Everything's going fine the night before move-out, until someone decides to take a joyride
|The rainy afternoon had dampened our spur-of-the-moment plans to enjoy the great outdoors, and my friend Brandon and I needed to find a new way to spend the evening. We ended up going to see Iron Man at the nearby “luxury cinema theaters,” the kind that gives you the standard movie theater experience with a fancy lobby and more of a height difference between the seat rows. I could have watched that movie in a derelict gas station while sitting on a plastic crate and it wouldn’t have lessened my enjoyment (well, okay, the crate probably would have made my ass sore, but that’s beside the point). What a great fucking movie: great effects, great music, great comedic timing, great acting, and not a bad storyline. The thing that surprised me the most was, and I do not doubt that some will call me mad, but . . . how damn good Robert Downey, Jr. looks. I don’t remember him being so sexually appealing in U.S. Marshals, hell, I don’t remember him being attractive to me at all in U.S. Marshals. Must be the hair, or the muscles, or the dry humor, or maybe I’m just a sucker for brown eyes.
It would have seemed that the movie was the high point of the evening. We went back to Brandon’s house to look at some web videos, mostly old Abbot and Costello acts. He laughed, and I laughed, then I yawned. It was, after all, past one, and in only twelve hours or so I would be moving out of my residence hall and going back down to Orange. But, as much as I wanted to leave, it was not to be. Brandon insisted that I watch some sci-fi TV show he had downloaded onto his laptop (I was successful in getting him to desist his efforts when I made it clear that I was not interested), and then wanted to show me some music videos on YouTube (wasn’t quite as successful with that one). I tried to introduce him to a little Iron Maiden goodness (hey, he’d just made me sit through twenty minutes of his crummy music, why shouldn’t I try to share my love?), but his Internet connection started acting up and he spent ten minutes trying to fix it. By then I had become very tired indeed, and just wanted to sleep. I managed to convince him to drive me back to the dorm so I could rest up for the trials and tribulations of post-semester move-out. We hopped into his car and headed down Ox toward Mason. On the way, we decided to do something that we had done a dozen times before: take a ride on Hampton Road.
Hampton was a bored teenager’s dream, a winding road in the woods with only the occasional house along its Piedmont-hilled path. Brandon’s father had until recently lived there, so he knew the road well enough to be certain that it would be empty, especially at two o’clock in the morning. As I had gone along with him on previous joyrides, there was little reason for me to anticipate any risk, and so I giggled as much as he as we bounced over the rises and drifted along the turns. I didn’t really care if we ran off the road and died ignobly fused to a tree. My life was worth nothing the moment I got into my father’s truck in ten hours, so why care? However, in the back of my head I could hear a little voice saying, “Wow, it would really suck if this were the night somebody decided to come home late and ended up meeting us on the road.”
A simple glitter through the trees to my right confirmed the worst that Murphy’s Law could have provided: another car, in the other lane, starting down the same curve we were on. That little voice in the back of my mind said, “We’re going to hit that car.” It wasn’t even a question for me, I just knew that collision would be inevitable. The curve was long, but sharp, and at the speed Brandon was going there was no way to confine the car to our own lane. My logical assessment of the situation in that split-second moment of realization was almost Vulcan in accuracy, and emotion. As I came to this conclusion, all I could think was, “What a shame to have to delay the trip.”
I’ve always heard that in the moments before an accident, everything slows down, but that just wasn’t true; if anything I was just thinking faster: We might miss it, it’ll be close but we’ll miss it. What’s that skidding sound? Oh crap, the roads are still wet and we’re hydroplaning. He can’t get the wheels to grip, he can’t stop. Maybe we’ll just graze them. Side-swipe, take out the tail light. No, no we are definitely going to crash. I hope this won’t be too bad, I don’t want anyone to get hurt. Maybe we’ll just tap him. No, we’re going to hit him head on. Oh, oh shit. Oh shit, we’re going to crash!
The front tire on the driver’s side became huge, and then the hood of Brandon’s car crumpled like used tin foil. I know now that I shrieked when we hit, but at the time I didn’t know if I had actually cried out or just thought about it. I started to fly forward, but was halted by a hammer blow to my chest. The seal belt had retracted, slamming all of my weight against one small section of my sternum. I felt something give way, and a spear of pain shot from my breast to my spine. I managed to squeak out, “My chest!” with what air remained, and sat for a moment clutching at my sternum, gasping in pain but trying to force myself to take slow, deep breaths. Brandon put his hands on my shoulders and asked, “Are you all right?” I nodded briskly. “I’m all right, it’s not serious;” though to be perfectly honest, I was slightly-more-than-half expecting to taste blood.
