Monday, December 15, 2008

The accident

Saturday was very gray, cold, windy. The very kind of weather I try not to participate in. Gray days remind me of dark times, and this past weekend needed no further darkening. Layoffs were to be announced on Monday, I had no reason whatsoever to believe I would be spared. Though no one knew for sure, the atmosphere at work had been quite dark, rumor filled and desperate. The only thing we knew for sure were the fact that 1800 jobs would be lost and that the notification would be on Monday. This was perhaps the darkest, most anxious and depressing weekend I had experienced in many years.
Nonetheless, the dogs still needed to be walked. They get a special pleasure out of being walked, even though they are perfectly free to roam the large fenced back yard. Somehow the option to take care of business out in the woods along the logging trail is far superior to just letting go in the back yard.
I bundled up and took the boys, Myster, Blue and George. Myster has to be leashed as he lacks certain social skills and proper senses of priority and direction. George and Blue have shock collars, I carry the remote. Myster doesn’t seem to mind the inequity, Blue and George jump in and out of the woods freely while he is tethered to a retractable fifteen foot lead. I think Myster actually sees the leash as a status symbol, tsking at the other boys for their inferior plight, they not worthy of being connected directly to me.
We only go about a quarter mile or so, turn around then head back, but to them this is like a full day at an amusement park. The unfamiliar sights, sounds, smells, especially the smells, please and amuse them completely.
The wind had died down a little in the afternoon, and it was less cold than earlier, though certainly not warm. Up the hill towards the road I heard a car pass by. From the sound of the tires on the rough pavement it seemed to be going about forty five on the posted thirty five mph winding, hilly country road. The slight excess speed did not alarm me as the locals quite often go that fast, slowing only for the blind curves and frequent animal crossings.
I would not have thought much about that car at all had it not been for the next noise it made. After passing our driveway a long curved hill declines toward the next county road a mile or so away. Within seconds of passing our driveway the tire hum stopped suddenly and very briefly. No braking sounds just a very brief cessation of the hum. Almost immediately there was a metallic thump, a brief pause, a second or so of severe scraping, then another, more pronounced crunching thump. It took a nanosecond or two before my mind comprehended what had just happened. The droning of a car horn, unwavering and rather loud filled the cold windy air.
I approached the metal outbuilding where I knew Angel was tinkering with a couple of old kerosene heaters that she recently acquired. She stepped out and faced the noise. “What is that?” she asked. “There’s been a wreck” I answered, “Sounds like a nasty one. Didn’t you hear it?”
“No”, she replied “I just heard the horn.”
“I better go down and check it out.” I told her as I handed the leash and the remote to her.
“Better take your cell phone in case no one else is there.” She responded.
I ran into the house grabbing my keys, billfold and phone. I thought about just walking, but changed my mind.
About a quarter mile down the hill and around a curve from our mailbox laid the midsize black SUV. It was off the road and appeared to have tried to climb a steep grade and a wooden fence. It was on its right side, the windshield and windows shattered and falling out.
The SUV was not the first thing I saw though. The first thing I saw to confirm that I had arrived at the scene was a thin teenage girl walking, staggering really, in the middle of the road. Dressed in casual jeans and a hooded sweatshirt I could tell she was shaken and crying, a few streaks of blood ran down her face.
I pulled the car over and ran up to her. “Does anyone have a phone?, does anyone have a phone?” She called out in a quivering voice. I grabbed mine out of my pocket and handed it to her. I looked her over and didn’t see any obvious injuries other than the scrapes on her head. “I can’t unlock the thing!“ she screamed shoving the phone back at me. I took it from her punched in the code and handed it back. Her hands were shaking and she mis-punched and deleted the first few digits, crying and shaking. I took it from her and told her to give me the number. She rattled it off too quickly so I asked her to slow down. I handed it to her once we agreed on a plausible set of digits.
As she waited for a connection I noticed a large white pickup truck. Outside of it a medium sized but strong looking man was talking away on his phone. I assumed it was not just idle chitchat, so I walked toward the battered SUV.
Sitting on the roadside directly behind the SUV was another thin teenage girl similarly dressed. She sat with her legs fully extended in front of her, crying, calling out for her dad. I bent down beside her and looked her over. Her face was covered in blood streaks, though there didn’t seem to be a moving stream. I pulled her hair back. She looked at her hands and called out “Why is my face bleeding!”
I examined her scalp. “It’s okay, it’s just a couple of small cuts, they’ll be fine, these things just bleed really badly” and other calming words. I could not see any actual cuts, but having rolled a vehicle just a year ago, I recognized the type. Glass cuts, even small ones, around the scalp bleed like a son of a gun.
I tied to calm her down. Somewhere in the distance a siren approached. “Are you feeling faint?” I asked “I need to call my dad!” was the answer. “We’ll do that in a minute, right now can you tell me if you feel chills, or nauseous, or faint, I need to know if you feel like you are going to pass out.”
“No!” was the sharp rebuke. “I’ve messed up my leg!” (I’m softening up the actual wording here.)
I looked down at her legs, the right one was indeed ‘messed up’. It was swollen and laying a little too flat on the ground. She was holding her thigh. She shook it a little and I noticed that only the thigh moved. There was a unnatural look about the way the rest of it lay there, limp and lifeless. It appeared to be broken in two different places near and below the knee, though no bone had broken through skin. “Is the car going to explode?” she screamed out. The SUV was still running. I checked for fuel leaks or other dangers and answered: “That only happens in movies” Though I wasn’t really all that sure. I jumped over the ditch, went up to the windshield, peeled it back, reached in and turned off the key. This also finally stopped the howling horn.
I asked her again if she was feeling faint, she insisted she did not. The man with the phone approached. “That leg is pretty ‘messed up’ ” were his first words
The first girl, having given up on my needlessly complicated phone, had taken the man’s simpler one and was making a very excited call to her mom. She still seemed shaken and was crying, but still walking around. I overheard her say “just my lower back, it hurts a little” The man and I looked at each other, went up to her and convinced her to sit down along the roadside.
“So much adrenaline she may not know if she’s really hurt bad or not.” I said to him, he nodded.
A fire truck turned onto the road and approached cautiously. Several geared-up young men sprang from it carrying stretchers and kit bags. The pickup truck man, who I now knew as Dave, and I stepped back and let the professionals do their jobs. The first fireman came towards us. He didn’t say anything but I answered anyhow.
“That one” I pointed to the first girl, “is the driver, she has a couple of small cuts on her head and she said something about a lower back pain.” The fireman nodded. I pointed to the second girl, already being attended to. “She’s got a badly busted leg and some facial cuts.” He nodded again. “The driver has called her mom, the passenger wants to call her dad”. He nodded and ran towards the broken legged girl, pulled out his cell phone and handed it to her. “He’s going to be really angry” she barked at the fireman. He remained calm and assured her. “He may be a little upset, but he’ll actually be very happy to hear you’re alive.”
Dave and I stood back. “Did you see the accident?” I asked him. “No, I was just driving along from the other direction and saw them crawling out the back of the SUV.”
I told him about what I had heard, and we discussed speed, velocity and road conditions. Several state and county police vehicles arrived, and finally an ambulance. One of the paramedics quickly examined the broken leg and approached the ranking state trooper. I heard one word: “Chopper”
The trooper squeezed his microphone and spoke very briefly into it. Within five minutes a helicopter was circling overhead.
The mom arrived, hastily dressed and scared, she jumped out of her car, followed by a plump and nerdy ten year old boy. I pointed her in the right direction. Both the girls were now strapped into stretchers.
Recalling my own accident I decided to hunt for valuables up and down the roadside and in the ditch. I permanently lost some personal effects for not having done this then. The ditch was littered with stuff for about sixty feet in one direction and ten or twenty in the other. Most of it appeared to be trash and the expected CD’s and soda cups. There were also several items of clothing, a laptop, and a girl’s flowery and overstuffed billfold. I gathered up things that looked valuable and took them to the mom. She looked at me, the stuff in my hands and then the ditch. She assigned the boy to follow my lead and gather up the remaining stuff. She took the laptop with a ‘thank-you’ and returned to her daughter’s side.

