When I was seventeen, I got in a really bad car crash. It was my third in less than a year, and ultimately, the straw that broke the insurance company’s back. But more on that later…
The weird thing about my “bad things come in threes” series of vehicular mishaps was that NONE of them could’ve been considered strictly my fault. Even the third and most severe was deemed “no fault” in a state that automatically deems all rear-end crashes to be the fault of the rear-ending driver. (Instead of the rear-endee, of course.) That year, I went through three different beat-up hand me down clunkers. By the end of the year, the back field of our farm looked like some kind of white trash derelicte auto show.
That year, I spent over a month in bed recuperating, during which I discovered for the first time the art of ‘woe is me’ prose. Also, the healing power of trashy vampire romance novels. (Thank you, Laurel K. Hamilton.)
For the record, here’s how it happened…
Accident #1: The Beige, Wood-Paneled Soccer Mom Van (or SMV).
I drove it in lieu of my beloved 1993 Ford Escort which had perished the previous month, on Valentine’s Day while I was driving over a bridge in the rain. No mechanic could figure out why the Escort had died, but it was generally agreed upon that the little $50 car would run no more. Enter the van. From the moment I started driving it, the moniker of “Soccer Mom” hit and stuck. Of course, it didn’t help that I was already rocking a Diane Sawyer hairstyle and a sweaterset-of-the-day wardrobe. (I was heavily involved in student body politics, and while at the time I thought I was going for a Jackie-O look, it was probably a lot closer to a teenage Laura Bush. Yikes.) Until one day my best friend Olivia and I decided to drag race in it. I bounced the SMV into a ditch, puncturing the oil pan and leaving a telltale drip mark all the way back to school. Miraculously, the SMV survived and the insurance company was none the wiser. But less than three months later, just when my parents were on the verge of forgiving me for said mishap, a kid at my school T-boned me when I was crossing the street on my way to school, bathed in early-morning Oregonian fog. The consensus was that the kid was speeding, and I should’ve been crossing the road faster, and also the weather had a somewhat nefarious hand in things. But I prefer to think of it as the perfect storm of vehicular mishaps.
Accident #2: The Harry Potter Truck from Hell.
After the demise of the SMV, I had to borrow my eldest brother’s rattling old pick up truck–which was a stick shift, by the way, the grindy kind–until my dad could find another hunk of junk for under $100 for me to drive. Unfortunately, this was about the time we moved into our new house by the pond. (A bit of background: My dad’s an architect, and while other dad’s had midlife crises, my dad started work on another house. We had three growing up, all designed and built by dear old dad. Each one bigger and supposedly better than the last, but with one hilarious similarity–all of them were built on the same 10-acre plot of farm land. So when I brought my now-husband home with me for the first time, all I had to do was stand on the back deck and point. “That’s the house I was raised in. And that one is where I attended the bulk of high school. And this one is the one my parents moved into when they realized all their kids were gone and they had way too many bedrooms. Which is why we’re sleeping in the living room now.”) So. The house by the pond is built–you guessed it–at the edge of a large pond, which sits at the base of a large hill. We also have cows. Which is why, whenever you enter or leave the property, you have to park your car and get out…open the gate…drive through it…and then park and get out again…finally closing the gate behind you. Unfortunately for me, my brother had never bothered to tell me that the emergency brake of his dinky old truck wasn’t working. In other words, it had a tendency to randomly pop out when it had been engaged. So here I am, parking the truck on the inside of the gate, getting out… walking to open the gate… getting back in, driving through the gate… getting back out to close the gate behind me–and of course, each time I’ve parked, I’ve been engaging the e-brake, because that’s what you DO with a manual transmission vehicle on a large hill. So I’m swinging the gate shut behind said truck, when all the sudden I hear a popping noise. Then I look up, just in time to see the truck come back down the hill toward me. Fortunately, I have catlike reflexes, so I was able to jump out of the way before the truck struck the gate and sent it flying. Unfortunately, I also apparently have a Superman complex, because I then proceeded to chase the truck down the hill… yank the door open… fling myself–okay just the top part of my body–inside, and jam my hand down on the e-brake as hard as I could. Which, surprise surprise, blithely popped right back out again, leaving the possessed truck free to buck me out of the cab and roll over me with the front tire. (I think my mom still has the shirt, by the way, with the perfect tire mark going right across the front.) Luckily, I was mostly unharmed. But as I rolled to a seated position on that hillside, I will NEVER forget the image of that truck rolling and bucking itself down the driveway like the magical car in Harry Potter… gaining speed… hitting a large bump… catching air… and landing directly in the pond with a huge splash, where it sat, mostly submerged and still idling. Like some kind of evil mechanical swamp monster.
Accident #3: The Santa Maria.
My high-school best friend–of drag-racing fame–had a gigantic brown Cadillac that she named La Machina de Mierda. (If you don’t speak Spanish, don’t look this up. If you do, I’m sorry.) After the truck “incident,” I was given the keys to an inferior but very aesthetically similar Grand Marquis, which I named after one of the original pilgrim ships because…well, the thing was basically a boat without sails. Little did I know, the structural integrity of the eyesore collosus was soon to be tested. For, while driving to a play rehearsal for Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods one blissful spring afternoon, I had the misfortune to be tailing a car salesman and his prospective client on my winding country road. As I drove, I remember with perfect clarity that I was rocking out to a cassette tape marked “Cruising to the Oldies,” which had been pilfered from my mom–because this was before regular people had iPods–and the song was Elton John’s Crocodile Rock. (Hence, the rocking.) I came around a blind corner just in time to see the shiny, brand new Volkswagon Toureg SUV in front of me slam on its brakes…soon enough to utter a quick “what the faa,” but not soon enough to give my antiquated brakes time to respond to the riverdance of panic that I was doing with my foot. Brakes locked, I slid into the back of the waiting luxury vehicle at around forty-five mph. And that’s the last thing I remember…until I woke up with some random bystander screaming at me through the window not to move, while said douchebag car salesman was apparently on the other side, urging me to get up and take a stroll around. I also remember that some lady had the foresight to climb into the back seat and hold my head steady, because I was gushing quite a lot of blood… due to the fact that my head had snapped foreward to collide with the sterring wheel. Twice. I didn’t realize it until later, but the antique metal steering wheel had also gone through my FACE, leaving a hole the size of a coin slot right below my lip. About twelve hours, an ambulance ride, and a brief stint of plastic surgery later, I woke up wondering why my jaw felt like it wasn’t supposed to open. Thank god for my friends, who kept me alive over the next few weeks by sneaking me a variety of smoothies, ice cream, and other slurpable foods.
And that, kids, is the story of V’s Car Crash Tri-fecta.
For me, it’s not so much inspiration by pain as it is an exercise in my ability to see things in a more warped and entertaining perspective. My go-to response to personal tragedy isn’t wallowing, but irreverence and humor. The longer the scars take to heal, the funnier it seems later. That’s how I deal with life’s little boo-boos. I think to myself, “Hey this really sucks. But someday, when I get a little bit of perspective, it’s going to make a great story.”
How about you? What does your pain fuel?
Today’s Thursday’s Children post is inspired by this one, which was a really great post on how personal tragedy and/or suffering can influence art.
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