All of the above emotions occurred in a few seconds, but only one remains. One moment, I was in the mind-numbing routine of my commute. And the next, I was not. I lost the feel of the road in my fingertips, a vibration and resistance so slight that my car seems to turn with my mere thought rather than hand movement. It comes with driving the same vehicle for thousands of miles more a year than many people will drive in 5 years. Like I have done thousands of times, my mind tugged gently to feel the edges of the tires. There is nothing like rubber biting into the road as you intend it to do to re-orient you from a weightless floating sensation. Only this time, nothing happened for the fraction of a heartbeat before the car started to rotate slowly, as if what I had done was not even a factor. My hands gripped the wheel as I attempted to counter-steer, and sure enough, the slow rotation reversed course and went in the opposite direction. But it did not matter what I did with the wheel, or the brake, or the throttle. A sharp blade of adrenaline stabbed into me. Black ice.
Now stabilized and sliding sideways down an incline, we were not even slowing down. I considered shifting to reverse to try to guide our trajectory down the center of the road, but with the lack of tire resistance it would have been wishful thinking. We were drifting across into the oncoming lane and would leave the road at an intersection, where trees loomed. I glanced at my sleeping son in the passenger seat and realized with horror that there was no way to keep him from being the first to impact the trees. Why did I counter-steer?! His dreams were NOT going to be his last memories. “NA, WE'RE IN TROUBLE!”
I found that the wheel and throttle still didn't make any difference. The laws of physics truly are your best friend, right up until the day they abruptly betray you. We were helpless. The trees loomed larger in the side window. I watched them come. The rising shock of adrenaline (fight or flight) fought with, then gave way to a sudden dead weight that forced the air out of my lungs and left me chilled just before we hit the trees. Regret. I've killed him! My actions got him here, and there is nothing I can do to change it.
The impact of shattering glass and crumpling metal is ear splitting, and to those who have experienced it, heart rending. A thunderous crash. Violent shaking and impacts with the side and ceiling as it smashes in. Vision blurs to gray. After the first few impacts, hope that we will soon stop. Stay conscious! There was no way to count how many times we rolled. At least twice, but probably more.
We came to rest on our side, the car propped up by the now open passenger door. My vision slowly cleared. “Na, are you ok?” … brief, eternity of sickening silence. “Yeah.” He pressed his seat belt button, dropped to the open ground below him, and disappeared. I lived again, breathed in deeply as if for the first time. I started to move my fingers, toes, then my head. Everything seemed to move, with no pain as resistance. That would come later, no doubt. There was a lot of blood. I had been bleeding like a stuck pig, but most of it seemed to be coming from a cut on my hand. It was already slowing down. Now, how to get out of here? The engine was still running, so I turned it off (forgot the lights, though). It took me some time to get the seat belt to release, as my weight was hanging in it, but eventually I did so and lowered myself in a somewhat dignified manner to the ground.
Na had already trekked 30 feet down the ravine to locate his music player, still playing, and return to find his glasses. The glasses seemed to have gone stupid on him and lost their effectiveness, until he discovered that they were mine. His own glasses, once located, worked much better. He had then set to gathering and piling the debris (personal belongs) that had been flung in a wide arc from the open door and trunk. By the time I crawled out, he had returned. “Here are your glasses. How do you see through those things?!” Perhaps not well enough.
And yet, we were both walking around and talking. A real miracle, one year ago on this day. One that I did not deserve, nor had the time to ask for.
Recollection is a strange thing. There are parts of the experience that are crystal clear, while others appear to me like what must have confronted Na when he donned my glasses instead of his. I cannot recall at will the adrenaline-saturated panic that I felt, but I have flashbacks any time I get a floating sensation on the road, that feeling that I am no longer in control of the car. I'm told some classify this as PTSD. That sensation is blessedly fleeting, however, and seems to be abating as time passes.
What has NOT abated is what follows the shock. In a fraction of a second, the panic attenuates as it is overpowered by that heavy, chilling weight of Regret. It slams me down, as if plunging me through the thick ice of a glacier fed river with a wrecking ball, and it does not let up for what feels like an eternity. It is a reminder, as strong as the original experience, of when I truly realized that I had failed at the one thing which I deemed most important; Protecting my family. A realization experienced anew that I Failed ... and that I am Failing! I could not control the situation on that day, and daily I cannot control a myriad of situations in which members of my family are in danger and take damage that has lasting effects. I CARE, but it doesn't matter. How does one deal with that weight?
In that crystallized moment where some say one's life flashes before his or her eyes, I did not fear for myself. In this I find some encouragement. That, at some future time, if there is a choice to be made, I may not hesitate out of self interest to help another. But it is small encouragement given the realities I live with.