For 30 seconds today I thought my wife and daughter were dead.
Laura and I were our way to Darcy’s ballet class and intended to stop at a car wash to have both cars cleaned beforehand. I was following behind them as we pulled off the interstate and merged onto a four lane road. I was maybe 200 yards behind them.
Laura, in our SUV made her way through the underpass. I had a moment to notice that the light holding traffic at the exit ramp was green and by the time I glanced down at the radio and up again it had blinked to red.
I could see that Laura was going to head through the intersection, that she didn’t see that the light had changed. Traffic began moving from the right exit ramp for eastbound traffic. Laura swerved to avoid one car and I thought, believed, that was the end of it . I’d even constructed a half a sentence about how I’d tell her that the light had changed in the blink of an eye when an SUV slammed into the back passenger side of Laura’s car, the side where Darcy was sitting.
T-boned, Laura’s car was plowed sideways until it hit a curb, flipped over, smashed into the pavement hood first and crushed all but a few inches of windshield. As I watched the car rifle up in the air a hole opened up in my gut and my entire body, heart, soul and stomach sank into my midsection. I remembered reading something maybe twenty years ago about how fatalities in car accidents increased exponentially when a car turned turtle and as I saw the car slide to a thought I knew that my wife and daughter were dead.
It took me 30 seconds to get to them.
I laid on the horn and stomped on the accelerator, plowed over bits of metal and glass before stopping some twenty feet away. The driver side of the car was closest. The frame was irrevocably bent and I remember thinking that I might not be able to pull open the door.
I could see Laura through the airbags and the cracked glass, she was moving, and I knew that she was conscious. I yanked open the door, pulled her out of the car onto the concrete and then bolted to the other side of the car. I could hear her crying ,which I took to be a good sign, but she was suspended upside down from her car seat.
I had just unlatched Darcy and was trying to remove her as gently as possible when a nurse, coming home from work, stopped and helped me secure my daughter. Darcy appeared to be all right. I didn’t see any blood, she responded to a few questions from the paramedics as best as she could and I ran back to Laura.
She was sitting by the car and hadn’t moved. A firefighter from another county, also passing by, had already put Laura in a neck brace and was updating her about our daughter’s condition.
It was when Darcy complained about a pain in her knee, the same one she had skinned just an hour earlier on the sidewalk in front of her house, that I knew she was most likely all right. Shell shocked and dazed but all right.
The other car was driven by the husband of a young family. He, his wife and their two children (both younger than Darcy) were unharmed and declined medical treatment.
Aside from a bruise on her knee Laura appeared to be fine. Our car, a 2008 Hyundai Santa Fe was totaled. There isn’t any way it couldn’t be. Despite being T-boned, flipping over onto its hood the engine was still running. Looking at the wreckage, the crumpled hood, exposed engine block, busted glass and twisted metal I couldn’t imagine how anyone could have survived such violence.
We did though or more specifically they did, Laura and Darcy. They were both shuffled off into an ambulance. I raced to the hospital and waited for them to arrive.
Some friends of ours were kind enough to come by and bring their children which was greatly appreciated. Darcy ran around the ER with the two other girls in a whirlwind. David, their father, kept an eye on me and Roxanne, his wife, tended to my wife before Laura and Darcy were released.
We went home, ordered a pizza, and watched Dora the Explorer before it was time to go to bed. I decided to buy two more Britax car seats the next day and the biggest fucking vehicle I can afford as well as a few more guns for home defense.
I could make some flip comments about how I was glad we didn’t gas up the car in the morning or get it washed before the accident. I’d be lying if I didn’t have those thoughts or that I didn’t mention them to Laura once I was certain that we were going to be all right. It’s my way of coping and it garnished a short laugh from my wife.
I could write something pithy about how these sorts of things are never happen when you expect them and strike like a bolt from the great blue beyond on a cloudy Saturday morning on the way to a ballet class.
I could tell you to hold your wife or daughter or son or husband at every chance and let them know how precious they are, how vital they are, at each and every opportunity and you should. You should do all of those things every minute of every day at every chance.
I love those two girls more than life itself and it shouldn’t take a moment like this for me to come to that understanding. The sad thing is that I do, every day, every minute Laura or Darcy is out of eyesight I worry and twelve hours later I’m still waiting for the hammer to drop.
I can picture everything in that wreck with such horrid precision, the impact of the two cars, the blackhole in my gut as I watched our SUV skid against the curb, flip and then hammer into the pavement…that half of a minute when I believed that I had lost my wife and daughter.