Breathe

I stood in the middle of the disaster, and after taking everything in, just started to scream. I screamed, and screamed, and screamed.

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Story time, again.

If you thought the last one was intense, you haven’t seen anything yet. This one is a roller coaster ride of feelings, of which I have debated on writing for a while now. With encouragement from a few close individuals, I’ve decided to write it down.

Car crashes. We’ve all heard of them, some of us have even been in one or two. Some more serious than others.

I was one of those teenagers that was convinced I would never get into a car crash. I was a good driver, thanks to my parents. On October 15, 2010, I found out that no one is immune. It’s been almost 7 years since it happened, and yet it still affects my life in many ways.

I’m getting ahead of myself. You want to know what happened, right?

I was driving a Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder, stick shift. I was pretty proud of learning stick shift as fast as I did. I remember my mom telling me that the only way I could drive it to my first day of college was if she were convinced that I knew how to (she had driven a stick shift for years when she was younger).

My ex boyfriend was in the passenger seat, and 4 of my friends were in the back. Yes, yes, I know. I KNOW. Irresponsible and stupid. My ex boyfriend had suggested using two cars, and I stubbornly said no because I didn’t see the point. We were only going 25 minutes away to a football game. We’d be fine. So we all piled into the car. 3 boys, 3 girls. My two girlfriends sat on the laps of the two boys in the back. They tried to put the seatbelts over themselves, and one couple managed to, but the other didn’t.

Fallout Boy was playing on the stereo.

We got about 4 minutes from my parents house when it happened.

There’s a statistic out there that says people are less cautious when driving close to home. Something about being so close to home makes them feel safer, invincible. I don’t know if that was my case.

While rounding a curve I had driven many, many times before, I reached over to change the CD that was playing. I’d done this plenty of times, no problem. Except this time, between all of the laughter and talking in the car, focusing on the road, and just plain stupidity on my part (I could have asked my boyfriend to change it for me instead), I went off of the road to the right about a foot.

This is no excuse, of course, but I know plenty of people have driven off the side of the road a little and got right back on without any issues. This time, for some reason, my boyfriend got extremely freaked out and screamed.

Note to others: do not suddenly scream when someone else is driving unless you are completely sure of a problem.

I heard him scream, and out of instinct I assumed maybe something had come out in front of us. It was a 2 second decision, one that changed all of our lives.

I jerked the wheel to the left, trying to avoid whatever it was he was screaming at, because by the time he screamed I was already back on the road. Delayed reaction, maybe? I don’t know.

I overcorrected.

My mom had always told me that if I got into a crash, cover my head with both of my arms as best as I could. I didn’t do that at first.

At first, I gripped the steering wheel so tight that the two rings I was wearing were bent completely out of shape afterwards. I still have one of them, and you can still tell that it had been warped back into place by my dad.

I kept my eyes closed tight, scared of any glass or anything else getting into them, so I don’t know what exactly caused my car to end up in the position it did. The police assumed it must have rolled, but I don’t know. Looking at pictures today, I still can’t make sense of it. I really wish I could.

But I do remember everything else. I remember the screaming, the sound of crunching metal, the feeling of my head slamming to the left. I remember frantically thinking to myself, “Is this really happening?!“.

Apparently, I was knocked out. I didn’t even know this until a few days later when one of the other passengers told me they had woken up after the first, found me hunched over the steering wheel, and tried to wake me. Didn’t work.

When I did wake up, Fallout Boy was still playing.

What a soundtrack.

I remember the smell of the airbags and dirt. 7 years later, I still smell it sometimes. Completely random, for no reason at all.

I remember hearing my boyfriend saying my name. I looked around, confused, not understanding what had just happened. I was the only one left in the car. Everything in the car was shattered. Blood and dirt were covering me. To my right, the car door was wrapped around a tree, but around the side where I could have reached out and touched the tree. I have no idea how that happened. Behind me, part of the convertible bar had gone straight through the back of the car. Later, I was told that if they hadn’t been ejected, the ones sitting in that spot would have been hit by it.

