It was Wednesday, which is usually the day that work tends to drag by, and I find myself daydreaming about the weekend during my commute home. This Wednesday though, was different. I’d been in a great mood all week, was planning on going to a concert that night with friends, and was scheduled to have Friday off so that my boyfriend Jon and I could belatedly celebrate my birthday with a skydiving excursion.
More than that though, lately I’ve just been feeling good about life. I’ve had some great ideas that I’ve been developing, working out and eating well on a regular basis, finding time to meditate daily, and have just been overwhelmed with gratitude for all of the genuine, worthwhile people in my life. Earlier that day I had taken a walk during my 15-minute break, and I remember tilting my chin towards the sky and drinking in the sun’s rays, dumbfounded by a contentment that has, until as of late, been difficult to harness.
After work I went directly to a nearby barre class, and I left an hour later feeling accomplished and deliciously sore. I was operating on a tight schedule and only had about an hour and a half before I was supposed to meet up with friends before the show so I didn’t linger long after class and was surprised to find minimal traffic during my drive home.
I was on the 134 heading west and I’d just passed the 2 freeway, right after which is a few-mile stretch before another exit, when I felt my tire bump over some foreign object. My car made no indication that it was impacted, and I assumed that it was just the raised pavement markers, since I’d been switching lanes when it happened. A minute or so later, my car began to wobble, and I knew I’d gotten a flat tire.
I’ve always been good at keeping my head under pressure, and so I attempted to slowly navigate my car towards the shoulder of the road. Just as I was entering the slow lane my car lost control and began to swerve back and forth uncontrollably. Still calm, I pumped the brakes and tried to gently guide it out of traffic. No luck, and before I knew it my car was literally spinning and I was watching other vehicles swerve madly to avoid hitting me.
As people often say about near-death encounters, everything began to move slowly. I thought very clearly and calmly, “I’m going to be in an accident. I have no control over what’s happening right now. I really hope I don’t die.”
My car spun so that I was facing oncoming traffic and another car struck me head on. My car continued to spin out and finally collided with the center divider. The other car was in the middle of the freeway and I was in the carpool lane. I was lucky only one other car was involved in the wreck.
Very quickly, I assessed that I had no serious injuries. The entire time I’d been spinning I’d been trying to hold my body still and stiff, aware of the potential fatalities, and willing myself to survive.
A very nice man stopped his car to check out the scene and make sure no one was injured. I was in shock and muttering about my lost glasses, which had flown off my face during the collision, and he calmed me down and told me how lucky I was to be uninjured. The other driver was assessing the damage to his car, which was limited primarily to his front bumper.
I called the highway patrol and within minutes an officer had arrived and a tow truck was pulling our vehicles over to the shoulder. I couldn’t help noticing that traffic was completely stopped and was suddenly struck with the awareness that I was the person causing a back-up in traffic. I imagined Kajon Cermak reporting the accident on KCRW, explaining that there was a two-car collision in the carpool and middle lanes, but no reported injuries. I felt a momentary smidge of guilt, knowing what it was like to be stuck in standstill traffic while coming home from work.
During the madness I’d somehow had the wherewithal to text Jon a brief description of what happened, emphasizing that I was not hurt, and so he called a few moments later to get more information and make sure I was okay. For some reason, I remained completely fixated on finding my glasses. An officer asked if I was injured or needed an ambulance, and I simply emphasized that I needed to find my glasses, that I was legally blind, and did not have a back-up pair.
“But do you need an ambulance?” he reiterated, perplexed. The officer was young and possessed the sort of practical calm that helps deescalate tense situations. He decided not to file a report since he felt no one was at fault, and helped the other person involved and me exchange information, which was helpful, since the other person spoke little to no English. In fact, he put me at ease to the extent that I was tempted to tell him how he’d shifted my attitude towards law enforcement.
While I waited for another tow truck to take my car off the freeway, I called my mother and summarized the accident. She immediately went into concerned principal mode (she is, in fact, an elementary school principal), attempting to ascertain who was at fault and organize the situation. I had found my glasses by that point, but was still a bit manic and scattered, speaking quickly and not quite intelligibly as I tried to explain what happened.
The officer did a good job of making me realize just how lucky I was to have walked away scratch-free, although I can’t say the same for my car. As I described the events to him he told me how he’d come onto the scene of a similar accident where the person in my car’s position had been critically injured.
Shortly thereafter, a tow truck arrived to remove my car and me from the scene. The driver was also jovial and helpful, immediately cracking a joke to lighten the mood. He suggested I write down my account so that I could refer to it since I would no doubt have to retell it to different insurance agents and auto repairmen. I opted to have my insurance company deal with transporting the vehicle from the tow yard to one of their authorized repair shops, but he was nice enough to give me a lift to Burbank, only a few miles away from home. After I arrived, a friend I was supposed to attend the concert with called me, having heard about the accident. I was still giddy with adrenaline and she seemed more frazzled than me, continuing to double-check that I was sure I wanted to go to the show. I’ll admit I was hesitant at first, but as he tends to do, Jon grounded me, making me realize that some dancing and drinks with friends was exactly the prescription I needed to clear my head. I promised to hold off on making a decision until I’d eaten and had a shower. In the meantime, I ambled over to El Pollo Loco to wait for Jon to come pick me up.
By the time I called my mother back she had shifted modes from problem-solver to maternal caregiver. She didn’t say it, but I felt how much she wanted – needed – to be near me, to verify with her own eyes that I was uninjured, to mend the situation in her own motherly way. I’ll admit I felt a similarly childish urge, longing to curl into her and have her smooth back my hair, assuring me that everything was going to be okay. She breathed a deep sigh of relief as she insisted that I must have had angels guiding me out of harm’s way. She commanded me to say my prayers that night.
Truthfully? I haven’t said my prayers in years. Even as the accident was occurring and I was fearing for my life, never did it cross my mind to beg some merciful higher power for grace. But as I reflected on the officer’s statements and my mother’s concern, and with the image of my crumpled car still vibrant in my mind, I wondered if somehow, a divine finger had nudged my car an inch in the right direction so that I avoided harm or death. I couldn’t get over the luck of it all. If other people had been in similar accidents and been critically injured or died, why not me?
I thought about what I’d be leaving behind if I had died. Minimal debt, sure, but not a whole lot otherwise. Several notebooks filled with various ideas, doodles, and writings. A website I don’t update as often as I should. A couple handfuls of published articles and interviews over the course of my career. I’ve always viewed the future as this expansive thing, assuming that I’d have plenty of time to leave a legacy for forthcoming generations, but this incident made me realize that I also want to have something to show for the present. I want to leave my parents, brothers, and friends with work and words to remember me by, I want to wield something concrete, to show that I actually lived this life. I wondered, if life is truly this fragile, why am I spending even a moment doing things I resent or despise?
These thoughts were further affirmed later that night, when Jon and I met up with a few friends at The Roxy to see Quantic spin his unique Latin-jazz tunes. They all hugged me tightly, reemphasizing how glad they were that I was unharmed, impressed that I’d decided to come out. Drinks were quickly handed to me, and soon we were all busting out our best salsa-inspired moves on the dance floor. With each swing of my hips the stress slowly melted off of me. I felt light with exuberance and gratitude, but most importantly, purpose.