I didn’t think this would be a great weekend. My wife’s cousin was killed in a motorcycle accident last weekend and we planned to drive over to Orlando for the service set for Saturday (tomorrow).
We were leaving work early this morning to pack, pick up the kids, and head over to my sister’s house tonight. She was letting us stay there so we wouldn’t have to foot the bill for a hotel.
I wasn’t surprised when my phone rang, just after I got in the car outside my office. I was kind of expecting Cheryl’s call. She’s big on plans. You know… making them, confirming them, driving you a little crazy with them.
“Hi. I… um… I was just in an accident. Someone hit me head-on. I’m fine. They’re taking me to Mease Dunedin (Hospital).”
There were several things about this statement I didn’t like. First off, Cheryl’s tone seemed overly bubbly. If you know Cheryl you know she’s not bubbly. It’s not that she’s an unhappy person, she’s just not cheerleader-happy all the time. Oh, and did I mention she said her mother was there? Cheryl was calling her while the guy in the other car was calling 911 (she lives down the street). “They’re taking me to the hospital,” implies an ambulance rather than her mother… otherwise she would have said: “she’s taking me to the hospital,” right? Besides, why would you need to go to the hospital if everything was fine? The “head-on” bit had me in a panic.
I thought, “Maybe she really is alright. At least she was talking to me, right? How bad could it be?”
If you think that little bit of rationalization worked you don’t know me at all. As it happens, I was listening to possibly the worst piece of music for the occasion: Barber’s Adagio for Strings. Not on purpose, it just happened to be on.
My direct route to the hospital was blocked by a stalled truck (the tractor-trailer variety), so I doubled back a bit, taking a route which took me by the accident site. It was still there. I saw the other car first.
A Sheriff’s deputy and a State Trooper were still there, and I was still at least fifteen minutes away from the hospital, so I pulled over to see if they had any good news. “Your wife seemed fine. She was complaining about some neck pain but she was moving and talking before the paramedics came. They took her in as a precaution.”
According to the trooper (and my wife a little later), Cheryl was heading into a sweeping curve on the two lane road when a car coming from the other direction (speeding, inside the curve) lost control and swerved into her lane. As you can see from the picture above, it wasn’t the head-on collision I imagined. It turned out his tires were bald. If there had been a little more tread they might have really hit head on. Instead, it looked like he tried to gun it coming out of the curve, his front tires lost traction, and his car stopped turning. He didn’t just veer over the center line, his car shot off across the street… towards the lake he would have ended up in if Cheryl’s car hadn’t hit him.
The other thought flashing before my eyes, as I took in the scene: what if my wife was another second faster, a little further up the road when he lost control? He could have hit her from the side, like she did to him… only he was going faster, in a bigger car, and she would have been hit on the driver’s side, not the passenger side.
My knees felt a little weak. I asked the trooper if he needed anything from me, and when he shook his head I left. I turned off the radio. My mother in law was waiting for me in the waiting room. They were still doing some tests. I hadn’t taken off my sunglasses. I don’t know if they were fooling anyone, or why I (of all people) cared. When we were allowed to go back, we found Cheryl laying down in her very own ER pod… in her suit, her head, neck and upper torso secured to an impressive piece of hardware, and with a shy little smile on her face that melted my heart.
She said to me, “you know, we just made the last payment on it.”
“You know, when you called me I didn’t believe you.”
“What do you mean?”
“When you said you were o.k…. I didn’t believe you.”
“I am you know. I’m o.k.”
“I know now,” I whispered. “I’m so glad you’re o.k.”
Cheryl’s mom had her camera with her and took all of these pictures (plus a lot more, just in case… for insurance). We didn’t notice it right away, but if you look closely at the middle picture (follow the link to an enlargement) you can see Cheryl strapped into a backboard and neck brace on the ground. If you look even closer you can see her cell phone in her hands. Guess who she just finished talking to?