The tires probably didn’t screech as much as skate like water skis along a choppy surface. I say “probably” because I don’t remember what happened. That was the day I lost my memory. But I gained something too. I gained ten more years.
Driving to work in my little red Dodge Neon in the freezing rain, I hit a puddle of water backed up from bad drainage along I-81. I lost control and veered into the path of a tractor trailer, which pushed me into a guard rail.
My Neon folded like an accordion. My airbag did not release, but I survived, with little more than scrapes and brain bruising, whiplash, and a concussion. The brain bruising is why I don’t remember any of it. For six hours, I lost the ability to make memories.
What I do remember is being at City Hospital in Martinsburg, W.V. My car was totaled — everything inside rain soaked and all but ruined. My Verizon phone survived its icy bath, but my new winter coat was gone. My clothes were gone, cut off me by paramedics who couldn’t risk worsening a possible spinal injury.
Six hours later when my husband told me what happened, I said I thought I remembered spinning.
It was Friday, and I stayed in ICU until Saturday when I was transferred to a regular room. They released me Monday night.
The hospital couldn’t reach my husband at first, so they called my emergency contacts in a datebook I had started carrying a week earlier — the one my friend Chrissie gave me when I had my wisdom teeth removed. My mother-in-law called my parents, then Citigroup where I worked at the time, and then my weekend barista job.
My mom picked up my brother at school on her way down from New Jersey, and when I reminded her of yesterday’s date, she said she remembered driving down Pennsylvania roads lined with ice-covered trees.
The Saturday newspaper article was the closest I got to figuring out what happened. The police declared the accident weather related, and the city of Martinsburg billed me for damaging their guardrail.
But ten years later I’m still here.
I almost didn’t remember this anniversary was coming up. It was the approach of Valentine’s Day that did it.
The white Dodge Neon I have now passed 200K miles in December, and in two weeks, it also will celebrate ten years.
The first neon saved my life when my driver’s seat broke and I fell backwards as the roof caved in. The second one gave me ten more years.
I’d like to say I’ve used these ten years wisely, but maybe it’s good I haven’t, because then I wouldn’t really be living, would I? But I do hope I never forget how easily I could have died that day and that something kept me alive for a reason.