17 years ago on this day I was lying in a hospital bed, having survived the worst car accident of my life. It was Halloween night, actually it was Dia de las Muertas (Day of the Dead). We were teenagers, coming home from Knott’s Scary farm, and it was really late, actually, it was early morn, 3 a.m. or so. The driver, another teen friend fell asleep on the freeway and drove off the freeway overpass 2 blocks from the exit that would have delivered us safely home. We were all asleep, my friend, my brother, another younger friend. Out cold. I woke up just as we went off the freeway, totally confused and trying to figure out why Metallica was blasting while we were careening off the road. I do not truly recall the actual impact, but I can still feel the sensation, a vague overall rush of pain, when I do think back.
In a way, I am glad I woke up. That is how I knew we were in trouble. When I came to we were upside down, in a smashed up little Toyota that was on fire. I will always vividly recall the events that occurred. I remember getting out, unable to walk but trying, hearing my baby brother in the car, pleading for us to get him out because he was trapped. He was saying, ‘please, don’t let me die’ and the fiercest rush of power and determination came over my body, I did not even feel my injuries. I remember my friend freaking out and running in circles and me telling her in a very loud (likely screaming) voice that she would help me. I remember getting my brother out, releasing his lap belt as he hung upside down and dragging him out of the car, praying we would not hurt him any worse.
There were no people to help, we were on a non-residential street, the same street my childhood church is on. It took awhile for people to respond, to come out and look over the back wall of their property. But help did come, help that moved us further from the burning wreck as it blew up, help that reassured us we would be okay. I could not see due to glass all over my face, my newly purchased contacts were not longer in place. I begged the workers not to cut up my new jacket, one I had just gotten for my 16th birthday. I told them all of our names, our addresses, our parents’ names, their numbers, and kept reiterating we were not drunk, we were just tired, please make sure our parents know that. I felt eerily calm and heard someone behind me question when I was going to crack.
And then, finally, they had us in the ambulance, piling blankets on us, as I listening to Jess wail. And then I lost it. After knowing we were going to be okay, that we had helped my brother, that someone else would take care of us now , I lost it. I remember starting to shake and ask for my Mama, that I just needed her. And the wonderful EMTs kept reassuring me she would come. But then I started to feel like I was falling, falling, falling, even though I was lying down.
And then, in the only time I have ever felt this, I felt Him holding me. I am not an overly religious person, but He was there, quite literally holding me. And I felt an immediate strength and calm and quiet in the midst of the wildest storm of my life. And in very clear way I began to hear a song run through my mind, this song. I had only heard it once or twice on the radio, but every word was ringing through my brain. And it continued until we got to the hospital. As I came back to myself, I heard an ER nurse comment, “Well, it was a quiet Halloween,” which made me laugh for some reason. Which really hurt at the time.
We received excellent care, we all survived. My brother had broken both back and neck in the accident, I had a crushed ankle and I had gone through the windsheild with face and arms, my friends had a few breaks and bruised organs, but we were alive and intact, no brain injuries, no lost parts. When I think on this, I marvel. After years of working with the aftermath of traumas like this, well, I marvel. I know He was holding us way before I felt him, he was watching us from the minute the car went off the road and out of control.
A few days later, my brother and I were still in hospital. I had not been able to see him, he was awaiting back surgery and I was not able to get up to a wheelchair. But we had talked a few times by phone, reassuring each other that we were okay, we were okay. He asked if he could send me a tape his friends had brought in, one I could listen to while laying around. My mama brought it down a few minutes later. It was a single, only one song on it, the same song I heard that night as He carried my broken body when I needed carrying. I listened to it over and over, at 16 not really comprehending the feeling I had then, the feeling of awe that we had been so blessed, just knowing that there was a reason for this.
The months after were hard. I was a dancer in my school’s dance conservatory and my ankle made it impossible to walk properly, much less dance. My brother was recovering from his injuries, trying to just be a freshman with a Halo on. My face, which initially they predicted would need plastic surgery to correct, healed up slowly but much better than imagined. I credit it to a RN in the hospital. She gave me a special cream called Silvadene, usually reserved for burn victims. She told me to use it daily and it would fix things. And it did. Just another of those miracle angels we had surrounding us in that time.
As I was writing this, I began to wonder why this came up now. I always think about the accident when Halloween comes around, it is inevitable. I call my brother if I am not going to see him and tell him to stay put. We laugh a little, but never really rehash the night. I think the memory upheaval is in part due to the fact that his back went out this past week, a reminder of his injuries from that time. And I have been waking up with a really painful ankle in the morning, my reminder of the earlier injuries. And that I have been looking at pictures from that time since my Dad started sorting through old photo boxes. And that I feel really, really blessed of late in a life that I am very glad I was able to keep. 17 years ago I was still a kid, but one who had found out a very essential thing. That life is so precious, that it can be taken away in a moment, by accident. And that it is to be cherished and embraced.
I think that night long ago has done a lot to dictate how things have gone forward in my life, my choices and sometimes my reactions to things. It has given me a deeply abiding faith that transcends any religion, it just is. And now as a Mama myself, it makes me truly comprehend what my parents must have felt when they heard of the accident and saw us in the hospital.
As we enter the month that helps us to focus on giving thanks, I cannot help but feel surrounded by the true meaning of Thanksgiving. The accident was a long time ago but still makes me realize and find joys in the smallest things in life. I hope this month brings you time to sit and reflect on the things you cherish. I would ask that you offer a few prayers for those seeking support this month, my brother in his trial with his back and his pain and also this little girl, named Tuesday. One of a set, she has been battling an unexpected and aggressive cancer. She is a fighter with an amazing family, but any prayers will help. If you have a moment please leave a comment at her Mama's blog, I know it bolsters the family to know we are praying.