It’s sort of like once the endorphins stop coursing through after something particularly harrowing, or once the pleasant numbness of a local anesthetic wears off and suddenly there’s this PAIN and dear god.
When I was eighteen, I was in a really bad car accident. It was fall, September or October. Chilly but not too bad if you were just passing between buildings and such. I was a freshman in college and young and dumb and clueless. I was pulling out of a church one of my friends had wanted to visit, and had to make a left turn on a fairly busy road with a speed limit of 45, which obviously means most people took it going around 60 mph. Someone behind me honked and I startled, pulling into traffic. I had been looking right and was clear there, but when I glanced left as I was fiddling with the gear shift, thinking about backing out of traffic, all I could see was the grill of the oncoming pickup. I thought I stomped on the brake but I got it mixed up and hit the gas instead, which saved my life.
He hit me only inches behind my head, spinning the car 180 degrees, my back end stopping in the opposite ditch, while his truck slowly inched to a stop on the shoulder. In the stunned silence in my car, my passenger’s seatbelt suddenly retracted with a soft whirr. It was fiddly sometimes and wouldn’t always latch for people, and I could usually get it from the driver’s side, but my passenger hadn’t told me it wasn’t latched, instead opting to hold it into the connector. Her endorphin-laced death-grip on it is probably the only reason she wasn’t flung out of the vehicle. She also miraculously escaped any of the horrible bruising I ended up with from my own seat belt. Nobody was hurt, though both vehicles were completely totaled. I was the worst off, with horrible bruising across my entire abdomen, and my necklace had caught on the seatbelt and cut into my neck, leaving me bleeding a little but otherwise whole. All the windows on my side of the car had exploded except for the windshield, which surprised me, as there was a crack all the way across that one. There was so much glass everywhere, and every time I closed my eyes for weeks, I could hear glass breaking and feel that lurch, like the worst carnival ride ever.
I stepped out of the car, hyperventilating already. This was before the days that everyone had a cell phone, so my passenger and I were stranded a few miles away from campus with no ride home. The church sprang into action- I guess accidents pulling out of their parking lot were common?- and quickly had traffic temporarily stopped as they swept up the worst of the glass and debris in the road, before immediately directing traffic through until the police arrived. They even had orange reflective vests that appeared out of nowhere. A woman in a brownish black fur coat approached me, and put her cell phone in my hand. “Call your mother,” she said firmly.
“But… but… it’s long distance,” I blubbered back, as in those days, a long distance cell phone call was crazy expensive.
“Call. your. mother,” she again ordered me, and she continued to tell me to call mom until I gave in, calling. I was shaking, both from shock and the cold. My stepdad picked up and immediately could tell something was wrong, and I ended up with both of them talking to me, as we had a phone on both floors of the house.
“Are you okay?” they kept asking, and all I could do was cry and repeat, “My car! His car! Ohgod there’s an ambulance coming, I’ve destroyed everything!”
“Are. you. okay?” the repeated demands finally penetrated and I was able to shakily manage a yes, though I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, as I was a college student who presently worked off-campus at a Wendy’s a few times a week, so I didn’t know how I would continue to work there with no car in a city with no bus service, and I had no idea how I was going to pay any fines or for the flatbed that was required to haul my poor car away. My parents wanted me to just breathe already and not worry about it, though I *still* feel guilty for them having to foot that bill.
Thankfully, the responding officer was one of the officers that worked campus police as well, and would often escort me from the freshman lot in no-man’s land in the middle of the night to my own dorm so I wouldn’t break curfew, as I would work dining room close and not get back until 11:30, 11:45, and curfew was 12:00. The other driver admitted he had been speeding, and hadn’t expected me to freeze in front of him- if I’d just continued the turn I would’ve been fine, I had plenty of space. The officer and the man who hit me were both very kind and it ended up being determined as no fault, so I didn’t get a ticket and neither did he.
I’ve been feeling that same kind of numbness for a few days, and it’s starting to wear off. It’s Saturday morning now, and I haven’t managed to fall asleep yet; I’ve been pacing the apartment, trying to get things done with hands that are shaking. I called my bank at 4:30 in the morning because they have 24/7 support and talked to a very nice lady who gave me all the information I will need to call and talk to them about what to do in this new situation. I’ve rewritten my to-do list in outline format in Word. I’ve done the dishes, tidied bills but wasn’t able to read them as my mind is just so tired and out of it, nothing makes sense. I’m already two klonopins in and I don’t think anything’s going to change at this point; I might just skip sleeping entirely, as it’s already six AM, so I will definitely be able to get my sleep cycle back on track tonight after a week of illness and sleeping odd hours as a result.
My brain feels funny, and when I close my eyes, it’s breaking glass and wrenching metal and burning rubber from the tires being shoved across the pavement. It’s been a while since I remembered that accident, that happened ten years ago now. In the shower I’m careful with my hair, fingers cautious for any glass in my hair, and I’m expecting that horrible seatbelt-shaped bruising to spontaneously appear across my chest in its violently purple glory. I want to cry but it feels like that’s just… closed off to me, still.