Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Do a Barrel Roll

I almost died yesterday.
I figured I'd write about it while the memory is still fresh.
I'd just returned to Alabama, and had been in the state a mere three days, counting spending part of the day and the night with Julia in Huntsville.
Rebekah had made me a very good dinner, and she and I, along with her friend Margie, were on our way back to Troy to hang out with Brian.
I remember looking something up on my phone before the wreck. The classic rock station had just played "Hard to Handle" by the Black Crowes. The DJ had mentioned the song as "a classic," and I was surprised, as I remembered when the song came out when I was young. I'd expressed my disbelieve to Rebekah and Margie, because surely I wasn't old enough for a song in my lifetime to be considered "classic rock." The 80's was a strange time, and the styles and lingo seem foreign to us now, but even that age long ago can't be considered "classic," so I reasoned that this song, released in the mid nineties, wasn't either.
Where was I? Oh yes, the wreck.
A deer appeared in the road. I say appeared, because I was watching the road, and it hadn't really walked up, nor did it flash across the road into our path, but it was just there. It was there, its head down eating something or smelling something. It looked up at us, that all-too-appropriate and cliche "deer in headlights" look on its blank face. In the face of death, that deer just stood there, looking at us... staring down death without flinching.
Rebekah managed to wheeze out an "oh my god-" as Margie screamed "Rebekah-deer!", the former jerking the wheel first to the right. She then, to avoid going off the road, tried to jerk the wheel again to the left, but with the speed we were going, and the fact that a Nissan Xterra is as top-heavy as Dolly Parton, the front end of the vehicle jerked quickly across the road and we went airborn for a split second. I don't think we ended up hitting the deer.
It's hard to explain what that's like. I know many people have been in traffic accidents...as have I... before this... but this was something surreal. My eyes were locked straight ahead, where the deer's eyes had been a second before. My body was tense, but not entirely rigid, and all I could do was stare in unmoving, silent horror as we tumbled into the oncoming lane in our two-ton casket. I'd always hoped I'd die listening to something other than country music, though. I guess we can't even choose the "what is playing in the background" either when the time comes.

We landed first on the passenger side, and went into a bouncing roll, the front end facing westward. I remember being jerked to the right and almost laying down against the seat, before being jerked again the opposite direction. My eyes never left forward throughout this process. We were all deathly silent inside as an orchestra of shattering glass and crunching and twisting metal bombarded us from all sides. Rebekah and Margie's heads followed the same course as mine...right to left...left to right... their voices choked in their throats as they too quietly accepted the inevitable. The horizon spun, and I was reminded of the various air combat games I'd played in the past, where you could take the aircraft into a spin and the ground becomes the sky and the sky becomes ground, et cetera, et cetera. The term for what we were doing on highway 231 was "auguring in." We were "buying the farm." We were crashing and burning, and soon we'd be dead. So it goes.

The strange part is that it was remarkably calm. Despite the sounds of glass and metal and concrete crunching, or the fireworks display of glass showering us between stolen glances of headlights from the audience, the only resounding thought in my head was "so this is it? This is what I've been dreading? This isn't so bad." I don't think it really was at the time. I've always been of the opinion that one should only worry about that which one can control. If you have no control over it, then don't worry about it, as worrying accomplishes nothing. I just never pictured this mentality coming through for me while in an SUV rolling into the oncoming lane at 65 miles per hour. So I wasn't afraid. That sounds like some moronic attempt at badassery, but I really wasn't. I was nothing. I was barely there, emotionally.

I think another part of it is that your body's energy shifts into certain functioning parts, shutting down the rest. My senses were on alert. I saw every shard of glass that flew across my vision. I felt every piece of gravel that ground into my shoulder, and could have counted every star that twinkled up at me from below. Everything went in slow motion and my mind raced taking in all in, but I was still conscious of just how quickly it happened. It's so hard to explain. I remember seeing the horizon pitch counter-clockwise through the windshield, and Rebekah and Margie's hair dancing in unison in the air as we tumbled, and my last thought was wondering what kind of vehicle would hit us and finish the job. I remember hoping it'd be a semi. Make it clean and quick. We would die regardless of what it was, but at least with a semi, it wouldn't drag it out, and the driver of the truck would probably be okay. The slow-motion scene took even longer as I clinched my fists around my seat belt, waiting for that final crunch that I figured had to be coming. One-two-three-four...five.

When we'd finally rolled over one last time, we were right-side-up. We had rolled five times, and glancing out what was left of my window, I'd say we had covered about 20 or 25 yards. In our wake were clothes, books, chunks of the car, and broken glass. I was still in shock. Was I dead? I should be. I shouldn't be alive. I can't be alive. This can't be right.