I looked up at the other car, a tan Oldsmobile or some similar make. It was old, all straight lines and sharp angles. The driver was trying to push his air bag away, and looking at us in angry confusion. He didn’t appear to be in any pain or distress; if anything his face was a dramatization of the phrase, “What the fuck?” Brandon was unhurt, though he had to grope about the dashboard in search of his glasses. I felt my face and realized that mind were still in place, though I wasn’t sure how they had managed to remain unmoved. I noticed that smoke was pouring from Brandon’s car, and the engine was making a steady hiss. “I think you should turn off the engine,” I said. He turned off the ignition and got out to check the damage. I thought, Somebody’s going to have to call the police. It was about then that I realized that our air bags had not deployed. Good thing the seatbelts had worked.
The driver and passenger of the other car had also gotten out. There was general cursing and the profanity of deities as Brandon walked over.
“You guys okay?” he asked.
“What the fuck is your problem?” said the driver. He and his friend were young, college-aged. Probably has just gotten out of classes for the summer.
“We couldn’t stop,” Brandon said softly.
More general cursing. “Are you drunk?”
“No, I’m not drunk.”
“Were you speeding?”
“No, we weren’t speeding.” I stopped doing Lamaze and looked up. We had been speeding, maybe not much, but we were certainly going faster than the posted speed limit, and on a wet road, too. I was annoyed, but I was still badly shaken and in pain from the impact and hardly in the mood to argue with his assessment of the situation.
I grabbed the door handle pulled it down slowly. I didn’t want to get out of the car, but I felt like I should make the pretense of being concerned about the damage like the men. Yeah right, concern about the damage to the cars; judging from the smoke that was still seeping from the hood of the car and the aroma of burnt garlic hanging in the air, even I could tell that Brandon’s car would likely catch on fire if he tried starting the ignition. What did it matter which taillight was broken? Shouldn’t we just be happy that nobody (besides me) had been hurt? I managed to get the door open, grab my purse, and climb out of the car.
It was cold, and the air was still damp from the earlier rains. The chill helped to bring me out of my shock, though it did not help my shaking. I could breathe, freely and easily. My chest felt tight and painful around the impact zone, but I could feel nothing poking or digging into my heart or lungs. Nothing serious at all, no need to call for an ambulance. It was at most a fracture, and there’s nothing a doctor can do about that. It was, however, still painful, and every little movement of my upper body seemed to aggravate it. My nose was running just slightly, but even sniffling caused me pain. Not surprising, I thought; a sniffle is triggered by a quick jerk of the diaphragm, causing the rib cage to expand briefly but sharply. I elected to wipe my nose on the sleeve of my sweatshirt; disgusting, but far less painful. I was glad, for reasons that for my female readers should be quite obvious, that the seatbelt retraction had occurred between my breasts.
We managed to push Brandon’s car out of the road and into the driveway of the house across from which we were lucky enough to crash. I laughed a little when I realized that we had crashed just five yards from the only street light for almost half a mile. I might have laughed a lot, had not the movements of my diaphragm caused such teeth-gnashing pain to my damaged sternum.
I was expecting someone to call the police. I mean, that’s what you do when you have an accident, right? You call the police. I know you can get away with not calling the cops when the damage is little more than a dented bumper, but, well . . . the damage to both cars was just a little bit worse than a dented bumper. Just a bit.
What did happen was all three boys whipped out their cell phones—somehow we all had service in this forsaken place. God bless Verizon—and called not the police, not their insurance dealers, but their parents. Yes, even Mr. I’m-Gonna-Graduate-In-A-Year-And-I-Make-A-Thousand-Dollars-With-Every-Paycheck-And-I-Only-Live-At-Home-When-My-Mom-Needs-Something was calling his mother for help. I wanted to laugh, but the combination of a reluctance appear rude to these people my companion had but recently almost killed and the memory of the pain last time I laughed quickly smothered my sense of humor. It did make me feel better to know that Cindy, Brandon’s mother, was on the way.
