On Thursday evening – four days ago – I got in a car crash. It was bad. It was also my fault.
I was driving through the middle of nowhere, headed North along the coast, on my way to be with a friend in crisis. The sun was at that point just above the horizon when it’s blazing directly into your eyes, and you have to flick the visor from side to side to side with one hand while you steer with the other just to see the pavement ahead of you.
I didn’t expect a stop sign anywhere along that particular stretch of road, empty as it seemed. I wasn’t looking out for one, but even if I had been I was blinded, and I wouldn’t have spotted it. So when one suddenly appeared, I drove straight through it at 40 miles per hour. A man turning from the opposite lane hit me directly on the driver’s side door (it’s called a “T-bone”; I know terms like this now) and my car and I went flying off the road into a field, where we crashed through wheat and dirt and narrowly missed telephone poles, and finally came to a stop.
The first thing I did was look for Lucy. Was she in the backseat? Was she okay? Had she been flung from the car? Then I remembered that Lucy was, of course, already many months gone, so I turned my attention towards the fact that the car was smoking. That was OK if the smoke was coming from the airbags, but much less OK if it was coming from anywhere else.
Both cars involved were totaled. Both drivers involved walked away on their own (“self-extricated”) with no real injuries to speak of. I have a burn on my arm, and whiplash, both of which feel incidental. The officer on the scene was so kind that he verged on jubilant, which seemed strange until he told me that, based on the witness’s 911 call, he hadn’t expected to find me alive.
Early that morning, Thursday morning, my beloved cat – my sweet old man, Marty, who came into my life when his owner passed away and who immediately became my honest-to-god soulmate and true love, sleeping with his chin resting on my shoulder and following me everywhere I went – got out through a crack in the laundry room door. I noticed it just before dawn, when I woke up to take out our puppy. I slipped into sandals so I could do a perfunctory peek around the carport. We lost a cat to coyotes earlier this year, but still: I wasn’t especially worried.
See, Marty is different. He is elderly, and fundamentally sedentary. The only other time he got out he just sat in the driveway and waited to be let back in. He loves me, and he loves his special morning meal; he would not stray. Neighbors tell me that the coyotes haven’t been around for a few months – no one knows why, but everyone says so. Even if they were lurking around, they wouldn’t come into our driveway – would they? Except it’s been four days now, and although I’ve made the signs and posted the posts and mobilized the local teenagers, Marty may be gone.
That is my fault, too.
I was distracted, as I so often am. I missed the sign. I missed the warning. I missed the crack in the door.
After the wreck, I stood on the side of the highway with the various items I’d pulled from the smoking car piled in my arms – an overnight bag; a toiletry kit; a package of toilet paper. I hadn’t known what it made sense to leave behind, so I’d taken whatever I could carry. I asked the police officers on the scene where I was, what town was this. I called my insurance agency, and Kendrick, and my parents, and once or twice the officers had to stop me from wandering into the road. Eventually the tow truck driver was kind enough to drive me into the little town next to the highway where I’d crashed. He parked outside a Marriott in case I wanted to sleep there, but I had smoke in my hair and cuts on my legs and I was scared. I called a ride-share service, and asked the driver to take me to my friend’s house – the one I’d been on my way to in the first place. I paid – illegally – in cash, because the driver said he didn’t want to go that far. It was an hour and a half away, but it was still closer than home.
My girlfriends and I – there were three of us total there this weekend, drawn together by the bat signal that true friends spot when things fall apart – spent the last two days trying to hold each other together while also trying our best to follow rules that have grown more confusing by the day. We washed our hands, over and over and over again. We wiped down surfaces, and walked in fields absent of others. One morning, we put on our masks and drove into town, where we saw outdoor restaurants bustling with patrons eating and drinking very literally shoulder to shoulder. I sanitized my hands and ventured into a shop, where I bought a blanket from a man who thanked me too cheerfully. I know he needed that sale.
We ordered sandwiches from a deli, then found a little park table at which to eat them. We didn’t know whether that was okay – we were distanced from others, sure, but we still had to take our masks off to chew. A couple of hundred feet away, there was an outdoor church service in progress. Or maybe it was a protest? Some of the attendees were holding homemade signs, but I couldn’t read them from that far away.
While we ate our sandwiches, I tapped insurance information into an app and tried to figure out how to get back home without getting behind a wheel, because I don’t know that I’ll be able to do that again for a long, long time. I booked a train ticket that would get me relatively close to home, and paid extra for a private sleeper cabin that I wiped down with bleach when I entered. That’s where I’m sitting now, trying to keep the Wifi going long enough to write this post. When I breathe in, the mask is sucked free of air and sticks to my face. I wish I’d paid more for the 100% cotton version rather than the polyester one, because at least then it would absorb the sweat.
Over the weekend, I watched along with the rest of the world while fires blazed and journalists were shot and black men linked arms to protect a white police officer who’d been separated from his squad. The scenes playing out on my tiny phone screen throw the concept of personal sadness into high relief. To mourn a dead pet, or a car crash, or the possibility of not seeing your parents for months or years or forever: Which, if any, are permitted these days, with such a vast canvas spread before us demanding our tears?
My neck aches; my heart hurts; my soul is weeping. I’m trying to put my feelings into some kind of order of operations, but I don’t know which of them take precedence. My cat, my heart, my country.
I suppose what I mean by all of this is that I’m sorry for how very much I’ve failed to notice in my lifetime. I didn’t see it. I was blinded. I was blind. I am sorry.