chapter 1 — early April 2019 | 3 min. read
by Amy Martin
Rain. Traffic. Exit ramp. Guard rail.
Everything in slow motion. Raindrops fall like dripping molten glass on the windshield. The guard rail peels up like a sardine can as the side of the Subaru Forester grinds its length.
Sproing! My head gyrates wildly like a bobble-head doll.
The seat-belt chest-strap tightens with a slam to the sternum. Air in my lungs shoots out with a loud “uuuh!” Forward momentum ceases like an anvil drop.
Blackness. Silence. I breathe in. I am alive.
Eyes open. My car is facing the wrong way. Vehicles zoom by in the rain.
Pain! Intense, searing, unrelenting pain, like a knife plunged into my neck. Can’t make a sound, can’t cry. My hands grab the back of my neck. I can not turn my head. I lean back, my brain trembles. Breathe in, breathe out, eyes close….
Tap, tap, tap on the window. I fumble with the switch. Nothing works. I pull the door handle to open slightly; the roar of passing cars pours in.
A woman asks: “Are you OK? Can you move your fingers? Do you feel your toes? I’m going to touch your shoulder. Can you feel that?” Yes, yes, yes, yes, in the barest of whispers. “Is there someone I can call?”
“I don’t know… where my phone… my phone is. I can’t… can’t turn my head.”
“I see it. Stretch your right hand out, now down to the seat. Move it over to your right a bit more.”
Success. I hand the phone to my angel and resume the neck grip.
“Who can I call?”
Exhausted, I collapse backward. Water cascades down my windshield. Through it I see a man standing by the road in the rain, lit in red by the brake lights of passing cars. The angel moves his raised arms as if pushing traffic away from the wreck. Surreal. Breathe in, breathe out, eyes close…
Tap, tap, tap on the window. County deputy. He pulls the door open a bit. Sound of nearby interstates rushes in. It’s sobering, focusing.
“Are you OK? Was another vehicle involved?” Yes, no. “Help is on the way.” My body nods.
“You can’t see, but your back wheel is hanging over the embankment. Another yard and you’d gone down it. You are lucky to be here.”
The first of a hundred times I’ll hear that phrase.
“Fire is here. I have to go. Things are under control. Take care.”
Flashing red lights of the firetruck blocking the exit ramp pulsate in my peripheral vision. No more cars pass by. Quiet. The angel couple is gone.
I close eyes, inhale and scan my body: no bruises, no cuts, nothing sore. Eyeglasses somehow still on my head.
I try to look around. Car contents flung about as if a giant had picked up the car and shook it. Dawns on me that the airbag did not deploy. How could that be?
Men in fire suits swarm around the car, kneel and look underneath, put heads down to the engine and listen. One leans over in front of the windshield, flashes a thumbs-up, and walks back down the ramp.
Pain in my neck is all consuming. I focus on it, transform the pain into sound, an operatic soprano hitting the highest note audible and holding it. Nothing is real except this string of vibration, my auditory tether to existence. I hover just outside my consciousness and vibrate with it…
Tap, tap, tap. The door opens, a woman leans in. “We’re from EMS.” Barely back in the body, I don’t understand. “The ambulance.” She asks a rush of questions. I choke out answers. We reach an impasse:
“You don’t want to go to the hospital?” Understandable incredulity.
“I’m fine. Neck sprained. Nothing else hurt. Look at me. I’m fine. Someone is coming. I need ice.”
Her expression: You’re being a massive idiot.
“You’re going to have to sign a release. We are not responsible for what happens if you don’t get in the ambulance now.”
I can not imagine getting into the ambulance alone, going into whatever the future held alone, without Scooter.
“Someone is coming.” The phrase is my manna. I scribble a signature. Hands resume position on my neck. I close my eyes and float away on operatic vibration…
Scooter’s face leans in the open door. “Oh my god, Amy! Are you OK?”
“The tow truck is on the way. Where is the ambulance?”
“I sent them away.” Silence.
“Let’s get you into my car.” Incremental assisted movements, tentative, fearful, small. Each step, each motion, the neck screams, the world shudders. A thought creeps in: Something is very wrong. I push it away.
Getting in the Toyota 4runner is like scaling a peak. The drive home is long and slow. Many variations on “Shouldn’t you go to a doctor?” Many truncated replies along the lines of “Just my neck. Need ice.”
I shuffle in the front door. Our 75-pound puppy backs away in fear as if I’m a bear. The older dog extends puzzled sniffs. Something is different and wrong. I lay down in darkness on the bed, ice pack gripped around my neck. The ceiling fan is hypnotic. The soprano sings…
Scooter enters the room. “You don’t look like you feel much better.”
Aria over. “Let’s go… Pain too much.”