Submitted by Terry Connelly/Library member
My car slides forward, slipping over the wet street, moving faster than I would have liked. I push the brakes to the floorboard, to no effect. Foot by foot, I come closer and closer to the car in front of me. I look to the left, hoping for a turnout. Nothing but a cement barrier. To the right, for an empty lane. Nothing but one car after another. I keep pushing on the brake pedal, all the while hoping without any actual belief, that the skid will draw to an end. There is no escape. No opportunity to turn away. As soon as I realize that I am going to hit the Honda Civic, I hold on, anxiously waiting for impact.
A sickening screech of metal and a shattering of glass brings me to a stop. I stare straight ahead, watching the trunk of the Civic crumple. Finally I come to a stop, but the damage is done. I pound the steering wheel in frustration combined with embarrassment. How could this have happened? I had done everything right. I had been driving cautiously in the downpour, well below the speed limit. I applied the brakes when the light in front of me turned yellow. My car was well-maintained. Somehow, all that had not been enough.
Tears pour down my face, which are quickly erased by the rain when I get out. I walk to the front of my car, expecting to see at least some degree of damage. Not even a scratch, which is a testimony to my daughter’s 1984 Ford LTD. But I did cause a 6-car pile-up. Not quite a full-on pile-up, as the only car destroyed is the Honda.
The Civic is neatly sandwiched; its rear accordioned thanks to the contact with my bumper, and its front squished into the rear of the next car in line. The passenger compartment appears to be sound, thank goodness. Not an apparent scratch on the passengers, either. It almost makes me want to go out and buy a Honda.
Two young women, maybe in their twenties, sit in the front seats. The one on the driver’s side holds a phone to her ear, talking to someone. I’m thinking that she must have called 911. I knock on her window, which she rolls down while she continues speaking. “My car is ruined.” Followed by “Yes, we’re okay.” And then, “What should I say?”
By now I have figured out that she did not call for emergency help, but rather had called a relative or friend for advice.
I interrupt her conversation by leaning forward, into the car, my face a few inches from hers. I look into her eyes, and then glance at her passenger. “Are you both okay?” I say. They nod yes. The driver listens to her phone, then puts her hand on her neck and says it hurts. “Did you call for help?” I ask. The woman does not respond to my question, but does say goodbye to the person on her phone. She then pushes a series of buttons, but before the call can go through, a police cruiser pulls in behind my car.
With trepidation I greet the officer shortly after she gets out into the rain. I tell her that the driver is complaining of neck pain, which she repeats into her walkie-talkie. Brushing past me, the officer goes to the Honda. I stand close enough to hear one side of the conversation. The officer reports that no ambulance is needed, to which I breathe a sigh of relief and get back into my car.
The downpour intensifies. Drops bounce off the hood of my car and pound on the roof like a bass drum. The skies by now are almost black, matching my mood. I am nervous about hospital and car repair bills. In my imagination, dollar signs are spinning as I see my insurance costs escalating. I worry about the women, how injured they are. The thought of hurting someone sickens me.
When the officer returns to me she tells me to pull over to the lot at the fire station on the right. When the cruiser backs up, so do I. I smile when the Honda moves. At least I know that the driver is still able to control the car.
Inside the fire station we exchange information. The officer makes no notes and talks to no one. She stands, like a sentinel, making sure that no one gets upset and starts swinging. The driver of the Honda gives me her name and address, but refuses to share insurance carrier or phone number. All the time, the driver complains of pain in her neck which is now radiating down her back.
Once we are finished with the exchange of information, the officer encourages us to each go on our way. I get back in my car and simply sit. I am too nervous to drive. It is still pouring. The roads will still be slick. Will my brakes grab the next time I have to stop? Will I slide again, causing another accident? I take a series of deep breaths, trying to steady myself. I have no choice but to drive home, so I’ve got to get myself together.
I am shaking so badly that I have a hard time putting the key in the ignition. I am petrified of driving, do not want to drive home, but realize that I have to. Despite all my fears, I carefully back out of the fire station lot and merge into the traffic. I stay far away from other cars, giving myself plenty of room for error. Fifteen minutes later I pull into my driveway, relieved to be off the roads at last.
The mechanics of reporting an accident come easy. Call the insurance company and speak to an agent. Give the details without embellishment. Answer the repetitive questions. Be concise. Eventually a case number is assigned. Bring my vehicle to the office to have it photographed. Make an appointment for the next day.
After checking in, the agent comes out with a camera and walks completely around my car, taking snapshots from every angle. He cannot believe that there is no damage. Not one scratch or dent. No evidence that the vehicle has been in an accident. I guess it speaks to the strength of the old steel cars.
Once that process is complete, I sign a few forms. And then I go home to wait.
Several weeks later I get a call from the driver’s insurance agent. The supposed male driver of the Honda has reported injuries. Interesting as there was no male in the car. That driver has also reported that my car was crushed. I am asked to bring it in to their office for inspection, but I cannot. By this time the transmission has gone out and the car is sitting on blocks in my garage. I don’t think the agent believes me, but there is nothing he can do about it. I invite him to my house to see for himself, but he refuses.
I hear nothing for almost two months. Meanwhile I am terrified of driving. Dry roads scare me as I could hit a patch of oil and slide into the next lane. When it rains, I do not want to drive at all. I tremble every time I even think about the act of driving.
When I have no choice and do get behind the wheel of a car, I keep my hands firmly planted on the wheel, eyes focused and alert. Every time I stop, I expect to skid. Whenever I see a yellow light, I creep to a halt. I am sure that I am annoying other drivers, but I don’t care.
In time, my confidence returns, but it is a slow process. My insurance rates go up a little, which was expected. I have no argument, as the accident was clearly my fault. I hate paying the bill. I hate the thought of having another accident, but nevertheless, I embrace the road once again. Shaken, but not conquered.
Write Your Story @ the Union City Library
Join our senior library member Bruce Haase
and write your memoir. Bruce is lifelong reader, he now writes memoire-based, creative non-fiction.
These are informal meetings ,
for writing. Sharing is optional.
Meetings take place
The Third Tuesday of the month
November 18, December 16, January 20
1 p.m. — 3 p.m.
Please bring pen & paper
For more information: Bruce Haase Email:firstname.lastname@example.org