On Tuesday, July 24, a man fell asleep at the wheel and his 5-ton tow truck hit me at 65 miles per hour while I was parked in my 2-door Toyota. It’s the closest to death I’ve ever come. Look at this picture of my car. Chilling.
I’d been waiting for my husband to come to change the flat, something I didn’t trust myself to learn to do over the phone on the side of the freeway. When he finally arrived, I was already in the ambulance.
The impact caused my car hit a chain linked fence on the left. The pole dislodged from the earth and impaled the windshield, protruding above my shoulder, inches from my head. On the right, I slammed into a huge wood electrical pole. Glass everywhere. Airbags deployed. Steering wheel bent. Blood. Ears ringing. My brain tried to catch up with reality. It’s hard to describe the total shock. The tow truck driver dragged me out. Realizing I’d survived was the most sobering moment of my life. The only two things I could think were: I am healthy and I love my family. That was it. I felt an overwhelming surge of empathy for everyone in my life. Health and family. That’s what matters. Nothing else.
This is my first time writing about the accident. I still have brain fog, so it’s hard to organize my thoughts. I’m not focused on writing well right now. That doesn’t seem to much matter. Today I want to try and piece things together in writing. It took two weeks for the shock to wane, but I’m not sure it fully has. My head hurts right now. Trauma is crazy.
Nothing is broken, miraculously, but nothing is the same either. This whole ordeal feels like the longest hangover ever. I had to quit my job because of it. I just can’t think straight and I’m in constant pain. My neck, my back, the entire left side of my body, my left wrist. Everything aches and hurts. I can’t sleep. I shoot up with an actual gasp at 3AM, 4AM, tweaking my neck in the process. This happens a lot. Then I start my long day.
Emotionally, I have crying spells without notice. I have PTSD and flashbacks. My dominant emotion is anxiety. I can’t think or talk about the accident without sobbing. I dream about it. The healing process is slow. Three steps forward, two and a half steps back.
I started going to church. I’ve been agnostic/atheist my entire life, but now I go to church and listen to spiritual audiobooks and podcasts. I don’t know what to believe anymore. I can’t walk away from that accident and not question my place in this world. My rational brain says it’s all coincidence, but I’m not totally rational anymore. The feeling is surreal. I’m filled with this weird optimism. I feel so open. Vulnerable. And it’s like I’m soaking it all in, seeing what sticks. I don’t quite have the words for it. All of this has some meaning, and it’s leading me somewhere.
I have brief moments of clarity, like the day I suddenly had the urge to develop the DIY MA in English program, but then I’ll go days in a total haze, unable to even be outside or have the blinds open or move faster than a shuffle. Some days I can’t focus enough to read or follow a TV plot; it’s even harder to care about the plot. So much meaninglessness. Everywhere.
Quitting my job was hard because it felt like I was moving in a direction that felt right. And the job paid well. I was teaching grammar and writing at a small after-school writing academy for gifted students. When I emailed the owners to say I was in too much pain that day to come to work, and that I needed to spend the day at my chiropractor’s office and icing my body in bed, they never responded. I told them exactly what I was experiencing and how it affected my ability to perform at work. I acknowledged the inconvenience I was causing them by quitting, and apologized. They’d known about the accident before I started working there–I’d shown them pictures and even showed up in a neck brace for my first meeting–but they said nothing when I quit. Silence. That was 5 days ago. What a massive disappointment in character and professionalism. I wish them well.
Anyway. Now I’m resting at home. I spend my days doing what few restorative yoga poses I can, listening to uplifting audiobooks and podcasts, hydrating, and wishing my cats were more cuddly. Some days I’ll go for a walk if my body can take it. I’ll read for short periods of time, then rest my eyes. I’m trying not to watch TV or movies because I’m feeling incredibly sensitive to all the negativity–drugs, displays of extreme wealth, drinking, violence, crime, unhealthy and dysfunctional relationships, emotionally unstable characters etc– inherent in that type of media. It’s hard not to notice that pattern while skimming through Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime videos. It feels like the shows are clickbait that pander to our vices, fears, and desires, only to transport us to total harshness. It feels icky to watch. Does that make sense? I find it a depressing waste. It is too overwhelming for me right now. So I spend most of my time in silence, carefully choosing my stimuli.
Maybe the lesson I am learning is to be mindful of precisely how and with whom I spend my remaining time on this earth. Right now every moment feels worth savoring. There’s no space for toxicity of any kind whatsoever. I hope this feeling lasts.