Lightning Strikes Again
When I wrote about experience being a good thing, about how something bad that happens to us can help us advise or console others who go through what we've been through, I really didn't consider experience preparing us for the same thing happening to us more than once. When something bad happens, even though we can't change things, it's still natural to look at how we could have done things differently. Take Friday morning, for example. I was running about 8 to 10 minutes late, not unusual, and I forgot my bottle of Gatorade, which I'd put in the freezer when I first woke up. This was one of many positive routines I'd implemented to help myself feel healthy and normal again. Fortunately, I wasn't far when I remembered it, not more than a few steps from my house. I waved at my mom and motioned for her to open the kitchen window while I mimed gulping down an invisible bottle. She disappeared, and returned a minute later, folding a paper towel around the bottle. I placed both on my passenger seat, and was soon on my way.
The ride was smooth and absolutely uneventful. I was nearly to my office, about five minutes away, sitting at the back of a line of about eight cars stopped at a traffic light when I heard a familiar sound. Three or four years ago, on my way to work at my old job, I heard that same sound right before a girl rear ended my car. That was the second car accident I'd been in, and less serious. The first time, my dad was driving through an intersection, and had I not screamed “they're not gonna stop!!” as I put my hand on the glass like Trinity in the phone booth, he wouldn't have accelerated, and the minivan would have struck the passenger side door and killed me. Instead, it clipped the back of our car, demolished our trunk, and spun us around a full 180 degrees. We staggered out as the driver's wife started screaming at us and I calmed her down with an excess of “ma'am's” until the police arrived. Ultimately, the car was totaled and towed away, after a year of sitting in our yard until my mom was ready to say goodbye.
The accident near the end of 2004 was less serious. I stopped for a traffic light; she didn't. I was sitting there for about 10-20 seconds before I heard the squealing tires, began looking up to my rearview mirror, then felt the impact. Her car actually took the worst of it, and her insurance covered the repair of my bumper. It was more of a nuisance than anything else. I wasn't even hurt, and life went on.
This all replayed in my mind this Friday morning as I heard the squealing tires. I knew I was going to get hit a split second before it happened. Time gets funny during an accident. When I was in the accident with my father and we were spinning, I remember looking over at his frowning face and everything in the car moving very slowly while the world outside was a blur. When I got hit Friday, it felt like an instant replay, like I experienced the incident twice in rapid succession, and from different camera angles.
I sighed and pulled in to the gas station I'd been sitting in front of, looking wistfully at that traffic light where I would have made a right turn on to the road leading to my office. I was so close and then something like that happened. I turned off the car, and fished around on the floor for my frozen beverage, which had gone flying from the impact. As my mom would later point out, had I not forgotten that drink, I'd have been on the road a minute or two earlier. There's a good chance I would have been in the car in front of the car this lady hit, instead of the car she did hit. Again, I can't help replaying these dips into improbability, seeing where fate diverged to place me in the right place at the wrong time.
She was very apologetic as I surveyed the damage. My bumper was scuffed, but surprisingly not dented. It looked like some of the fasteners broke on either side though, and the edges of the bumper were hanging away from the rear wheel wells. Somewhere, a baby was crying, and then I noticed a 2 or 3 year old girl in a child seat in the back of her station wagon. She went to get the crying child, and I asked if she was okay. I got a pen out of my car, and found the paper towel my mom had given me. At the very least, the event which changed fate had given me something to write on. The woman told me it wasn't her car and it took her a while to find the insurance card. I got the name from the card and all pertinent information. Whether it was her husband's car, a friend, or a relative's, I couldn't say. I also got her name and cell phone number, and was soon back on my way to the office, now twenty minutes late instead of ten.
Experience had prepared me, and I was calm about the whole thing. Alone in my car though, a bit up the road, a profanity escaped my lips with resounded force. “F-----!!!!!” I felt a little better, and did it again. After letting my parents know the improbably outcome of my morning commute, I called our insurance person, who advised me to get an estimate, let the woman know, and let her decide how to proceed. Whether she paid for it or her insurance paid for it, the important thing was that someone paid for it. We won't be able to get the car to a body shop before early next week, but it doesn't look as bad as the last time. Maybe they reinforced it. I'm just glad that it wasn't an eight car pileup; it's amazing that I didn't slam into the car in front of me and so on, something of a domino effect. No one was hurt, and if anything my back felt a little better. I wonder if the sensations I was getting the past few weeks and the odd backaches were my body tensing up, as though it knew something was on the horizon.
Maybe because the unlikely strikes me so often, it's become normal. My only fear driving home from work was that the bumper would fall off completely, but I think more holds it on than the two brackets that cracked. I took it slow just to be safe, and in the pouring rain I prayed the idiots tailgating me didn't hit me. At this point, two collisions in the same day wouldn't surprise me. Seriously, what are the odds?!