i didn't crash my car today,
so much as drove it off the interstate.
and into a ditch.
it wasn't a crash, and while i certainly didn't plan to fully exit the exit ramp and guide my SUV a deep ditch, i don't know that i can call it an accident either. it was raining, neither light nor heavy, just steady rain, and we simply... glided along the water and off the road. hydroplaned. into a ditch. . . . . o o p s.
later, in the evening, I stood up and bumped into our kitchen table, letting out a weird yelp. Gage quickly calls out if I am okay, to which I respond yes, the noise was more out of surprise than anything.
"more surprised than when you were STUCK IN A DITCH?" comes the fiery crack of a seven-year-old who is really learning the fine art of burning someone.
from the living room, Gage's howl of delight. "Jesus Christ!" he cackles, "I can't wait to tell people at work how good she got you."
Cake is laughing, Gage is laughing, I am laughing, doubled back down on the floor where I had been trying to get up from.
"no," i admit, "nothing was nearly as surprising as getting stuck in a ditch today."
"the two have made jokes about the ditch all day. they don't hurt my feelings; maybe once, they would have. it would have felt like an attack on my parenting, or a critique of my driving. Really, it's just how our family processes [trauma]. We make lots of weird fucking jokes."
I've certainly hydroplaned before. I lived in Florida for five years, lol. And that's probably, actually, why we made it out completely fine and unscathed. My friends all snapped back omg, how terrifying! things of that nature, but honestly, it didnt occur to me how very terrifying that it was until after we'd stopped, I switched into park, cautiously took my foot off the break, and had turned back to look at Cake. It was then, when we made eye contact, that she let out a terrible, strangled sort of wail, and tears plummeted down her cheeks, and it began to dawn on me how very scary the situation must have been.
Even still, in the moment, I reached back and squeezed her hand with a genuine, easy smile and calmly told her, "hey babygirl, we're okay! it's fine, we're absolutely fine!" Still not really registering for me. (She is terrorized, and I am smiling.)
Then I turned around and simply paused our audiobook, which had been droning on while had been I staring blankly ahead thinking, huh, that was bad. now what? and Cake had been sitting in silent shock. I must have stared a little more then, I think; I have very vivid memories of the patch of grass in front of me.
"Mama." Her voice brings me back, and I look up.
Passersby are pulling over on the shoulder lane, trudging down the steep ditch, their shoes sticking in mud and clothes soaking in the rain to be sure that I was okay, was I conscious, am I alone, is the baby okay? do you need me to stay, have you called the police yet, can I call someone for you?
Overwhelmed with love and concern from absolute strangers. Some had seen it happen, others saw my car on the side and stopped out of concern after the fact. Kind, wonderful humans, stopping in absolutely miserable weather, honestly putting themselves at risk by slowing down to stop on such a steep curve, on a busy exit ramp, to check on me, to help me in any way they can. They can't of course, not in any way that occurs to me, but I thank them all graciously, and I hope they know how much I cherish every single one of them, so deeply in my heart. I want to hug them all, squeeze their hands and let them know it made my eyes well up in gratitude.
I call my husband, calmly telling the person who picks up, "could you let him know it's urgent? thanks!" that same blithe smile in my voice. this should be a lot more upsetting than it is.
I explain the situation ("hey, we're fine, but... um, i'm stuck?? in a ditch??"), and he is on his way. He has a trailer hitch on that back of his truck, maybe he can pull me out. Don't call a tow truck yet, okay?
Sure. I dunno the protocol for getting your ass out of a ditch.
Rather quickly among all of this, a VDOT employee pulls along the exit, cones off the ramp, comes over and lets me know the police are on their way, and am I okay, do I need assistance or to have a ride called for me? No thanks, my husband's gonna be here in like twenty minutes. The tow truck is coming and will get me out as soon as he gets here, usually they just allow you to pay and you're on your way if the officer okays it. Oh okay! My husband was going to try to get me out first, is that okay? Sure, if he gets here before the tow truck, we've already got him on the way, he works with the police and he's their guy, and we've got the road blocked off so we just gotta get you out as quickly as possible, et cetera, et cetera; my head bobs along cheerily in agreement. That all makes sense, sure!
I ask him how he got here? I didn't call anyone and was planning we'd figure things out if Gage can't get me out. He explains that there are cameras everywhere so if there's an accident, someone will see, but he happened to actually see me spin off the road so he pulled around to help. I am delighted with my new nugget of information. I love asking people about how their jobs work, and thank him for helping me, for chatting with me, for taking care of us.