My boyfriend came around my side of the car, missing his glasses and the button on his pants. He reached for me, pulling me out of the car, because I couldn’t do it myself.

I remember my first thought. Where are they?

They were scattered. I walked around to the back of the car, and found one of them unconscious on the ground. I remember their red hair vividly. I reached down to make sure they were still breathing, and cried when I realized they were.

I remember looking up and seeing two others. One hunched over the other, who was on their back on the ground. The one hunched over was on a phone, presumably calling 911. They were desperately trying to wake the one on the ground. I had a sick feeling in my stomach when I stared at the one on the ground. They weren’t breathing, and I had to turn away.

At that moment, one more came running up. They had been the first to wake, and had run to a house nearby for help, which was on the way. Once they stood still, they said their back and neck were hurting. Terrified, I told them to sit down, and they didn’t get back up after that. It’s a wonder that they walk today.

My boyfriend wandered off looking for his glasses, a nasty gash on the back of his hand. He still has the scar today.

I stood in the middle of the disaster, and after taking everything in, just started to scream. I screamed, and screamed, and screamed. I couldn’t stop. Not until people started arriving.

The first was a car. The color was light, I don’t remember specifically what. But they were driving by, saw what had happened, stopped, and backed up. I found out later on that the person driving was actually my cousin, someone I hadn’t even seen in a very long time. What are the odds?

More people started showing up. I remember a man coming up to me, asking if he could help, and me asking if I could use his phone.

I am horrible at remembering phone numbers. Somehow I remembered my moms. I called her, and surprisingly she answered. I had to repeat it multiple times for her to understand what had happened. She and my dad took off.

Later on, she swore that my name showed up on her phone when I called, even though it was impossible.

Everything that happened next was a blur. Ambulances and cops arrived. My parents arrived. I sat on the side of the road, my mom on one side, boyfriend on the other, and a cop in front of me. I was told it wasn’t my fault. It was an accident.

I did something that garnered me much hatred later on. I got a phone, and announced on Facebook what had happened. I was in shock. I was supposed to be picking another friend up after dropping everyone else off, and that was the fastest way for me to tell them something had happened.

One of the two unconcious people woke up. I remember them screaming that they wanted their mom, over and over again. They went into an ambulance. The one I had told to sit down also went into an ambulance. The other unconscious one was still on the ground. An old woman had shown up, and to this day no one has been able to figure out who she was or where she came from. I was told later on that she prayed over the one still gone, and after the medics worked on them, they finally started breathing again.

I remember their hand shooting up into the air, reaching for something, anything.

Into the ambulance they went with the other.

My boyfriend and I were the only ones remaining.

Around now, I noticed a gash on the back of my arm. I still have the scar.

That same old woman made her way to me. She went right by the cops as if they weren’t even there. She got right in my face, stared me straight in my eyes, and told me not to blame myself; that what had happened was an accident and it wasn’t anyone’s fault. She walked off, and I haven’t seen her since.

I didn’t want to go into an ambulance. I was determined that I was fine. They told me I had to, that there could be internal injuries that I didn’t know of because of all the adrenaline. After arguing, I finally complied, as did my boyfriend, who went into a separate ambulance despite wanting to go with me.

They strapped me up, put a neck brace on me, and loaded me up.

On the way, the shock wore off, and the crying started again. I literally could not stop. I was shaking uncontrollably, crying uncontrollably, and the medic with me was desperate to help. Blankets were piled on me, but nothing worked. I don’t remember going into the hospital. I do remember events much later on. I remember being moved to get scanned, still crying, and the young nurse with dark hair telling me he wished he could help me.

I remember the look on his face.

Much later, I was put back into my room, still strapped down. It had been hours. A phone went off next door, and my mom came in to tell me that was where my boyfriend was. I asked her about everyone else, and cried when I found out how horrible of a condition they were all in. My tears were nothing compared to what they were going through, but it was all I could do.

