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my first car crash


Have you ever been in a car accident? I've been reading "Stiff" by Mary Roach (thanks for the tip Halo!) and it's about the use of cadavers for research. Each chapter is about a different industry and how they use the cadaver (or various parts).

The chapter I just finished was about crash testing cars. So of course it made me think about the very first car accident I was in. I have been in three car accidents; luckily none of them were more than fender benders which did not yield serious injuries. But the first accident occurred about one month after I received my driver's license.

It was a warm summer day and it was just me and my dad at home. He asked me to run up to the store (about two miles from our house) to pick up something, I can't remember what it was. I was excited that my dad trusted me to drive the car by myself. When I left he was outside trimming the bushes with an electric trimmer. At the time, circa 1984, we had no answering machine.

So I got to the store, bought whatever it was and then started the return trip home. I was waiting to turn left at a green light just minutes before the impact. This is where it gets sort of fuzzy. I do not recall what I was thinking when I misjudged the distance between me and the on-coming car. I clearly was at fault and being inexperienced I tried to turn left too early, in front of the woman heading straight for me when we collided with a sickening crunch.

What's so strange is that I do remember having a vivid thought in the couple of seconds before our cars crashed. My car had enough time to make a quarter of the left turn, so that when we hit, the front grill of her car struck the front passenger tire and half of the front passenger's door.

Probably a split second before impact, as I watched her car sliding at me and heard the screeching of the tires on the concrete, I had this wild thought. I thought, maybe her car will actually stop just a millimeter away from my car and we won't hit. We'll both jump out of our cars, glad we avoided an accident, but she'll be angry that I wasn't more careful. I'll be a jangle of nerves but I will use this experience as a huge lesson. CRASH!

I sat, dumbfounded, after the blow. I had really thought there was a chance we might not collide. Then the fact that my father was going to kill me blanketed me like a wet cloak. I believe the majority of my fear and tears over that accident were about the response my strict, angry father was going to have.

As luck would have it, the accident occurred at an intersection with a gas station. We got both cars into the parking lot and then we went into the station to make some phone calls. It made things much worse for me that Gordy Miller, a kid from my class, was working the register that day. He just stared at me, his freckles and red hair flaming in quiet curiosity. I don't think we spoke to each other. I was crying and self-conscious, more worried about my father's impending reaction.

The woman who I had the accident with was so gracious. She comforted me and bought me a pop. Thank you nameless woman, you really did help me through that bad experience. So I was sort of calming down because that woman was so nice, but I still had to call my dad. Remember? I left him outside the house trimming the bushes. I dialed the number, feeling like I was walking toward the executioner's chair, and listened to the phone ring and ring and ring.

I knew he couldn't hear the phone over the buzz of the trimmer. I remember counting the number of rings and hanging up when I got to 25. I think I had to call three separate times, letting the phone on the other end ring 25 times, before he answered a breathless, somewhat annoyed, "Hello?"

When I heard his voice I burst into a new fit of tears and tried to gasp out, "Dad, I was in a car accident." I told him where I was and waited for him to get there. By the time he pulled up the police had already arrived and got the facts from us. I cried repeatedly throughout the whole thing. I told anyone who would listen that it was my fault; I didn't know what I was thinking trying to turn in front of her when I did. It was all my fault.

Thinking back I'm surprised I didn't get a ticket. Maybe the full admission of guilt had something to do with that. My mind was elsewhere, however. I really thought my dad was going to take me home and murder me. I'm not kidding. He wasn't a very patient man and was prone to angry outbursts. So I thought to myself, I hope this doesn't hurt too much.

To my utter disbelief, this was one of the very few, if not only, times in my life when my father was compassionate. He gave me a hug and said it was okay. I was stunned and a little wary.

In the end, however, it all became a distant memory that I rarely dust off and examine.


2007-03-05 at 6:38 a.m.

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