A few weeks ago I witnessed one of those mysterious life moments where you float above your body while the world stops spinning, then come crashing back down to the ground with a new outlook on everything. If you can spare the time, I’d like to take ten minutes to talk to you about it.
It all started when the car directly in front of us in the carpool lane blew a tire. The vehicle hit the median at about 80 mph, spun out, then flipped several times across the freeway and back. My husband deftly managed to keep our car from colliding with the out-of-control SUV while I tried, however futile my efforts, to somehow shield Scarlet in the seat behind me. When we stopped next to the car to call 911, we fully expected the passengers to be, well… gone. But to our amazement, while the car had only shattered shards where the windows used to be, an utterly crushed roof, and a missing wheel, the two passengers were lucid and seemingly unhurt, gazing about dazed with their seatbelts securely fastened.
Continue reading to hear the rest of this story, discover what I learned from the experience, and share your experiences with me…
I may not have conveyed it well here, but this event was terrifying. While only about a minute or two long, there were several different concrete moments when I thought we were going to die. I feel like we had a near-death experience, though I know how silly that might sound. We almost collided with that car about four times, and I was bracing Scarlet with my arm like that was going to save her. It was crazy scary, and I’m not embarrassed to admit that in retrospect it was life altering. Especially considering one of my constant arguments with my husband is about the use of his phone while he driving, doing things that can wait like surfing the Internet or checking emails. He had a strange voice in his head, about 30 seconds before the accident, that told him his tire was about to blow. Yes, something told him to be on alert, so he put down his phone and was paying full attention to our vehicle on the road, ready for our car to spin out. Then this happened – the tire on the car in front of us blew.
The women driving weren’t at fault at all – I watched their tire explode before everything went insane. Carleton’s driving is the only reason we, those women, and the people behind us on the freeway are still alive. It was truly masterful driving, totally going against the usual instincts to hit the brake or turn away – really his driving saved us. If he had been on his phone, or even just talking to me or changing the music, there’s no way we’d all be alive. And he knows that, and now he’s so apologetic for ever having used his phone while driving, and adamant about never doing it again. So that’s a good thing.
The other amazing thing is that our four-year-old daughter, Scarlet, who is a total ‘fraidy-cat, slept through the whole thing. If she had seen that car crashing, spinning, crashing again, basically exploding, then flipping across the freeway and back, there’s no way she’d ever get back in a car. But she didn’t even wake up.
I know I might sound like some sad person who reads too much into things, but it was a big deal for us. When we pulled up next to the car and those woman weren’t dead bloody body-sacks slumped inside the car (the roof was crushed! every single window was broken! I just knew everyone was dead, and was scanning the pavement for a car seat, just begging the universe that I wouldn’t see a car seat) – when we pulled up next to them, the woman in the passenger seat and I had this moment. Without words there was this heavy dialogue in the air – one that said I don’t know you, and you don’t know me, but we were all supposed to die today and we didn’t. We exchanged a shocked, grateful look that just said thank you, thank you for not being dead.
When I got off the phone with 911 and we drove away we were both still shaking and checking and re-checking scarlet and the dog for several minutes, before the shock wore off and we began talking about the accident. It was still about an hour drive to our house, and we talked most of the way about how we felt like we were living this hour when we were supposed to be dead. That was a weird feeling, but at the same time a wonderful feeling to share with my husband. We were returning from our first family camping trip when the accident occurred. Before the camping trip I felt a little leery – that it would be a big pain and not as fun as one would hope. But I ended up having a fantastic time, as did Scarlet, and especially Carleton. The first night he kept saying how much it meant to him to have this time with his family, in a tent, in the woods. Then out of nowhere on the second day a thunderstorm rolled in and our entire camp was soaked. We were there with five other families; all of our stuff was wet and nasty so we decided to break camp early and head for the dry comfort of home. We were all so bummed the trip ended early, but Carleton and I were okay with it – we even kinda had fun tearing down our tent in the rain. So we were already having a special family bonding moment before the accident, and it was almost like the accident was the punctuation that reminded us to keep that feeling with us. Feeling like a family unit together against the world is a big deal. I hate to say these women’s pain happened so me and my husband could remember we love each other, that’s stupid. But that also happened.
In some ways, I feel like I watched a human death. You see it so much on TV that it becomes rote, that hurt and violence and blood lose their power to shock. My husband once watched a girl in college jump off the roof of her dorm and die, then stayed with her broken body until the police came. I’ve never done that. I’ve never held someone’s hand while they died. And no one died on this day, but I feel so one-million-percent sure that someone was supposed to die, that we were all supposed to die. And I’m aware of the cheesiness factor of that statement, and I do not care. I feel a renewed sense of family, like Carleton, Scarlet, and I, and even that mutt Princess Cheese, that we are meant to live together on this earth and be a family. That our time to do that is short, but it’s not over yet.
I don’t really know the point I am trying to get across to you, except that I think my perception of the family unit was somewhat romanticized, and now it is visceral. I want to smell Scarlet’s hair and rub my dog’s belly and make out with my husband: To not just think about loving them, but instead to actually physically and emotionally love them, constantly, as much as I can.
So I say: Go pet your pets, hug your children, and kiss your husband. Go do it right now. Then do it again later. And again after that. And again and again and again.
And also, check your tires.
Jaime Morrison Curtis is author of the bestselling book Prudent Advice: Lessons for My Baby Daughter (A Life List for Every Woman), follow up fill-in journal My Prudent Advice, and founding co-editor at Prudent Baby, the premier DIY destination for crafty moms seeking ways to make their lives even more stylish and beautiful.