I don’t know if there is some sort of latent adrenaline that can kick in almost three hours after a stressful incident, but if there is, that’s what I’m currently experiencing. I suppose I have always been rather slow to process things emotionally. Perhaps that really is what’s happening to me right now. Or perhaps it’s this second glass of wine.
But I hope not. I hope that what I’m feeling is beyond this external stimulus and is simply, well, me.
I feel supercharged. Everything I’ve ever wasted my time stressing over–how my family perceives me, getting lost, picking up the phone, unfamiliar men, my depression–all of that seems so trivial. And I want it to stay trivial. Small. Far away. That’s why I’m writing this right now because if this feeling goes away, I want to be able to come back to this and read it.
I left for my boyfriend’s place at about 2:20 pm today. At about 2:30, I lost control of my car.
The roads were slick, and snow was steadily falling, but it wasn’t blustery angry snow, pounding against my windshield. These were big fat flakes that lazily drifted from the sky and turned into beads of water as soon as they touched my warm windshield. I got onto the highway and maybe I was driving a little too fast. Maybe the road was a little too icy. Maybe my music was too loud or maybe I should have been paying closer attention. It doesn’t matter because the end result was the same: I lost control.
I felt my car slip and I pumped my breaks as I knew to do, but this was the first time in my life that I did this and my car didn’t jitterbug slightly from side to side before snapping into line like an obedient dog. Instead when I pumped the breaks, the back of my car swung out wildly. I could see the cars just a bit ahead of me and behind, my companions on the road. Even though I couldn’t see their faces, I could feel their anxiety as they watched me skittering around, likely worrying that I’d slide into them.
I turned my steering wheel to try and correct my car’s overcompensation, but the car just skidded along, so I pumped the breaks again. It swung wildly again in the opposite direction. I was approaching a curve in the road, a low concrete median separating myself from the veichles headed in the opposite direction at 100 km an hour. I pressed my foot down again and again, but still I got no traction.
There was a horrible thud and I was jostled around in my seat as my car hit the median like it was nothing more than the sloped curve of a sidewalk. My car may have slowed down when it hit it, but it didn’t feel like it to me. I was too distracted by the three lanes, a vehicle in each one, of oncoming traffic that my car was spinning out into.
Frantic, I hit my breaks repeatedly as hard as I could, yanking the steering wheel to try and garner even a fraction of control. But everytime I pumped, my car swung more violently, and I became disoriented, distracted by the lights and metal hurtling towards me. I no longer knew which way was the right way to try and pull the steering wheel, the safest way to escape unharmed. Even if I did, it wouldn’t have mattered. If I slowed down and suddenly gained control of my car, it would be too late to avoid getting hit by the oncoming traffic. All I could do was feel my car spin and stare at the approaching headlights. In that moment I thought of two things: the circle of control and suicide.
The circle of control is a tool that therapists use (mine included) to help their patients accept that the things they can control exist in a very miniscule sphere, while the things they can’t control exist in a sphere that takes up the whole page. We often exist in the giant circle of things out of out control. And in that moment, I finally understood the circle of control. My car and the cars of the people hurtling towards me were all out of my control. Even if magically achieved command of my car, I couldn’t stop the others from hurtling right towards me. Whatever happened was going to happen.
This was when I thought of suicide. My descent into the opposite lane of traffic hadn’t been intentional by any means. But I have previously struggled with suicidal ideation. In fact, the whole reason I went to therapy (where I discovered the circle of control!) in the first place was because I didn’t want to die. I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. However, in this moment, the voice in my head said, Well, you were thinking about dieing anyway, weren’t you? And somehow, this comforted me.
I wasn’t terrified anymore. As I said, whatever happened was going to happen.
My car whipped around one last time, skidding to the side of the road, untouched by the other vehicles. It finally stopped and was facing the same direction as the lane of traffic that was whizzing by next to me.
