The last thing I remember clearly was singing, ‘Clang, clang goes the clanger’. Loudly.The way you do in the car. I was uncomfortable, tired, yawning, shifting away from the glare. Or had I already put my sunglasses on and relaxed? My daughter, sitting in her car seat in the back, was annoyed that I’d stopped mid-way through our third rendition of the 12 days of Christmas to sing along with Judy Garland. But was it then? Or was it earlier?
And then saw my own face, an airbag exploding, a crunch, a violent shuddering. the instant realisation that I had crossed the median strip of a major arterial road into oncoming traffic.
Somehow I got my car back onto the right side of the road and stopped it. Or maybe it stopped itself. I sat slowly registering the smoke wisping in tendrils from under the bonnet, the acrid smell of burnt rubber, the car bonnet smashed and the airbag.I thought about the smoke. That’s not good. I should get out. I should get my daughter out. But I couldn’t move. I was trapped in a parallel universe of shock and trauma so profound that my fight or flight reflex couldn’t cut through the atmosphere.
I looked at my daughter, stunned, silenced but unharmed. Someone was sitting with her, checking her fingers. Someone was holding my hand through the window, the door jammed shut by the impact. She kept me asking me if I was okay, but I had no words.
A policeman appeared asking me if I was okay, could I get out of the car? Everyone in the other cars were unhurt, he reassured me. I stared at him blankly, wondering what he was talking about. I’d crashed. But had I gone into other cars? Well, obviously. The grasp on reality was painfully gradual. The guilt, the terror of what could have been, however, flooded my consciousness.
It was the 22nd December, 2011, 245pm, a busy time of day at a very busy time of year. Today is the 6th January, 2012, Epiphany. The day the Three Magi brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The day Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas. For me, Epiphany will always be the 22nd December, the day my daughter and I escaped death or serious injury by a matter of inches. Some fluke or random alignment of the stars. The safety belt and airbag, the quick reaction of another driver I never saw.
I have thought about my legacy. What would I have left behind if I had been killed? Too many projects not fully finished. I have realised the fragility of life, how easy it is to become a statistic in the holiday road toll. I understand that bad things happen, not just to other people, they can and do happen to me. It has left me spooked. Not yet ready to ‘seize the day’ and ‘live life to the fullest’. I have not made my normal hopeful list of New Year’s resolutions. I’m just very grateful to be alive. But when I say good-bye to family and friends now, there is a new intensity to the hugs I give. My youngest daughter, still sometimes anxious and clingy, is the recipient of cuddles that could crush.
The formalities are over. Dealt with a speed and expediency by the both the police and insurance company, which has been a relief-giving surprise. The car is a right off. Now my psyche needs to heal, not such a speedy process.
So, six days into this new leap year, I wish you all a year of love, fulfillment and good health. And some advice, if you are yawning when you are driving, pull over. Nothing is so important that you can’t be a few minutes late.