TITLE: The Rest of the Story
DATE: 3/08/2005 07:36:00 PM
It was 7:26. I remember that because I looked at the clock right before. 7:26, and I'm thinking, okay, I'm almost to Montvale Ave, be at work in about five minutes, get in early and start catching up on all the stuff I put off Friday.
I thought about stopping at the Dunkin' Donuts for coffee and one of those breakfast sandwiches. The last time I ate one of those I was able to rein in my appetite very well for the rest of the day; in fact, I've noticed this whenever I've eaten a full breakfast.
But I've never been a breakfast person. My grandmother used to let me eat pizza in the morning just so I'd eat something. I can go without food for up to four hours after I first wake up; it's taken me years to get to the point where I can eat just after waking without gagging. Now it's just a matter of laziness. And time management: I'd rather hit the snooze button a fourth time than get up in time to make or buy myself a meal in the morning.
I'm working on it, though...here I was out of the house early, and weighed whether or not to stop at the drive-through or use the time to brown-nose at work while patronizing the new and improved vending machines that sell little boxes of cornflakes.
I chose the latter.
So it was that I wound up about a mile away from work, about three seconds from turning onto Montvale Ave, so much earlier than normal yesterday. I was just finishing a cigarette; my window was about 1/3 of the way down. I looked at the clock, saw 7:26, and began to ease my car to the right side of the road. Traffic was surprisingly congested for such an early hour. There was a full line of cars to my left, getting ready to go straight across the four-way intersection with Montvale Ave, or left onto it. On the other side a solid procession made its way in the opposite direction. Ahead, about three or four cars were lined up to make the right-hand turn, maybe sneaking in a "right-on-red".
I looked at the clock. 7:26. I begin to ease my car into the right-hand lane, thinking about the stack of work on my desk, whether I should chuck the cigarette yet, that box of cornflakes.
A flash of white crossed my vision, brakes screamed, and then I was in a lifeless vehicle, and I could see the hood folded almost in half in front of me, and I could see the windshield had hairline fractures, and there was an acrid smell and smoke wafting out of the front end.
"Oh my God," I gasped. "Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Oh, my God."
My cigarette was still in my hand. Dumbfoundedly, I dropped it out of the still-open window. Just as dumbfoundedly, I tried to roll the window back up. I tried to put the car back into drive, at least get it off the road. There was, of course, no response.
A small, wiry, tobacco-wizened man with greying hair and mustache was peering in through my passenger side window. The other driver, I presume. He squinted when I looked at him, shrugged his shoulders, gave me a palms up gesture as if to ask me, "What was that."
I looked away. He ambled around the side of the car. "Should I call the cops?" he asked. I nodded.
Pain in my chest. In my left shoulder, I thought maybe my collarbone. A twinge in my right knee. A woman's face appeared in the drivers' side window. "Are you okay?"
"I don't know." My voice came out so small.
"How about you get out of the car, honey," she said gently, reaching for the door handle. She could only open the door a little ways, and I managed to squeeze out.
"I have to call work," I said weakly.
"Okay. Do you want to sit in my car?"
"Okay," I said, and walked over to where her black two-door was pulled over to the side of the road. Two little kids were in back. "Mom!" one yelled. "Mom! What--"
"Hush." She told him sternly.
"George?" my voice was so thin, reedy, still pitched what sounded like an octave higher than normal. "I was just in a car accident, and uh...I..." suddenly I was having trouble breathing.
"Okay," he said. "Do what you need to do."
I called my Dad next. "Dad...I...there was..."
"Are you okay?" he asked, alarmed.
"Yeah...I...I think so..."
"Is your car okay?"
It was only then that I looked over at what was left of my car.
"No," I cried, and the word tailed off into a still higher-pitched cry as I burst into tears. "It's wrecked, Dad," I sobbed. "It's a mess."
"Okay, okay," he said. "At least you're allright. Are the police there?"
I talked to the police while two firemen shuffled over toting a heavy bag of some kind of chemical between them, to put over the puddle of oil that was gushing out of the mangled guts of my car like blood from an artery.
Then all is confusion. I remember my mother calling after my father called her and told her the news, and I sobbed again describing the damage to the car. I remember a firefighter leaning in to look at me as I sat stubbornly in the driver's side of my car, as if refusing to leave it would make it driveable, sobbing into the phone. The firefighter gave me a soft kind of smile, as if thinking, "aww..." while the tears rolled down my cheeks, and I knew he was just kind but I hated it, hated that I was weeping.