I leaned up against the car to silently bemoan my circumstances. It had to happen the night before I had to move out of my dorm. How was I going to get my crap out? I couldn’t breathe without feeling pain, and I was supposed to lift a forty pound mini-fridge? Dammit, it was already two-thirty in the morning. That gave me less than twelve hours to get back to the dorm, sleep, and pack up before lugging my things to the truck. Would I be able to get one of those carts from the housing office? Would I be able to control one of those carts from the housing office? I was hard-pressed to walk in a straight line at the moment, let alone maneuver one of those piles of rolling rust Hanover Hall had to offer. Dammit, this had to happen now!
I ended up calling my parents to let them know what had transpired. It only seemed prudent to explain to my impatient father why it was going to take me so long to load my things into his truck. I figured it would be a short call, the standard, “Hey, just wanted to let you know that I was in a car wreck, but I’m not hurt! Kay, thanks, bye!” I should have known it couldn’t have gone that smoothly when my mother picked up.
“Hey, just thought I should let you know, I was just in a car accident.”
“What?!” Fuck, she was shrieking. I was getting a headache, too. Couldn’t she just listen calmly for once, and save the concerned mother act for when I got home? She knew damn well that if I was healthy enough to dial a phone, I could not have been too badly damaged.
“Everything is fine, nobody got hurt,” I said, hoping she would calm down.
“Was anyone drinking?” A reasonable enough question. If only she didn’t sound so hysterical. Then again, she was typically hysterical over the slightest little problem; it just seemed so much more annoying after slamming one’s chest against a safety feature, pushing a totaled, twisted hunk of metal into some person’s muddy driveway, standing around in the cold for what felt like an hour, and delaying to a great extent my return to my warm, comfortable (sort of) bed so I could wake up early and finish packing before taking on the now even more difficult task of moving heavy objects from my dorm room to the street and lifting them into my father’s truck.
But, she wasn’t the sort to understand my stress level, so I just sighed and answered: “No, nobody was drinking. I was with Brandon, and he doesn’t drink.”
“Where were you sitting?” Wait, what? Why the hell does that matter?
“It doesn’t matter—the passenger seat,” I corrected. I really didn’t want to give her an excuse to flip out, even if the question was insignificant.
“What did the insurance company say?!” The accident had just happened. We had just gotten out of the cars, checked ourselves for injuries, and moved the cars off the road. Calling the insurance company was hardly the first priority here! And even if the boys had called their respective insurers right away, there’s no way that they would have gotten an estimate fifteen minutes after the damn collision!
“I don’t know. It’s not important,” I said.
“Who was in the other car?!”
“Some . . . guys? Why does this matter?”
“It matters!” No, it doesn’t. “Was anyone in the other car injured?”
“I just told you they weren’t! I got hurt the most, and it can’t be worse than a fractured sternum.”
“Do you want me to come get you!?” That was the last thing I wanted, especially considering how badly she drives in broad daylight when she’s not pretending to so very, terribly worried about someone just to get people looking in her direction.
“No, I’m fine, and I’ll be moving out in several hours anyway, and if there’s a problem I can go to the doctor then. It’s all fine.”
“What kind of car does Brandon drive?”
“I don’t know, I don’t care, and I’m not going to bother to find out.” Why was she asking this crap? I was in pain, it was cold outside, and there was no telling how long we would all be standing out there waiting for everyone’s mom to come and decide what to do, and she wanted to know what kind of fucking car I was in! I don’t know how I was able to get her to hang up the phone, but I did, then leaned back against Brandon’s car and thought, This is what I’m going back to. I wanted to cry.
The parents arrived. After hearing our accounts of what had happened, they decided not to call the police. I’m pretty sure that’s not very legal, but it’s on their shoulders, not mine. The insurance information was exchanged, and the tow trucks were called. It took an eternity for them to arrive, and when they finally did, it took almost as long for them to hook up to the cars. They were these unwieldy vehicles with long flatbeds, almost too long to even drive on Hampton, much less tow away awkwardly positioned cars. I couldn’t help but wonder why the company would use such poorly-designed trucks; the standard pickup-with-a-winch is far more maneuverable, and much smaller. Then again, why should I care? It wasn’t my car being towed. Cindy offered to drive me to the emergency room, but I just wanted to get back to my room and get some sleep.
