During Thanksgiving, my family and I were discussing one of my cousin's new learner's permit. Which of course brought up the subject of my learner's permit. I actually didn't get my learner's permit until I was sixteen and didn't get my driver's license until I was seventeen, a year later than all my peers. This may be surprising because I obviously love to drive and spend a lot of time behind the wheel.
But before I became I dedicated road tripper, I was terrified of driving because of a traumatic car accident. When I was fifteen and a half, I was riding in a car on the way to church. There were five of us in the car, the driver, one person in the passenger seat, and three of us in the back. I was in the middle seat (also known as the Jesus seat because if you were in an accident, you better pray to Jesus. This was, of course, a little ironic.) On our way to church we were passing through an intersection when a car turning right on red suddenly appeared in front of us. We hit the car and the driver spun the wheel left as hard and fast as she could, trying to avoid a bigger collision. But she lost control of the car. We crossed three lanes of traffic, jumped a curb, and crashed into the side of a brick apartment building.
My memory of the actual accident is a little hazy. Mostly because I suffered a concussion. I remember only flashes. I remember seeing the car and thinking, "We're going to hit him." I remember hitting my head a couple times. Then I remember jumping the curb and seeing a brick wall coming at us. All I thought was, "We're going to crash." I didn't experience any existential crises. My life didn't flash before my eyes. All I could do was try to understand what was happening so quickly. And then be grateful I was wearing my seatbelt. Because if I hadn't, I would have flown through the windshield, become a skid mark by the side of the road, and I certainly wouldn't be alive today to write this.
We stumbled out of the smoldering wreck, confused by alive. But things got worse. The girl in the passenger seat began walking down the side walk when she collapsed, not breathing. The airbag had caused a asthma attack and she could not breathe. Luckily, a nurse who had been driving by pulled over and performed CPR. An ambulance arrived quickly to take everyone to the hospital, although I did not go. In my concussion-induced confusion, I was completely unaware of where I was and what was happening so I insisted I was fine. It wasn't until I got home that I realized the seatbelt had burst the capillaries on my waist and I was bleeding through my sister's sundress I had borrowed for the day.
For about a year after the accident, I became terrified of being in a car. Not just driving, but even being a passenger. I would have panic attacks at intersections and hyperventilate every time I got behind the wheel. I would take many months before I would stop seeing cars as moving death machines and start to embrace the freedom the road offered.
As odd as this may sound, I am actually grateful for the experience. I am an extremely careful driver and have only been in one accident behind the wheel. I have learned to anticipate the stupid decisions drivers make on the road and how to avoid them. I have learned how to not make those stupid decisions myself. And most importantly, I always wear my seatbelt. I know how suddenly and unexpectedly things can go wrong on the road and I know that wearing my seatbelt saved my life.
So for all you out there taking roadtrips, wear your seatbelt and be careful. The road is a magical place, but it can also be dangerous.