October 13, 2017
By Ekta R. Garg
There is a time and place for dressing up sentences and paragraphs with prettiness, but sometimes it’s better to come straight to the point. In the interest of keeping drama to a minimum, today is one of those times to drive straight to the heart of the matter.
Two weeks ago, our family got into a car accident.
Physically, everyone is fine. No one suffered any major injuries. Both girls complained about elbow pain the night it happened, and Eleven had pain in her neck—I’m guessing from a mild case of whiplash—that has finally gotten better. Because I was driving and the car that collided with us hit our front driver-side wheel, the steering wheel and side curtain airbags deployed and hit me in the face and on the side of my head. I still feel some pain from that when I wash my face. But we’re still okay. Physically.
In every other way, however, this has been an Experience.
Following is a few tidbits from the last two weeks as we’ve tried to process various aspects and moments of the accident.
The accident happened on a Thursday evening. The next night we collected in the family room, as we do every Friday night, for dinner and a movie. I’d spent the entire day talking to the insurance company as we slowly, painfully, worked through the particulars associated with this type of event, so I welcomed the opportunity to do something normal. I stood at the stove cooking dinner, listening to the TV, allowing the sounds of that normalcy to soothe me.
Nine got up from her spot on the sofa and hurried to me.
“I’m still scared,” she said, anxiety creasing her forehead.
“I know,” I said in a low tone. “Me too. And it’s okay to be scared.”
She looked at me but didn’t say anything. I think she just wanted confirmation that I wasn’t feeding her a parent line, that I meant what I said. Something in my face must have given her the reassurance she needed, because she scampered back to her place on the sofa.
The next day we all drove together in our other car, and the discussion turned to air bags.
Nine, of course, started with her own questions first. She wanted to know about how air bags worked and why there weren’t air bags for the middle seat passenger. That started a discussion on seatbelts, especially for the middle seat.
As the girls get older, I find myself using the Socratic method with them more and more when we talk through situations both real and theoretical. Despite the fact that it meant we had to brainstorm a situation we’d just lived—an accident—I described to Nine what a car goes through when it gets hit from behind.
“When we’re sitting in the car, we’re moving forward even though it feels like we’re sitting still,” I said. “If we get hit from behind and you’re not wearing your seatbelt, you’re still moving forward. And what happens then?”
“I’d go flying forward and hit the dashboard,” she said, thinking it over.
“And there’s no airbag here to stop you,” I explained, “because of all the stuff here on the dash.”
She nodded, understanding the implications and the possibilities behind a lack of safety. Her fear had dimmed somewhat, and even though we had to talk around what had happened—the reality of the airbags actually deploying, our car being struck by another vehicle at a considerable speed—Nine appreciated the information. Information, as they say, is power. In this case, empowerment.
As I drive around town, I’ve become more sensitive to the traffic. Our town isn’t huge, by any means. “Rush hour” here constitutes of enough vehicles on the road increasing a 15-minute drive to 20 minutes. But somehow having those extra cars moving ahead and behind of me makes the road feel a little claustrophobic.
I’m not the only who noticed this, though.
“There are so many cars on the road,” Nine has murmured several times since we’ve gone from activities to home.
There are. But we still have to move around them and with them. So every day that we’re safe on the road means every day that the cars stop closing in around us.
Enough time has passed, however, that we’ve started to see a little bit of humor in some aspects of the accident.
One morning this week as we drove to school, I pulled out of the driveway and turned down a street in our neighborhood to approach the main street.
“Yay, we turned safely!” Nine exclaimed, the pleasure fully evident in her voice. “Sorry, Mamma, I’m just happy.”
“You don’t have to apologize,” I said. “I’m happy about turning safely too.”
“So are we going to cheer every time we turn safely?” Eleven said impishly. “Do you walk around school doing that?”
Nine giggled. “Yup. When I walk down the hall and I go around the corner, I say, ‘Yay for turning safely!’”
Both of them giggled; later that day when they got into the car after school, Eleven asked her sister about her navigation around the school.
“All day long, I kept cheering for turning safely,” Nine said, giggling again.
Since that morning, we’ve been able to laugh about turning safely. We’ve been able to talk about the accident without wincing so much. The kids’ TV viewing is fairly restricted, so they haven’t seen any movies or shows with accidents in them. I have, and it’s tough to get through for those few moments. I know that fear, that split-second impact of the return of the memory of the accident, will fade with time.
My husband said that even though he wished the accident had never happened, maybe the kids will remember it when they get old enough to drive themselves. Maybe the memory of that day will make them consider their choices carefully when they get behind the wheel. It’s possible they’ll drive within speed limits and wait to answer the phone or any texts until they’ve arrived at their destination. Hopefully they’ll check the road three times before crossing an intersection when they want to turn left.
More than anything, I hope the memory of this remains a single one.