The dorm. Peace. Serenity. Salvation. And most importantly, hoarded painkillers from my wisdom tooth extraction and latest bout with migraines. I was very unhappy: I was badly shaken by the whole experience, chilled from standing outside in the damp air for three hours, absolutely exhausted, and my chest was hurting more than ever. I was fucking miserable, but I was about to become a lot happier: it was time for some codeine painkilling goodness.
I peeled off my sweatshirt very, very carefully, then popped two Tylenol-3 tablets. For good measure, I took a Phenergan for nausea; I hadn’t eaten for hours and still felt queasy from the whole ordeal, and I really didn’t want to waste precious painkillers by throwing them up. Then it was time to get into bed. Oh, God how I wanted to get into bed!
I stared down at my regulation college air mattress with doubt in my heart. It didn’t look intimidating, at least not any more intimidating than usual. It was my old friend, closer to me than any man (then again, the seat I choose on the subway to get from Vienna/Fairfax-GMU to Metro Center is closer to me than any man), my cushion for two years. I’d normally just flop down on it, squirm about for a bit until finding a comfortable position, and drift off to the Land of Morpheus (that’s Greek god of sleep Morpheus, not Laurence-I-fight-the-Matrix-Fishburne Morpheus), but I was fairly sure that my chest would not appreciate a rough descent. I sat down on the bed, turned my body along the central axis, and lowered my torso slowly. Slow or fast didn’t seem to matter, however; the descent caused a horrible grinding and gripping feeling in my chest, a piercing pain that indicated that my hopes for mere bruising were in vain, and something inside me was broken. Damn,i I thought, maybe I should have gone to the emergency room.
Ten minutes on the bed, and I realized something: Shit, I thought, I forgot to brush my teeth. I groaned, lifted myself slightly to roll toward the edge of the bed, and was knocked back into the supine by a stabbing pain. Dammit, the meds hadn’t kicked in yet. I wasn’t sure how to go about getting up. Was oral hygiene really that important? I breathed into my hand to smell my breath. Yes. Yes it was.
Okay, I thought, we’re going to try this. I tried to roll onto my side so I could push myself up with both arms. I had formed only the slightest angle with my torso when Pain! I had to abort. I tried to raise myself from my recumbency by drawing back my arms and putting the weight on my elbows, but No good! The arm muscles are unfortunately connected in some way to the muscles of the chest, and the activation of the former were triggering the latter, causing the injured area to—aw to hell with anatomy, I just want to get out of this fucking bed! Maybe the other direction, no, no, that’s not going to work at all! I lay flat, at a loss. It was quite a dilemma: I needed to get up, but to do so I could neither allow my chest turn even the slightest degree nor could I employ the use of my arms. It finally occurred to me, after so much pain and frustration, to lift my torso straight up by the contracting of my abdominal muscles. Now how fucking obvious is that? How simple that solution was, how very elegant. To this day I can’t believe it took me so long to figure it out. It must have been the meds.
I woke up without too much pain, thanks to the powers combined of acetaminophen and codeine, and noticing no problems with my breathing decided against seeing a doctor that very minute. I was still tired as hell, and I just wanted to get back to bed as soon as possible. I managed to procure a cart from the housing office for the purposes of moving my heavy shit from room to truck without actually having to lift anything. Steering the thing was a real bitch, especially since everything kept trying to slip off, and having to use my arms made me wince, but the Tylenol-3 held. I checked out and we started on the two-hour drive to Orange, which was actually seeming not a bad destination for once. My father took pity on me and bought me The Chronicles of Narnia he saw me eyeing while in Best Buy, then we continued on our journey.
When we got to the house, I dropped my purse on the floor, said hello to my cats (well, two of them; Amber was hiding somewhere when I got home), and staggered off to my room to read—after renewing my dose of Tylenol-3, that is. I read the first Chronicle, took another Tylenol-3, and passed out around eleven or so (quite early for me, since all the good stuff on the History Channel comes on around midnight). As I drifted off into my drug-aided sleep uncharacteristically quickly for someone with my degree of insomnia, surrounded by images of children and rings and lions and that Jadis bitch, an unsettling thought bubbled upward toward the surface of my conscious mind and popped me into waking: Shit, I thought, I forgot to brush my damn teeth.