October 07, 2005

Highway lines

We were driving through winding highways in southern Wisconsin on our way to an advertising competition in Madison. "What are you thinking?" D asked.
"I'm thinking of driving off the cliff," I responded. I looked in the rearview mirror at the 10 people in the van. I was just being honest, that's what I was thinking. What would happen if I just keep going straight and drove off the road? See, I used to think about it a lot. Just turning the wheel at 75 MPH. I didn't have a death wish, I had an experience wish.
"You are kidding right?" she asked.
I didn't turn to look at her. The highway was very curvy and the van I was driving with a trailer attached wasn't exactly a sports car with a tuned suspension.
"Don't worry, I'm not going to do it," I smiled.

We came in second place in the competition to everyone's dismay. The trip home was somber and full of sleeping people. Once again I had the wheel. The drive from Madison home was a very long one. Three hours from the end I asked someone else to drive. They declined. The weather was deteriorating. OK, I'll keep driving.

It was cold and raining. A typical Plains April. The rain was freezing on the windshield. I was 22. I was not happy. 35 more minutes and we'll be home. Then I got my experience. 8 people in my extra-long van. Pulling a trailer. Changing lanes we hit black ice. Trailer whipped. The van fishtailed. I remember saying, "OH, Shit." Clearly. Audibly. Only two people were awake. Sleeping probably saved their lives. The van turned backwards. I tried to steer it straight. (seeing the marks on the highway later, I'd see I kept it on the road for a long time. Not long enough. I recall seeing the ground coming up to hit the van. So slow.

Then I'm standing 30 yards away. Cars are already stopping on the road to help. The trailer was ripped in half. The side door on the van was lying in the ditch. All the windows were broken. The flat top was more A shaped. The girl who had been in the front passenger seat was wrapped about the front right wheel. How she was not crushed I will never understand. When I was thrown out, the van rolled over my leg in the soft mud. Looking down as I limped to the van, it looked like a gallon of blood was in my jeans. (It turned out to be mud.)

I got M out of the wheel well. Then proceeded down the side of the van checking to see if everyone was OK. All conscious. D screamed, "OMG [munkey] you saved our lives." I looked at the ground between the highway and the van. I looked at the furrows the van had dug as it rolled. We had rolled three times. I don't think I saved anyone. I didn't say anything. Another guy was bleeding from a severe deep laceration on his leg. I dug in my luggage (which had been in the trailer) and found a clean T-shirt to hand him. D again, "[munkey], you are bleeding pretty bad." The blood was at least 3-4 inches down my t-shirt like a giant sweat ring.
"Don't tell me that," I replied. When the van rolled, my head had split open on the roof inside. A huge spray of blood I saw later confirmed that.

The highway patrol arrived and put me in his car. Everyone else was shuttled to various hospitals. Finally an ambulance arrived for me. They put me in a neck brace. Put me on a back board. Strapped me down. I couldn't move. I could only see the ceiling. No faces. Just shifting voices in the semi gloom. I asked one of the paramedics to hold my hands. I was cold. So cold. I wanted to sleep. So tired and cold. Just let me go to sleep. Just gonna go to sleep. OK? They wouldn't let me.

As they wheeled me out of the ambulance the wheels collapsed. I fell. Neck brace, back brace. I'm falling. I'm going to be paralyzed. "Are you OK?" They shouted at me. "I don't know."

They wheeled me into the ER. I can't see anything but white ceiling tiles. I hear D, "Oh, my GOD. Look at [munkey]". The tears ran then. Straight down the sides of my face. I felt them creeping by my ears.


At 12:49 PM, Blogger Emma said...

Wow. You're an incredible writer. You put me to shame. I'll be back.


At 1:37 PM, Blogger celtgirl said...

I bet you don't want to know what it's like to drive off a cliff. Dude - what an experience.

At 5:48 PM, Blogger Neonalune said...

Um, hey....no cliffhangers here! Dammit!

At 11:36 PM, Blogger kimmyk said...

Was this a recent trip? Is there a part 2? Obviously you turned out ok...i've never been in an accident, but living in Ohio-black ice is my biggest worry.

At 12:58 AM, Blogger Catch of the Day said...

wow, this was really amazing to read. your writing humbles me...

At 3:22 PM, Blogger Big Ben said...

I hate driving in winter. I suggest flying next time.

At 1:20 PM, Blogger Chrissie said...

Yikes, That could have turned out much worse... munkeys lucky :)


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