Cake wants out of her car seat and to be with me, but also does not want to actually move. She is terrified, shrieking and swatting when I put out my hand to help. I end up unbuckling myself, straining upwards, unbuckling her and then pulling her into my arms, over the center console, into my lap. Soon, she hops into the seat next to me, and we continue listening to Neil Gaiman's Coraline. I rewind a bunch, unsure of where we were when everything happened. I've just finished listening to the audiobook myself, making sure it's something she could listen to without getting too scared, and all the words are too familiar.
She complains about having heard this part already, and I squeeze my eyes shut and groan, shaking my head, shaking the thoughts into place.
I fix it.
She is content and listens, entrapped in Coraline's world instead of our own weird situation. Good.
At some point the police officer arrives. Cake looks stricken.
"Can you tell him why I'm out of my seat?!" she hisses, concerned. "Tell him I was IN MY SEAT but I moved here?!"
I giggle. I love her so much. I reassure her she won't be arrested for needing to be comforted.
I also call her school while we wait. "Hey, I'm calling about my child's late entrance... well, no, I guess absence from school today. No, no she's not sick, she had a routine doctor's appointment this morning and then I . . . crashed our car . . . oh but we're completely fine we're okay! I just, yeah, I don't think we're going to school after this." The woman is kind and understanding and we talk about the rain puddling up on the roads for a bit before hanging up.
Eventually, my car is retrieved on a flat-bed. I take Cake home in Gage's truck, and he brings my SUV home. We relax for a bit; they watch TV, I work on my website. We leave early for swim lessons, stopping at the local Girl Scouts store, picking up her Daisy Scout uniform pieces. She is delighted, and picks out cute Daisy socks as well; Gage obliges her, and she is ecstatic. We grab drive-thru dinner, and then she is in swim, excelling, a mermaid in her zone.
The two have made jokes about the ditch all day. They don't hurt my feelings; maybe once, they would have. It would have felt like an attack on my parenting, or a critique of my driving. Really, it's just how our family processes. We make lots of weird fucking jokes about our trauma; about cancer, about mental health, about careening over the interstate and into a ditch. She's learning from the best, really.
Before she heads to bed, I squeeze her tight. "How are you feeling?" I ask her.
"Your body doesn't hurt?"
"How about your head, how is your head feeling?"
"No, I mean, your heart, your mind, how are you doing?"
She thinks on this for a little bit, understanding now what I am asking her.
"You keep saying it was slow, but it wasn't slow, it was really fast!!" She begins crying again, and I scoop her in tighter.
Gage and I explain to her what that means; she's certainly heard us relaying the story, my recalling the details. That just because a car is going slow for a car, that it is still going incredibly fast for her tiny body; a car driving ten miles an hour is nothing, but a human being running that fast is extreme. How seeing the ground come up at us, seeing our car dipping at such a sharp angle, is not anything she has ever seen before and I hope she never does again, and that is an alarming thing to process, too. We explain how it could have been so, so much horrifically worse--if I had pulled the steering wheel too hard in response, we could have spun out; had I not steered enough: fishtailed back into traffic, we could have hit other cars then. Cake gasps in realization. We talk about how fortunate we are that there is negligible surface damage to my car, and how if we had been going just slightly faster, or had hit a guard rail just beyond or before the area we went down, there could have been much more damage, or we could have flipped. It was bad, and scary. Yes. Those scary feelings are okay. But also remember, you are safe. We talk about car seat safety and testing., how no matter the situation, that cars eat would have hugged around her and kept her little body safe from harm.
This all helps, it seems. I hope. She says it does, but in her uncertain way that reminds me so much of myself: overthinking, still mulling it all over, unable to put the feelings into words at such a small age.
Really, overall, I'm really quite proud myself in the of the situation. It sucks, for sure, lol. But also . . . shrug. I did the best with the situation at hand. I felt the car rising above the asphalt, levitating on the water. I knew we were leaving the road before it happened, knew my car was spiraling much too tightly for the turn and there was no correcting it; the safest place for everyone was for me to carefully guide the SUV into the grass. I didn't panic, or scream, or cry. In the aftermath, I didn't dismiss my child's very valid fear to make myself more comfortable, nor did I let her feed into my own worries and exacerbate her fears (...to make myself more comfortable).
Part of me figures it's because I've just been dealt so much extraneous bullshit, I don't have the energy to get hung up on how scary it was or how bad it could have been; I mostly come away like, well, that sucked but it wasn't the worst thing that has ever happened to me, huh. Lame way to spend the morning.
And I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing, just an observation.
"Maybe it broke off keeping us safe," I muse softly as he tells me this.
"From all the way across town at the base?" he chuckles.
"Sure." I continue, "It held on as best it could, but by the time you tried to pull us out, it had already spent it's energy."
We consider this in silence for awhile.
In my mind,
I thank the bell.