My blog this week was to be an essay on the similarities between my memoir of my two years teaching English and living in Kazakhstan as an older, married Peace Corps volunteer (At Home on the Kazakh Steppe) and Kathy Pooler’s memoir of living in and escaping from domestic violence, twice (Ever Faithful to His Lead).
I loved that it sounds incongruous at first glance. But I would have described a few of the specific commonalities that Kathy and I shared, such as:
- In both of our stories, over and over, we gritted our teeth and forged ahead, silently. For as the
scripture sayethscript is written,
Nice young ladies don’t complain.
- Neither of us was willing to risk the relationship we had by speaking our truth, out loud.
Good girls play nice. They go along.
The blog, though, wasn’t coming together. Instead, it rambled, it bogged down, or it was confusing. Still, I forged ahead. I had a deadline to meet. Stiff upper lip.
I had planned to intersperse my post with aphorisms or adages I’d grown up with, those messages we got through the 1950s and into the 1960s, whether directly or indirectly, that served to keep us quiet, uncomplaining, like the two above and this one:
Ignore it and it’ll go away.
With this last one I stopped, realizing I was in the midst of making that same mistake again.
What I was ignoring — a trauma I’d experienced only a few days before — wasn’t going away. And it was affecting my ability to concentrate or attend to what was in front of me, this blog being only the most obvious.
The real story for today had to be what was going on for me tonight, as I write this blog on December 8.
Wednesday night, December 3, on our way home from a chorus rehearsal of The Messiah, Woody and I had an accident.
We skidded on black ice and totaled our pickup truck. The GMC Sierra rolled over a few times, slid down an embankment, and landed on the driver’s side door.
I had initially been unaware Woody had lost control. Engrossed in my cell phone as we sped up the highway, my first indication something was amiss was the sudden jarring motion as the car skidded. I saw the road swerve before me as in one of those slow motion scenes in earthquake documentaries. I fully expected him to bring the truck back under control.
“Don’t overcorrect,” I told him. Twice. I thought it would help.
Then I watched out my side window as a reflector along the shoulder came racing toward me. I knew we were going over the embankment just beyond it. And I had no idea how steep it was, or how long the fall would last, or what would finally bring the truck to a halt.
I believed I could be meeting my death. But what I remember most was that in that moment I felt peaceful. It was out of my hands. I had given up trying to fix it; I’d let go of the outcome. There was nothing I could do and I knew it. I was certainly in the moment.
But the moment didn’t last long. We rolled over at least twice; I heard glass break; the truck bounced a few times. Then there was silence.
“Are you OK?” I asked Woody. “Yes. Are you?” he replied. I took a quick assessment.
The truck had landed on its left side, on Woody’s driver’s side door. Our seat belts held us securely in our seats, which meant I was suspended a few feet above Woody. Both side windows were blown out and shards of glass plastered my face and neck. Woody also lay on his side, his left arm through the former window and onto the snow beneath him.
Miraculously, neither of us had any injuries. But we were trapped in the cab and it would take nearly an hour for the rescue squad to cut us out and help us walk away.
Neither of us panicked. I called 911 from the cell phone that I still clutched in my hand.
“We’ve been in an accident,” I reported to the dispatcher, “Rt 91 Northbound.” I gave her our names and told her neither of us was injured, just unable to get out. She wanted our mile marker. Woody told me, “north of the Barnet exit.” She still wanted the mile marker.
I had seen the legs of people walking around above us while I was on the phone. I’ve got this covered, I’d wanted to tell them. Really; there’s no need to stay. I asked them for the mile marker and someone knew it, so I passed it on to the dispatcher. Then I noticed my phone was low on battery so we hung up.
Shouts of “how are you?” came from the group above us. “Fine,” I told them. “We just need to get out.”
“I wouldn’t move,” someone answered. “The truck is on a tilt, on a hill. It could continue to roll if we push it.”
I hadn’t even thought of that. But it explained the gusts of cold air that Woody was getting from beneath the car.
“Woody’s shaking. He’s lying in the snow and he’s cold. I want to get him out.” I took off my hat and handed it to him. He’d lost his in the roll.
Someone handed us a parka through my open window and I tried to get it over him, but my orientation was off. I’d think I was pushing it up onto his shoulder but I wasn’t even close; it would slide off. Eventually, we figured it out.
I was glad the people were there. Even if none of them had a phone charger I could use.
The state trooper was the first to arrive, delayed by the icy roads, he said. He bent low and peered into the cab through my husband’s missing window.
“Put your car in park and give me the keys,” he said to Woody after asking us about injuries.