"You sure you're allright?" he said, jerking his thumb over one shoulder, saying, "We can call an ambulance."
"No, no, I'm sure I don't need an ambulance," I said, my voice still so thin.
"Okay, well, if you start hurtin' later, go get yourself checked out, mkay?" he said. "No shame in that."
I nodded dumbly.
"Wait, wait," the cop said, hustling over as I was trying to write down the information for the other driver. His gigantic van had a ding in the passenger-side fender.
Meanwhile, it had left white paint on my radiator grille.
"You don't need to do that," the cop said, handing me and the other driver carbon-copies from his accident scene report. "I wrote it all down for yiz."
A wrecker showed up with its driver straight out of Central Casting. "Yep," he rasped. "This is totalled."
"You think so?" I asked him, numb.
"Oh, ayah. Lookit, 's dead in the road. Engine paahts ova theah." He pointed to where an unidentifiable black mass was sitting six feet ahead of where my car had stopped.
Today when I went back to drop off the key and take pictures, the same guy pointed to splinters of white plastic amidst the mess. "That's yah bat'ry," he said, shaking his head. "Didja smell the acid yest'd'y?"
Yeah. I realized I had.
The more I think about it, the more time has passed between me in the present and the blind panic of the accident scene, the bolder and angrier I am about it. And sadder. I'm physically okay--my doctor examined me, manipulating my limbs, in his office yesterday, proclaimed me un-broken, but prescribed anti-inflammatory medication--but the tow truck guy is probably right. My car is probably gone for good. Even if it isn't totalled, it'll never be remotely reliable; if they don't total it, I'm trading it in, anyway. It'll never be right.
It seems silly, but I realized today that I was feeling real grief about this car. It was my first car, bought as a graduation present after the long, tough road of college, the symbol of my new freedom as a young adult, the first car with my name and then my new address on the registration.
I lived out of that car. With an hour commute each way and another hour or so if I was driving around Massachusetts doing work for the paper, I spent a hefty fraction of my day in it. It was the one place I could smoke, read, lock the door, be alone in the midst of my hectic schedule. Even my apartment is something I share with my boyfriend; my car is mine. I ate all of my meals in that car some days. I listened to my favorite songs in it. I decorated it with the insignia of my favorite teams and bands (my parents never let me put bumper stickers on the cars I borrowed from them). The back often filled up with trash and no one told me to clean it. While I was still living with them, if I needed to escape, I could always go for a drive.
I knew all its little idiosyncrasies, and I miss them now that I'm driving a big Chrysler sedan I rented from Enterprise. If you turned the key in the drivers' side door lock twice, all the doors would unlock. You had to push the key in, and then forward, to turn the ignition, and then in, and backward to shut it off. Its headlights were automatic. The hood was opened with a lever under the dash; the hood latch was to the right in the center. You pulled up on it. The gas lever was the smaller one inside the trunk lever, to the left of the seat. If you wanted to put the window only partway down, after touching the drivers' side window button you had to pull it back up again a little bit, or else the automatic window would kick in and it would go all the way down. You pushed the windshield wiper lever on the right-hand side of the steering wheel down through three different stages to turn the wipers on intermittently, faster, fastest. All these things are different now, in this car I have to drive with mine sitting in a car mortuary in Woburn.
It seems silly, but I miss it already. I had entertained the thought of trading it in (it had 110,000 miles on it), but decided, nah, it had a lot of still left to go; it had never given me a problem under to hood, and had proven so reliable and fuel efficient that it'll probably take a truly terrible experience in the future to make me stop buying Toyota exclusively. Let's not forget, either, that in a moderate-speed accident with a vehicle at least twice its size, the car took the brunt of the impact and left me unscathed--it was a safe vehicle.
And besides, I decided, I wasn't ready to make car payments if I didn't have to, wasn't ready to give up my sentimental, familiar first car, wasn't ready for upheaval and disruption and change now that I'm just learning how to live on my own.
Now, here it is. Brought to you, arbitrarily, on a gloomy Monday morning by a hulking white commercial van that was just a little too impatient to take a left.