At the end of June 2002, my brother, mother, and I went to dinner at Red Lobster and then to see The Bourne Identity. We were driving back from the movie theater when a Jeep traveling in the opposite side of the road barreled into our van. We were going 50 mph, the Jeep was going 70.
A lot of things happened that night. The driver of the Jeep died, and his passenger sustained serious injuries. While traveling down the detour route after our road was closed, another driver barreled into a tree and died. The impact of the Jeep propelled our van in an explosion of unbelievable speed and sound. We ended up hitting another car. I remember my mother screaming, and then being whipped around like a rag doll.
Luckily, we were all wearing seat belts and survived. My mother's legs were broken in places too numerous to count, but my brother and I escaped without much injury (I had a concussion and needed staples in my back of my head, my brother just had minor cuts).
Later, we learned that the driver of the Jeep was in my brother's soccer team when they were both ten years old. No one knew exactly why he drove through the median and into our lane. We heard from our mother's hairdresser that he died because the steering wheel lodged into his chest, and there was massive hemorrhaging.
It's difficult for me to recount these events, to the point that I actually feel physically sick. Things ended up well for my family. My mother walks (and exercises, and is constantly active), which the doctors weren't sure would happen. We're all still alive.
That said, the accident has affected me psychologically for years. If I had a choice between going out and staying home, I'd inevitably think back to that night. Which alternative seemed safer? I spent a lot of nights at home.
And maybe it wasn't just the accident that contributed to my post-traumatic stress disorder (which I believe I have, even though I've never been diagnosed). My father, grandfather, grandmother, great-aunt and great-grandmother all died within five years of the accident.
Whatever the reason, I've been treading through this world like a ghost for years. I thought I finally beat this. I'm going out now. I'm not afraid, or trying my damnest not to be.
Tonight, driving home from Happy Hour and a quick run to Giant Eagle, on the very street we live on, some man driving a dented car almost barreled into us. He was going at least 55 mph, and swerved into and then out of our lane just before the point of impact. I swear to God he was smiling, like this was how he liked spending his Friday nights: scaring the shit out of other people.
I wish I could have said I just shrugged it off. Instead, I went into the apartment and immediately got into bed. The idea that an idiot could take my life in one instant is one I have grappled with for years. I thought I was healing. I thought the damage was over. I guess I thought wrong.
The thing is -- what will I do with this reminder of mortality? Will I go back to nights in front of the television set? Or will I keep going out and fearlessly searching out everything this city has to offer?
To complicate matters even more, I have a three and a half hour drive to upstate New York to look forward to tomorrow morning. I usually deal very poorly to being on the highway for so long. Okay, that's an understatement. We're looking for truth here, aren't we? I'm a freaking hyperventilating mess the entire time. Sometimes I even have to breathe in a paper bag.
It angers me, knowing I've let fear get the better of me for so long. That one stupid jerk playing chicken can then reduce me to a quivering mass of nerves, making me rethink my whole new approach to life. How do I get the power back? How do I cope with the knowledge that I can die at any moment, and still be fearless?