It was Rebekah's sudden scream, followed quickly by Margie's crying, that snapped me out of it. Well, it didn't snap me out of it, really, but it got my body moving while my mind continued to digest what had just happened. I had to kick my door repeatedly to get it open, and when it finally did, I ran to Rebekah's. I couldn't get hers open, so, at her suggestion, I pulled her through the driver's window and set her down on the grass next to the car (we were halfway over the side of the road). I just stood there like an idiot until Rebekah yelled to help Margie, who had already crawled out of the window and was hobbling to the grass. I helped her down the hill a bit, and when I started to let go, she said she couldn't walk, so I helped her the rest of the way. They both sat off the ditch. There was blood all over rebekah's arm and margie's legs. I stood up and looked around. For something. I didn't know what. What the hell was I supposed to do now? My mind was working at 50%, and given how little product 100% gets, it goes without saying that I was pretty useless at that point. I turned back to the girls right as a woman and a man ran up to them. The man was a paramedic and the woman a nurse. He said he needed something to wrap and bandage Margie's leg with, so I took off my shirts and handed them to them. Rebekah was crying and said she couldn't see without her glasses and that she had glass in her foot and needed her sandals. My limited capacity determined that it was necessary that I find those items now. Find glasses. Find sandals. I can do that.

I must have been a somewhat comedic sight -a fat, bald shirtless white guy with a farmer's tan stumbling back and forth down a highway between opposing sets of headlights. I was slightly hunched over, as my back and left shoulder were unusually tight and sore. I imagined that I looked like Quasimodo, staring blankly at the road, shuffling around like a barefooted drunkard.

(at this point I realize that A) I'm rambling and B) I'm tired, so I'm going to wind this novella down a bit)

Everybody there was really great though. The truckers offered us flashlights, and the people who had been behind us when we flipped let us use their cell phones to call our respective friends and loved ones. My phone and my sandals, as well as Rebekah's sandals, flew out of the vehicle at some point, and regretfully we haven't found them yet.

Rebekah seems to be okay. She had some major lacerations (from her arm hitting the pavement during the roll) and bruising, but would be okay overall. Last I heard, Margie had a deep cut (I heard "gash") on her right knee and something wrong with her toes on the respective foot, and would require surgery, but was expected to recover fully. I . . . have some bruises and my shoulder, neck, and back are sore.

I feel really bad that I came out without a scratch and Rebekah and Margie were hurt. It doesn't seem fair, I guess. It's also very painful seeing someone you love in pain like that.

I don't know what will come of this. I need to finish unpacking and study for the bar, but it's hard when your mind is still in shock and all you can think of is "I should be dead right now."

We flipped on highway 231 doing (what I estimate) between 60 and 70 miles per hour. We flipped into the oncoming lane at like 8PM on a Monday night, and we rolled five times. Nobody got any limbs rolled over. Nothing hit us from the opposite direction. Nothing caught fire.

We should be dead, but we aren't.
I don't throw the name of the Almighty around very often, and I'm more prone to give a thumbs up for happenstance than divine intervention, but God had to have been looking out for us last night.

I really hope everybody will wear their seat belt. And I really do hope that deer is okay.

I guess that's all I've got. I'm burnt out.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Unjust Desserts

Brittany (Shepard) Pugh died today. I found out through the facebook grapevine during, ironically, my wills, trusts, and estates class.
It rattled me pretty hard. I guess maybe because it reminded me of when Lauren died. Pretty blonde girl, everything going for her, no enemies in the world suddenly is ripped off this earth to the jeering of crunching metal and shattered glass.
And everybody is left in a daze, their eyes staring through their surroundings, looking for explanations. We're too comfortable with our beliefs in justice in this world. We're too accustomed to notions of karma and just desserts and retribution.
But then something like this happens, and we're all left staring like zombies, chilled through our skin from the feeling that Death himself brushed against us as he left, carrying Brittany's soul off to Judgment, and in his wake we shamble about looking for some rhyme or reason as to why. Why. I guess the main problem is that there is no "why," there just "is." She died. Despite her youth and her good looks and her virtuous nature and her kindess and courtesy and child and husband and loving family, she died. And in that moment, we spectators to this supernatural and confusing spectacle are left realizing how very little we control in our lives, and how mortal we really are.
And then after we have come to grips with the idea that the worst thing that could happen to a friend did, in fact, happen, all we can do is feel the heavy cloak of sadness that drapes our head and shoulders after someone so deserving of so much better was taken from us. So we send up our prayers and lamentations, despite our anger and sadness, and disagreement with the choice to take someone so undeserving of an early death, and press onward in spite of just how awful and unfair it all is. What else can we do?