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A One-Car Accident, December 27, 1998 :: Ben Turner's Soapbox

 

the soapbox @ benturner.com
archived soapbox: December 27, 1998
"A One-Car Accident" [permalink]
    keywords: personal, cars, history
    soapbox #: 167
    written: December 27, 1998
    words: 2633

"A One-Car Accident", an Essay

About a year or so after I became old enough to legally drive in the state of Texas, I got in a car accident. It involved no one else, hurt no one else, and didn't affect anyone else's lives except mine. Well, of course I have to include my parents, since they're my parents, dammit! But you get the point. They weren't there.

Let me explain. It happened during the summer, when Dallas heats up to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit on a daily basis. I had been enrolled in a summer SAT preparatory class, which happened to be right before my summer tennis training. So basically, I had to get up early (and we know 11AM is early for a teen during the summer) and drive off to catch my class.

Well, on this particular day, I woke up late and so I didn't have time to get everything ready for SAT prep class and for tennis. I decided to skip my class (which was pretty boring anyway), and then leave a bit later for tennis. My father convinced me that I had to go anyway, late as it was, because it was important that I study for the SAT. Okay, so I hadn't eaten anything, and I was going to go study for an hour and a half and then play for a couple hours in searing Dallas heat.

Seems rather cheesy to hear that most car accidents occur near your home, isn't it? Well, that's actually the way it happened for me. There's this curvy road near my neighborhood which provides a nice shortcut from one major road to another that I like to take. I grabbed a plum or something to eat in the car, and then hurried out the door and drove by way of the shortcut.

I don't really know what happened. I kind of remember going straight into a curve, onto the grass, past some trees, and straight into a light post. I remember sitting on the curb, trying to figure out what the Hell to do. A very kind black woman stopped her car next to me and was sweet enough to drive me back to my house. I was aware of my surroundings enough, my short-term memory shot, to tell her where I lived. When I entered the house, Fred saw me and rushed me to the hospital. I had received a nasty cut to the forehead from the steering wheel. Later, I found out my right thumb had been dislocated because it was probably trapped behind the steering wheel and was rammed out of place upon impact.

I sometimes wonder if it was because I was eating that damn plum that I lost control and hit the post. But I would have had to have held the plum in my left hand or something. It doesn't seem like I would do that. At any rate, you shouldn't eat things in the car. Seriously. It's not worth the risk.

So we had to sit there in the emergency room filling out forms and shit while I thought my thumb was just a bit banged up. It drooped down rather suspiciously. It didn't really hurt at the time.

After my mom came and I had the cut on my forehead stitched up, getting everything all bloody and wet with iodine and such, I had to have my hand x-rayed and then I was taken into surgery to have two corrective pins temporarily placed in my thumb to align it while it healed. A cast was placed on my forearm to keep me from moving my thumb at all. Then I had to stay at the hospital overnight while they monitored my health.

Whether out of genuine concern for my brain, or for the eagerness of collecting a lot of cash, the doctors decided I needed to have EEGs and MRIs and the whole bit. It was a blast, let me tell you. It's such a fucking trip to have strange wires glued to your head while you do mundane tasks and sit on a bed while they shine strobe lights at your closed eyes. It's a blast sitting in an MRI machine, perfectly still, listening to one of the only rock stations in the city, one of those rock stations which preach alternative but give you the same hits from 1983 and give you disgustingly inert disc jockeys and their schticks.

It turned out that my head was fine, after a few thousand bucks. I didn't lose any part of my memory except the three-hour window or so before and after the accident. I was in mild shock, obviously. Disoriented. I remember only finding stupid programs on the television in the hospital. Those were the days of ABC's Family Matters and Full House. Happiness is supposed to be a successful medical treatment, but the TV sure wasn't helping. I had a room alone and I was checked up upon by a nurse every hour all night. I had that big cast on my forearm. I must say that it was fun carrying that thing around too. I could, of course, still write, just in time for school. I bet God was laughing at me then. No matter what happens to schoolkids, it seems to be that they can still write with their dominant hand. Hopes of no schoolwork for three weeks cascade into schoolkids' minds, and then leave just as quickly when the doctor gives them the "good" news.

Alright, a few things. First of all, you probably think I'm a klutz now. Yes yes, it's all funny. Ben can avoid cars but he can't avoid a stationary light post. How did Ben manage to run into a POLE, for God's sake? Ha ha ha. Yeah, it's humorous, and as far as being humiliated goes, that's probably up there as one of the big festive moments for Mr. Ben Turner.

But, you know, I could have lost permanent use of my thumb. I could have suffered from severe head trauma resulting in brain damage. I could have spent a good deal of my high school years relearning how to speak or something. Yet, after suffering for only a few weeks, I got my cast taken off and I was back to playing tennis and sports, back to being the usual active teen. I regained full use of my thumb, and the scars are virtually invisible. It cost a lot of shit to put that light post in straight again, and the car was totaled, and the medical bills really really sucked, but other than that, I went back to normal.

Another interesting tidbit is that a police officer came in and asked me some questions, like if I was drunk. Then he asked me how fast I was going, and I responded that I didn't really remember, adding it was probably around 40 mph. The officer made it very clear that I was speeding in a 35 mph speed limit zone. I'll always remember his "ahh, see, if you followed our rules, you wouldn't be here" tone when he told me I was speeding. So here's a lesson to all you kiddies, straight from Officer Bob -- if you go 5 mph over the speed limit, you're bound to fly off the road, lose complete control of your car, and cause a serious accident. We're all learning here, aren't we?