At some point, a cop apparently came in and talked to me. I have no recollection at all of it. They even came back by my room before leaving to check on me, and I still don’t remember it. I do remember that the friend I was supposed to be picking up beat everyone to the hospital. I remember him coming in just when they were finally letting me sit up for the first time since getting there. He took my hand, hard, and helped lift me up. I almost fell back over because of being so lightheaded. I’ll never forget it, and I’ll always have a place in my heart for him because of it.

He left, and my dad came in alone. Now, my dad is not a crying man. He is a hard, tough man. I’ve barely ever seen him cry. But that evening, looking at the shape I was in, he cried. I won’t forget that, either, even if he has.

3 of us had minor physical injuries, while the other 3 were in horrible condition. 7 years later, all 3 of them are living happy lives. They are walking, in love, and despite carrying what happened with them in their minds and in their scars for the rest of their lives, they survived.

My healing was, and is, a long road. My only physical injuries were some memory problems that I still have trouble with, the gash on my arm, and bad whiplash. I did not suffer as much physically as the others, I know that. My heart hurts daily for them. Mental injuries? Those were big. It’s been 7 years and I still freak out every single time I get in a car. My anxiety shoots through the roof, and I literally cannot calm down until I’m out of the vehicle. I still have nightmares and anxiety attacks from reliving what happened. It was extremely hard for my mom to get me behind the wheel of a car again. I didn’t want to at all. But she made me. She said that if I didn’t do it, I would never do it.

I was blamed completely for what had happened, even though the cops had said I wasn’t speeding and it was an accident. I was charged with speeding only because it is a basic thing they do in nearly every car crash that happens, especially one as bad as the one I was in. That is what I was told.

My insurance was sued by everyone, and one in particular sued me personally. I’ll never forgive or forget, and I’m not going to be silent or ashamed for saying it. Their reason for suing me personally and making recovery even worse? I got a new car. It didn’t matter that I had to get a new car because I was still in college and had to have a way to class. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t use my moms car forever. It didn’t matter that I was required to go to class a week later or I would be dropped. It didn’t matter at all.

Just before I got sued personally, a nasty fight had happened between myself, them, and another involved in the crash, all over a boy who doesn’t even matter anymore. The damage was done, and someone I thought was my best friend was suing me. I hadn’t been to their hospital room every day of their recovery. I wasn’t at their house every day after they came home. But they were always on my mind, and my life didn’t just stop because of what had happened. I had to keep going on with college and everything, because I hadn’t suffered the injuries everyone else had.

After it all, I was able to count the number of friends I had on one hand.

I felt abandoned, alone, unwanted. I felt hurt. I felt a rage that still burns in my core sometimes today. I had lost everything I counted important. I moved out of town, away from it all, but the lawsuit was still there, a constant reminder.

A year of it went on. A year of meetings, phone calls, emails, worry. During all of this, my mom began getting sick. It turned out she had a brain tumor, and it was inoperable. Somehow, I survived through all of it, with her help and her love. She died a couple of years later.

I met my husband, and I remember laying with him one morning and getting the phone call that the suit had been settled because my ex boyfriend had given his deposition, which freed me from blame. That was what I was told. I don’t know if it is the true reason or not.

I hadn’t been able to listen to Fallout Boy since the crash. I know, stupid and silly. But it was there. Hearing them would send me into a panic attack, every time. One evening in 2011, I sat on a bench in a park with my husband (then boyfriend) as he played the song that had been on the stereo. For the first time, I felt what it would be like to be able to breathe again.

What happened was a true test of inner strength. On all involved. We could have all given up, but no one did. Everyone took their first steps, both physically and mentally. And then another step. And another. We all grew, we all healed in our own way. I may not forgive or forget, but I have made my own peace with what happened. Writing it all out was my last step.

We have gone our separate ways, but they will all forever have a spot in my heart because of what happened. Even the one that hurt the most.

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