I rejoined Dave at the roadside as the firemen scurried about and the five or six state troopers and the two county deputies stood in a group and pointed at things. A lone state trooper, tall, tightly cut hair, crisp uniform and highly shined shoes walked his measuring wheel around pausing occasionally to spritz some bright green paint on the road and make notes on a clip-boarded form.
“It’s things like this that causes parents to find out new things about their teenagers” Dave said, smiling. I acknowledged, he continued. “The mom was asking the girl what happened, the girl was crying and apologizing something fierce, I didn’t hear exactly what she said but the mom’s mood suddenly changed from fear and worry to pure anger. Then the mom yells at her ‘what do you mean you were smoking!’
We laughed. “You’re right, the mom may be in for a few more surprises too.” I answered.
“Oh yeah?” he asked
“Yeah. When I was picking up stuff from the ditch I came across some really frank and naughty underthings.”
“Oops” he replied.
The helicopter left, the ambulance left, mom came by and thanked Dave and me several times. The troopers dwindled and the firemen began sweeping the debris from the road. A tow truck arrived. The driver examined his options and deployed some cables and clamps, and dragged the destroyed SUV onto the road, and with help from the firemen tipped it upright. The flaccid airbags, crumpled and scraped metal, shattered windshields and distorted frame made for a very sad, yet familiar sight.
This time last year I was recovering from a rollover. I escaped serious injury though my shoulder has been a little achy and noisy since the accident. I remember that holiday season for the frustration of having to find a new car, the aches and scars, and the overwhelming realization that I had dodged a major bullet. Like these girls I could have just as easily been killed, losing friends and family forever. This perspective, this cold, dark, violent reminder significantly adjusted my perspective about the possibility of losing my job.
I walked to my car and drove home, feeling just a little better about myself and life in general.