In all seriousness, what the Hell happened? I have often wished that there were something more to this accident, that it was a sign or a message to me to get my ass in gear or something. Or that it was telling me that I need to pay attention to my life before I steer off the road. Or that I need to be more responsible towards those things which I promise time to. Or that life is a precious thing that shouldn't be taken lightly, because it can be taken away from you in a snap. Or that, DAMMIT, that prune was really full of some hideous bacteria.

But I don't know. I don't know if I can honestly say that I feel certain things happen just to get my attention. I can't say that I feel that I can affect the supernatural. I would like to believe, but what if I just blacked out and hit the post? What if there's no greater explanation beyond my own stupidity and wandering attention?

Could I really have seized up completely, being fully conscious, unable to react when I drove off the road? Or was it not my fault, having suffered a blackout or a seizure (which the doctors suspected) which led me to drive into the post? How much responsibility did I really have?

What did it mean that no other people were involved, that I crashed into an inanimate object without provocation, harming no one, crashing on an empty road where no one would see me? Why was this experience a solitary one? Again, am I just that stupid? Or was this only intended for me to undergo? Was I protected by some being? Why was my life not changed physically, distorting and modifying me in the accident? Why did I return to the way I was before, even after being slammed in the head?

I really don't know how to answer. That's why I write this now. I believe I've fished out all the random memories I have of the event by now, but I still don't have the whole story. A lot is missing. It fits together like a puzzle somehow. The rest of the memories were knocked out of me by the impact and by the shock afterwards. I think there's something intriguing in that. How come I remembered specific details rather than others?

I wish I could remember what song I heard playing when I was standing outside my wrecked car. It was the song from my car stereo, on high volume, as usual. Sometimes I figure if I hear the song on the radio (since they play the same things over ten-year periods), I will somehow be affected by it because some deeper part of me remembers what song it was. Haven't felt that yet. Or have I?

Basically, I only had to endure with these ugly stitches on my forehead which made me look like Frankenstein's monster, and a large cast that shouted out to the world that I was crippled. I was pretty young at the time, so not being able to play sports or do anything really, was a crushing blow to me. It changed the way I had to do things for a few weeks. No running around, no free movement of my right arm, and the prize I had to show everyone of my accident. "What happened?" times 1000 or so. Showering was comical.

It was Hell. I felt like shit. Not only had I done just about the dumbest thing you can do, I felt ashamed and felt as though I had caused my parents great agony (mainly financially). I was stuck inside like a bird with its clipped wings. I didn't feel very sure of myself, whether I had what it took to make the right decision when I really needed to (based on whether or not I froze up and couldn't react when I drove off the road). I had lost (temporarily) something which made me different from everyone else. I was disabled. And as much as I bitched about it and loathed waking up to see that I wasn't just dreaming, I remembered that there are people out there who have it much, much worse. I don't presume to know people with disabilities, but I think being born with one would be a little easier than falling prey to it later in life. I think that you wouldn't know what it was like to have the facilities you lost, if you were born disabled, so it would be a little easier. But if you had lived a good deal of your life, and then your back was mangled such that you were in a car accident, you would have to live with the memory of running about for the rest of your fucking life. That's so fucking cruel, and no god could allow that. I really HATE the thought of being disabled, and I was only disabled for a few weeks. Like I really know how it feels.

I greatly admire people with disabilities. They accept what has happened to them as the way it is, and they learn to live with it, and learn to make themselves better as a result of it. I admire that they often become proud of that disability which makes life more enriching and different for them. For instance, many people who use sign language as their language would not want to have their hearing back if they could, because they are that fierce about their language. All I did was bang up my thumb and head, and here I am trying to chum up to the disabled, yeah? No, not really...I know I can't fully understand. But I did want to get it out that I appreciate what disabled people have to go through.

I was involved in a one-car accident. I didn't harm anyone else with my carelessness and stupidity. Should I feel like a message was being sent to me? Or do I just take out of this car accident what I think will be important for my future? Why did it have to happen? Does there need to be a reason? I'm not terribly religious, so don't expect any fucking Augustinian (I can't stand him) conversion here on the Soapbox, but I do want to believe in the fulfillment of one's potential, and I want to think that some beings are watching over me.

I rather like the Asian take on this subject, that ancestors protect their descendents, watching over them and granting them favor. It makes sense. It puts some importance back into the family that Americans have gradually culled out of their philosophy. It means that divinity is more personal, those guarding you actually having a close connection to you than a distant one. I suppose that most importantly, it means that someone IS protecting us from bad things that aren't meant to happen to us.

I am the only one who will really be influenced by what happened that day. It was a solitary experience. Yet it was life-threatening, and quite serious indeed. Is this supposed to tell me that I am victim to the same risks as everyone else, but the problems that I have will be mine and mine only? I certainly hope so -- I never want to hurt other people as the result of my own actions.

And by the way, I haven't had any other foul-ups on the road -- no tickets, no accidents, no near-misses, nothing. This was a one-time thing, apparently.

My life would have been much worse if some other car on the road took the place of that light post.

But it didn't. And now I am here writing this, treating it far less seriously than I would have if something permanent would have occurred.


 
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