The rescue squad came next; they’d all been at home, warm and comfortable before we slid off the road. The EMS crew was the final set to join; they wanted to know our medical history. Really. While I dangled midair in my seat belt, the only medical condition I could think of concerned my overactive bladder.
After much analysis and discussion, the rescue crew cut the roof off the cab. This involved covering us with blankets so the glass from the front and rear windows that they needed to shatter first would not get in our faces. With the roof laid out on the snow, they guided us as we walked over it and up to the EMS van.
Our vitals were taken. My blood pressure was twenty points higher than normal, Woody’s was forty. The crew said they weren’t concerned by that, but I noticed they took Woody’s again after a few minutes; it had come down 20 points.
We chose not to go to the hospital and signed the necessary papers. Then, we waited in the trooper’s car for the wrecker that had to come.
Our entourage had left and I watched from the front passenger seat as the trooper combed the hillside collecting the bags of stones we had had in the truck for winter ballast against the weight of the snow plow (at home in the barn on this night).
After the trooper drove us home, Woody and I spent considerable time making sure we found all the remaining shards of glass. Really. My right ear was packed with glass but I had only a small puncture wound on my right pinky finger. Woody had his single puncture wound on his left ring finger. We felt immeasurably grateful and slept very well that night.
For the next day and a half I believed that we’d escaped unscathed. I posted to one of my closed FB groups, We Love Memoirs, and got all the necessary support and sympathy I expected and wanted. We sang in the first concert of The Messiah that Friday night and talked with the folks from the two cars who had stopped. It had been traumatic for them as well.
Saturday morning we drove into town to see the truck and collect those odds and ends that we wanted to hang onto.
That afternoon I had a massage, then went food shopping, planning to get home in time to have a light supper and dress for the second of the three concerts that weekend. But as I shopped I got angrier and angrier. When I overheard a conversation between the two store employees and a policeman about a shopper, I complained.
“That’s not a topic to be discussing where it can be overheard by a customer,” I told them in anger. They shrugged, but they stopped talking (though one of the managers rolled her eyes and mumbled under her breath at me).
As I drove home I realized that the effects of the trauma I’d had just a few days before were beginning to show.
“I’m staying home,” I told Woody when I got home. “I can’t go anywhere tonight.” I just wanted to stop moving.
“I’m going,” he responded in an equally defiant tone. I ignored him. Eventually, as the reality sunk in, he admitted he’d also considered staying home. He just didn’t want to.
I took a bubble bath; he watched Netflix. Sunday we felt well enough, even eager, to sing in the final concert, an afternoon event. I was glad we did.
On Monday night, telling my hospice choir friends about it, I began to cry. I had no idea I was still so raw.
When I didn’t think about it, I’d carry on as though nothing was amiss. When I thought about it, I’d break down.
When I didn’t think about it, I’d snap at Woody and hear Woody snap back at me. When I thought about it, I’d cry.
I have a hard time concentrating. My mind is scattered. I can’t settle into a routine. Writing this blog, as you now know, has been difficult.
Cognitively, I know that I am grateful we were not seriously injured. But I don’t FEEL grateful. I feel outrage, fury. I want to hit something. I want to yell, to scream really. But I do neither. Instead, I write. I posted tonight to another closed FB group I’m on and am eager to hear from them. I talk on the phone to friends. I walk in the woods (on snow shoes). I take bubble baths.
The anger comes in spurts. Unexpected spurts. And as quickly as it surfaces, it evaporates.
I’m drinking lots of tea. I’m doing all the things I should be doing. I’m also playing computer solitaire like a junkie.
Woody and I stopped talking about it. What more can we say?
So I write here, one more time, to see what comes out. I know I need to be patient with myself. And as I write this, I’m reminded of another saying, this one a bit newer in my life:
Don’t just do something; sit there.
And that is exactly what I will do.
I will allow myself time to wind my way through the many layers that have formed.
And, later, after we know what the insurance company will allow, I will help Woody find himself a new truck.
December 16 — Epilogue
Decades ago, I had a Time Magazine photo hanging on my college dorm room wall:
Time changes the needs of people.
It had a picture of an hour glass and a long, winding road in the background. I haven’t thought of it in years. With time, I feel myself back in my own skin once again. But I’m different too.
From the policeman at the food store talking out of turn, to my mother last week saying something I thought insensitive, to a woman in my recent writer’s group this week interrupting someone I wanted to hear, my reactions are different than they would have been just a few weeks ago. I’m speaking out, standing up, letting my reality be known.
Whether its because I realize my time on this earth really is limited (and precious) or something else, I don’t even try to know.
What I do know is that I felt peaceful at the moment I thought I was facing my death. And that is a gift.
As is our ability to replace our Sierra with a shiny new toy.
How do you nurture yourself?