I reacted quickly, worried that someone else may lose control of their own vehicle and slam into my now roadside and stagnant car. I backed my car off the road, down a little snowy slope that it could easily escape from. Shaking and hardly breathing, I got out to inspect the damage.
At first glance, it looked okay and I could have laughed. To have gone through that and my car not even have a scratch… I couldn’t fathom it.
However, after kicking some of the snow away from my front right tire, I saw that it was flat. This was still such a small price to pay when I’d been prepared to die only seconds before.
Before I could call AMA, a sturdy but greyhaired man in a white truck pulled off the highway a little bit ahead of my car and hopped out. The kindness of people like this baffle and overwhelm me to no extent.
Still in shock and with leaking eyes (I am a tough woman and do NOT cry), I told the man the situation.
He told me that AMA would take hours to arrive, and he could change my tire for me. I think I thanked him at least fifty times. He deserved a million more.
While the man toiled away on my little gold car, I stood beside him uselessly with my cotton grey dress billowing around my knees in a whirlwind of snow. I offered to help countless times, but he waved me away, and I knew I’d be completely useless anyway. I know. I was a stereotype in a dress.
It wasn’t until later, well, now actually when this supercharged feeling struck me.
A little while ago, before all this happened, I was dreaming about travelling. As always, I bemoaned the fact that I have no one to travel with, no one to protect me from strange men or from my complete lack of sense of direction. But for a moment, I allowed myself to dream of what it could be like if I weren’t scared of so many things.
I thought, what if I did just leave on my own? If I got into serious trouble, trouble I couldn’t rely on myself to fix because I was incapaciatated, strangers would help me, right? My friend Shay met her boyfriend because she was too drunk to function in a night club in South Korea. He helped her get back to his place and took care of her. He was a complete stranger to her. And they’ve been together ever since.
But had that ever been my luck? No.
If it were me in that situation, I thought, that story would have a much more sinister ending.
I remembered hearing a story about a girl who travelled to a place I don’t remember where to help one another is a social taboo. This girl had an allergy attack on a bus and collapsed. No one helped her. These thoughts filled my mind, and stifled my dreams. No, I simply wasn’t cappable of going alone. This is what I had resolved until today when I almost died.
There I was, roadside with a flat tire in a storm with not just one kind man helping me in a snowstorm, but three.
The next man who arrived was also a bit older, and also in a white truck. He told me as he was cranking the jack up underneath my car that he was playing Scrooge in A Christmas Carol later that night. The third man who pulled up (also in a white truck…seeing a trend yet?) was younger. He saw my car a little ways off the road and had thought I was stuck in the ditch. He had a towing rope he was prepared to offer, but instead ended up helping with my battery (after the men got the spare on, my car wouldn’t start because the hurtle over the median had jarred my car so much that something had come loose from the positive end of the battery).
He fixed this, and I finally made it home alive and so endlessly grateful for my life and to these three strangers who had taken time out of their own lives and had stood in the cold to help some liberal hippy girl who had often scoffed at truck drivers.
I am once again a stereotype as after almost getting crushed by oncoming traffic, I feel inspired. Supercharged, as I said earlier. I feel like now I can be a little less afraid of other people. Of men. Today, three strange men helped me get home. They didn’t have to. But they did. And they weren’t the leering wolves that haunt me. These men were nothing but kind.
After the arrival of the second man, the two men were discussing the issue with one another, and I stood in the cold thinking dark thoughts about myself. Before I could plunge into an inner soliloquy of self pity, Scrooge (obviously not really a Scrooge at all) asked if I had just gotten a flat tire and pulled over to the side of the highway. When I told him that I had actually been travelling in the opposite direction, he exclaimed, “My god, is it ever your lucky day!”
And he was so right.
His comment put a stopper on the pessimistic and self loathing thoughts that were about to flood my mind.
I am so lucky.
Maybe now, I can actually live my dream. Actually travel, and not live in constant fear.
As Blanche Dubois says, I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers.