital.

I don't dare imagine the agony my mom was in, trapped at home, knowing both her babies were headed to the hospital in an ambulance.

The firefighter who looked like a caucasian version of my dad when he still had a mustache was so kind. He got me some water to rinse and spit out the glass, he took me where my brother wouldn't see so I could cry a little, then he reminded me that we both walked away from what looked like terrible, horrible wreckage. 

I refused to go in a separate ambulance, so my brother was strapped to the stretcher and I was strapped to a board on the bench. My brother knows his very complicated medical history, but so do I--they were asking me all the same questions but I kept waving my guy off and interjecting in my brother's interrogation: "Don't use tape on him, only paper tape, he's allergic! And advil! He has a pacemaker! Be careful with that leg, he had surgery there!" I was incredibly annoying. My brother gave me a look and I focused on my own questions, which were done pretty fast. Then the tears started rolling. 

"If I see one more tear, I swear to God I'm going to punch you and give you a real reason to go to the Emergency Room," he said, and then asked if they could please get his suitcase and laptop out of the trunk--that's his work stuff.

Before we took off, the kind caucasian dad firefighter said Jon and my actual dad had arrived. But we'd have to see them at the hospital. I sniffled the whole way over there.


Again, as we were rolling into the emergency room of this foreign hospital, it seemed like a scene from a movie--for as much as they get wrong, they manage to get this stuff eerily correct. I didn't know where my brother was, and I was as antsy as you can be when you're immobilized on a hard plastic board with a C-collar around your neck. And then Jon came in the door. Later, my dad.

I was fine, essentially just knocked around and shaken up pretty badly. My brother has a few pretty big bumps--they did lab work and X-Rays because of his medical history, and we were there a long long time before they'd clear him to leave. It's always hard to explain what his deal is to new doctors, but I was so impressed by the how in command he is about everything. As much time as I spent worrying, he spent joking with the staff.

Essentially, we are both OK. It very well could have gone VERY differently.


Here is what I know:

  • I am alive, typing this instead of lying in a hospital bed or a surgical table or the slab of a morgue.
  • My brother is alive, and insisted on going to Wrigley Field today to upgrade his season-ticket seats, but his friend kept an eye on him. 
  • It was one car vs. a median wall; no other cars were hit or hit us.
  • The exact same accident happened down the way about 30 minutes before our crash.
  • A lot of people in my life care about me--50+ Facebook comments.
  • The car is completely totaled, but it protected me to the very bitter end.

My brother posted this on the FB:

"Wear your seat belts!! They save lives including mine. Last night."

I don't think I would have been able to go on living if the seatbelt hadn't saved my brother last night.


Jon said...

Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, everx^1000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 leave/ let someone you love leave angry. That phone call will murder your soul 10 ways to Sunday.

velocibadgergirl said...

I seriously have goosebumps all over. I'm so very very glad you and your brother are both okay. How terrified you must've been <3

Angel07 said...

Oh Karen, I keep thinking about all of you. Your P's, Jon, you and Kevin. Hope you all can just recover and spend tons of QT together! Sending up lots of prayers of thanx to the Big Guy upstairs for you!!

{debbie} said...

ok, i was seriously crying reading your post. thank the good Lord you both are alive and well! {i'm just like you, i think morbid thoughts ALL the time!}

Teej said...

I am so, so, so thankful that you are both okay. If you're rattled for a while, take your time. Be easy on yourself. It's okay.

Anonymous said...

Amazing story. Hard to add anything to it...

Shalini said...

Oh my goodness, I was teary reading this whole thing. So glad you and your brother are alright!

Zinta said...

SO grateful that you and your brother are ok. I am going to listen to Jon's advise.

Guyana-Gyal said...

This post shocked and scared and worried me. An accident was the last thing I'd expected to read about.

I second what Jon says. Break the ice one way or another.

Are you okay? How's your brother?

Librarian Girl said...

Oh my. I am so, so, so glad you both are ok. That sounds absolutely terrifying. Sending hugs your way, friend.

Lia said...

I'm so glad you are both okay! That's a really scary and miraculous story.