I beg you to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.
I was in the front passenger seat, asleep. It was some time between four and five in the morning—dark.
Paul’s yell, and probably the jerk of the van as it hit the rumble strips, woke me and I was plunged into a tunnel of movement, force and terrible sound.
“JESUS!” I screamed.
This is a prayer. When I was very young my mother taught me, when in trouble, to call on the name of Jesus and I always have—literally.
Underneath it all is the question. I am not awake enough, and it’s all going too quickly for me to actually form the thoughts “Where are we? What is happening? Or to wonder about the future: are we going to be OK? As we are hurtling through I am living completely in the moment, in utter uncertainty. I am not loving the question but I am living it, fully.
And then it all stops and I find I have lived my way into the answer too.
I am upside down. My head is jammed against the roof and I can hardly breathe. My ankle is wedged and my head is bleeding. I’m bleeding so much and everything hurts. I want to get out now, but I’m jammed in. Stuck. I fumble for the clasp of the seatbelt but it’s just beyond my reach. I think I will need to be cut out which means I will have to wait for help to arrive and I don’t know how I’m going to bear staying here one more second. I’m panicking I know I have to stay calm. I try to breathe.
Paul is already out. I can hear him moving around the van. I call to him softly because I’m staying calm, “Paul…I can’t get out…Paul.”
He doesn’t hear me or, if he does, he doesn’t answer. I don’t know why he isn’t checking on me and helping the kids. I don’t know what he is doing and am annoyed by his priorities.
I don’t know we have landed in the middle of the highway. The moment the van came to a stop Paul grabbed my pillow and crawled out his window, jumped to his feet and began waving his arms above his head to stop oncoming traffic. I don’t know he is probably saving our lives.
This is what I know: crash, stuck, pain, blood, fear—I know Paul. I know Christopher and Lydia—I hear their voices—but I don’t hear Eden’s—
“Eden! Eden! WHERE’S EDEN?”
“She’s right here. I’ve got her.” Lydia said and that panic subsides.
I’m in so much pain. My body is wedged in my seat so tightly. I am hanging upside down, my head pressed into the roof. I can barely breathe. How long will it take to get me out? I am trying to stay calm, trying to stay calm, trying to stay calm. The blood is pouring down my face.
I feel movement behind me, somehow I know it’s Lydia. I hear the click of my belt and then I fall over, free and I’m scrabbling between the seats on my hands and knees.
All the windows have blown out. Glass is everywhere, but I’m not thinking about that. I’m making for the side window. There is blood in my eyes but I see Lydia cradling Eden to her chest, hiding her face, protecting her. I see smoke curling billowing out and up, curling towards the sky and I panic.
“GET OUT! GET OUT! GET OUT!” I scream at the girls.
“Stop yelling at us!” Lydia screams back but I don’t hear her. I’m scuttling out the window, crawling onto the highway and pulling myself to my feet. I see the smoke and hear the dripping of fluids. We need to get out and away. Out and away.
Paul is there with Christopher who he has just helped out. I take the pillow he is still holding. It is huge, large and puffy with real feathers. My head was resting on it minutes before but that is a lifetime ago. I press it to my head to staunch the blood.
Cars have stopped. I see headlights lining up in the distance. I’m having trouble holding my head up. It hurts so much. With the pillow pressed to my forehead I can barely see. A man is there.
“Are we in Canada?” I ask him. We were driving through the night. We were on our way to Rochester, New York but through Ontario. We were going to have breakfast in Niagara.
“Yes, you are.” He says and I hear his accent.
Oh no, I think. This is going to complicate things. Part of my brain is running logistics. This is not my first disaster.
Out and away. I want to get as far as I can from the van and away from traffic which is slowly beginning to creep by.
We are on a bridge but I don’t know it. We make our way to the edge of the highway and Paul looks down, sees the river and feels sick. I need to sit down on the ground and I lean against the guardrail. I can feel my children around me. I am doing an inventory: Paul, Christopher, Lydia, Eden. I need to touch each one of them.
I am whimpering. I can’t keep it in. Eden is beside me and I put my arm around her, clutch her to my side with one arm and hold the pillow against my head with the other. I see Paul’s legs. He is standing in front of us. He is only wearing one sandal. He is holding one of his arms which is streaming with blood. He looks like an extra in a horror movie.
“I’m so sorry.” He says. His face is terrible with regret.
I reach for his leg and touch it. “It was an accident.”
After a while a fire truck arrives and then the ambulances. They strap me to a board and carry me away from my family. I don’t like this. I want my children. I know I’m going to be OK, but that I’m not much help right now. I know I need to get fixed up, but first this evacuation needs arranging.
“I think it would be best if you kept my little girl with her Dad. And please put my older daughter with my son. He’s deaf and he doesn’t have his processor. He can’t hear right now. I know my daughter will help him.”
“We’re going to be taking you all in separate ambulances,” the paramedic informs me.
“I think it would be best—” I begin again, gesturing back towards the bridge. Separate ambulances don’t work for me.
“You and your husband will be taken to the E.R. and the children will be taken to the pediatric hospital.”
My heart stops. I do not like the way this car accident is going. The day an arsonist burned our house down we ran out of the house together and we stayed together. Separate hospitals do not work for me one bit.
But I am strapped to a board. They slide me into the ambulance and shut the doors, the paramedic says we’re ready and we drive away.
I can barely breathe, reading this. Your extraordinary way of retelling the story, oh-my-goodness! More! Please?
Was Living Down Under says
I can only imagine how painful this is for you to write. Since I read of your accident (when it happened) I’ve been wondering how you have all been doing. That stretch of highway outside London is treacherous.
By the way, that quote that you started with. I’m posting it up for myself as a reminder. Because with every tragedy, the questions just don’t stop coming. Thank you.