A journalist observes life in the far north.
Soon is the one-year anniversary of my head-on vehicle collision, which claimed as its victim a brand new Toyota Yaris that I had driven for only five months. I am still paying off the car because I stupidly did not get gap insurance and the insurance company’s pay-off was a few thousand short of what I owed on the car.
The crash happened a few days before Christmas as I was headed to visit an old friend and exchange gifts. I was only a few miles from my house, driving way too fast down a curvy hill at lunchtime. The temperature had risen after some frigid days and a light frost was on the road. My two-month-old baby was snug in her car seat in the back seat.
This is something I never told anyone: I wasn’t paying attention to the road. I mean, I know that fact is clear because I wound up sliding into the on-coming lane and smashing into a Mitsubishi Montero, but I’ve always just blamed the slippery road. What I’ve never told anyone is that just before the crash I was distracted.
I was digging in my purse for my cell phone or checking my lip gloss. I don’t remember exactly what. But I remember looking up and seeing the Montero and deciding that I had better slow down. So I hit the brakes. Big mistake.
Hitting the brakes is what made me start sliding. I tried like hell to correct myself as the Yaris slid into the on-coming lane and straight toward the SUV. As the driver of the much smaller car, I knew I was in trouble. I pumped the brakes. I tried to steer back into my lane. I uttered curse words. I pounded the steering wheel. None of it worked.
A second before impact, I had the strangest feeling. It was a feeling of utter peace and acceptance. I knew what was coming was probably bad. I did the math and decided that I would probably be hurt. (I was wrong, by the way. The worst of it was soreness, particularly where the seat belt crossed my chest.) I figured that Lucky would be OK because she was in the back seat. I figured that after the number of near misses that I had had in my life, I had this crash coming to me. In one of the near misses, I lost control of my Ford Contour—my favorite car of all time, too bad I blew the engine—on a four-lane highway. The car wound up turned around backwards but going in the correct direction so that I was facing the cars behind me but I was essentially traveling with the flow of traffic. Then the car just slowed down and stopped. I turned it around and went on my merry way. My nerves were frazzled but I was fine nonetheless.
My Yaris was probably going at least 40 mph, but the Montero was nearly at a stop so the crash wasn’t as bad as it could have been. The driver later told me that he had thought about veering into my correct lane but he was afraid that I would gain control of my car and that we’d have a collision there.
After the impact, I got out of my car to survey the damage and that’s when I freaked out. The engine was smashed in and fluids were running onto the road. It looked awful. I pulled Jade out of the car and started crying. She was fine until she saw me. That’s when she started crying too. Or maybe the loud crash upset her. The noise was certainly jarring.
The thing about the crash that has stayed with me is that strange feeling of peace and acceptance that followed the feeling of terror and the futile attempts to stop what was coming.
Part of my job is writing about bad car crashes. In a recent crash, a 23-year-old man lost control of his Jetta on a slippery curve. The Jetta slid sideways so that the driver’s side faced on-coming traffic. The car smashed into a Focus, killing the man instantly on this busy highway. I keep wondering what this man was thinking as the driver’s side of his car approached on-coming traffic. He must have known he was going to die. I hope that he had the same feeling of calm and clarity that I experienced in the seconds before impact.