Wednesday, June 12, 2013

the time we could've ...

I don't think I've ever really had a "near death experience" before, although I've definitely said "we almost just died" or "I almost just died" dozens of times in my life, jokingly or sarcastically.
I've said it enough to cause a laugh or a smirk if I were to ever try and say it for real. I don't think anyone would believe me. It's just a really weird thing to say, especially when you look completely fine.
If I were to walk into a room battered and half-collapsing, people might believe me.
This past weekend, we could have...maybe would have...

We were driving to Cleveland, taking a road trip caravan with my mom and brother to meet my other brother to help him move. He'll be starting at the Cleveland Clinic for his 5-year residency on July 1.
Mom and Kevin left in his car 15-20 minutes before we did, because I had to run to the post office (and Dusty wanted McDonald's.)

It was an unbelievably gorgeous drive. I'm not one for road trips usually - the idea is fantastic, but Dusty and I have this uncanny and completely predictable way of fighting every time the car door closes. I'm not sure if it's the confined space, the fatigue of driving, the lack of fresh air, the leftover stress of packing and preparing for the journey...who knows. 
But this time was different. The drive was amazing, the scenery stunning, and we didn't fight a single time.
We had kind of made a pact beforehand that we wouldn't fight this entire trip, because we were simply helpers and had no reason to stress about anything at all.
I'm a shameless texter, and I'll admit that I text and drive a lot. I try to only do it on a long straight road, or when I'm stopped at a sign/light, but still. Early on in this drive, Dusty took my phone from me since I was getting so many texts and he wouldn't allow me to touch it. He responded to my texts per my verbal instruction, and worked on his homework.

The day was cloudy and foggy, beautiful and a little magical.
Sometimes the foggy mist would drift so low, we'd drive through a wave of it like a leftover cloud of magic spell.

We were driving along the i-64, it was noon, around mile marker 160.
We had just gotten a text from my brother that they were 80 miles from Charleston, so we were keeping our eyes open for a big green sign that would tell us how many miles we were lagging behind.

I spotted one a little ways ahead, but there was a line of 3 big trucks in the right lane (there were only 2 lanes) and I knew they would block our vision. I sped up to see in between the 2nd and 3rd truck, and Dusty and I were craning our necks to the right to spot the "this many miles to Charleston".

I'm not sure why I looked back to the road. Probably just because I was driving and looking fully to the right for too long didn't really work.
A red car was speeding toward us, so fast, so straight, going the wrong way on the highway in our lane.
It all happened so fast. I think I said "oh my god", or maybe just "oh my", or maybe I just thought it in my head -- and Dusty had just begun to scream when I swerved.
I can hear his voice so clearly, it's probably the worst part of the memory. I swerved to the right, and even as I did so I knew we were going to die. How could we not? There was no time. We glazed by, inch by inch, away from the speeding car and blessedly between the 2nd and 3rd truck.
The car behind us exploded with the impact, shattered glass, but it was like something out of a bad movie. It looked fake, like it couldn't be really happening. The cloud of smoke and car parts flew upward as the cars jerked apart in opposite directions, spinning.
I was screaming, yelling nonsensical sobs "that was us, oh my god, Dusty, that was us, we were going to die!"

The 2nd truck pulled over after a few seconds, and I waited and pulled over after he did. I was starting to shake uncontrollably and knew I couldn't, shouldn't, drive a second longer.
We were far enough ahead to be out of eyesight of the two cars. I think I'm glad for that. The sides of the road were filled with cars ahead and behind that had pulled over, to help or in shock, like us. Dusty got out and called 911.
He was so calm, I don't know how. He totally took over, held me, told me everything was okay. He led me to the passenger side and helped me get in, then went over and became the driver like a warrior.
This all sounds so exaggerated and the only real reason I'm writing this is because I feel like I want it down and out of my head. And also because...if I was a half-hearted advocate for not texting and driving before, I am fully committed now.
It doesn't have to be something as extreme as a car driving 75 mph down the wrong side of the highway to be deadly.
I think before I had this false sense of accomplishment, that I trusted my own ability so much. But it's not even about my ability, it's about the unpredictability of everyone and everything else. A falling tree, a bad driver, a sudden curve, an unwary pedestrian. I'm pretty darn sure there has never been a life-and-death-level-of-importance text message from me or to me, and there never will be.

There are all these minute details that contributed to our safety. Dusty taking my phone away from me - I had no distractions. Leaving after mom and Kevin, and pulling forward between those trucks to see the sign. Had we not, we could have swerved into a truck, or simply panicked and resigned to being hit head-on.

The woman driving that car was 56 years old, and she died. I don't know how or why she was on that road - I hope she was crazy, certifiably, because if she purposefully drove down that road in a fit of suicidal despair, I despise her for her selfishness. She didn't even slow down...there was no squeal of car brakes. She hit the car behind us head-on, full speed. A 19-year-old boy from Ohio.
I've had dreams about him, hoping he's okay, wishing there had been something I could have done to warn him. I wonder if he even saw the danger before he felt it.
As we drove, my mind was spinning with the how and why. We were in the middle of nowhere. The highway was straight, simple. The median was huge, a large grassy green expanse, with a little pit of concrete dipping along the center. No one could cross that unwittingly. There wasn't another exit for miles - and certainly not one that could have been confusing in any way.

There's no use in thinking about what could have been, of course. We're totally fine, not even a scratch. It's all just mental and emotional. But every so often throughout the rest of that weekend, I would think, "this memory may have never happened."

Dusty and I just held hands for the rest of the trip, talking quietly, but mostly sitting in silence. I just stared at him for a long time. I love my husband, and am so very grateful for him.
The rest of the weekend was also wonderful, and we quickly shifted our focus to family and fun and enjoying the exploration of Ohio.
Even so, the experience has been heavy on my mind.

Moral: don't text and drive. Always be alert. And whatever else you may take away from this little story of ours. Be safe.

In love,

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