You Never Know
“I was in an accident!”
My wife’s voice sounded very small, distant on the phone. She was crying hysterically, her words running together. She must be in shock.
“Are you okay?!” I asked, not at all sure what was happening.
“No!” she wailed. Or at least that’s what it sounded like. Then, there was another voice, a woman.
“Are you okay, sweetie?”
“The lady…” my wife started to say, and then the phone went dead.
I stood up, gathered my wallet and keys and left my home office. “No, no, no, no!” The denials came out of me involuntarily as I opened the side gate and went to my car. I needed to get to her, fast! She has to be okay!
As I approached, I could see the windshield and the windows were glistening in ice.
This can’t be happening, I thought. Not now!
After turning on the car and cranking the heat on the windshield, I rushed inside the house. My wife was never hysterical. The only times I’d ever heard her like this was after the death of her mother, or when a wave of nauseating pain had hit from her dying gall bladder.
Our daughter-in-law, my youngest son’s wife, was standing in the kitchen when I entered. I knew I should tell her what was going on, but I could feel the words, like my thoughts, were going to come out jumbled. It took some effort to make them come out right. I took a breath.
“Mom just called. She’s been in an accident.”
“Oh, no,” she said softly, “Is she okay?”
“I don’t know. She wasn’t very coherent. I’m going to get dressed and go.”
Upstairs, I changed out of my morning attire and pulled on pants and shirt. As I was doing that, my phone rang again.
“I was in an accident!” It was my wife, still sobbing uncontrollably.
“Are you okay?” I asked a little more fervently this time.
“I don’t know. I think so.”
“You’re not hurt?”
“No…” She didn’t sound very convinced.
“Okay. If you’re not hurt, you need to calm down...” My next words were going to be, “…and tell me what happened,” but she hung up on me again.
I stuffed my wallet and keys in my pants pockets, grabbed my coat and hat and hurried downstairs.
“I’ll be back,” I told my daughter-in-law, “Mom called again. She says she’s not hurt, but she doesn’t sound good.”
I went back through the garage and out to the car, which in the minute or two I’d been away had already defrosted.
A tender mercy. Thank you!
I had to calm myself down as I left the driveway. I didn’t even know where she was, but I knew her route to the hospital, and after checking the position of her iPhone, I was able to locate her. I was at least twelve minutes away.
It was still dark as I made my way out of the maze of homes where we live and onto the main road. People were on their way to work, so there was some traffic. That didn’t help my feeling of dread and urgency. I had to remind myself more than once to calm down.
I was in the middle of doing that, trying to steady my nerves, when I saw a dark figure moving across the road several yards in front of me. Someone was crossing the street! I slowed down, thankful I had noticed him in time. The last thing I needed was to run over a pedestrian on the way to the scene of my wife’s accident!
Street lights lined my way, but they didn’t extend into all the areas of darkness and for some reason, that’s where people were—kids chasing each other on the sidewalk while they waited for the school bus, a few more adults walking around.
Didn’t they know it was freezing outside!
A call came in, an unknown number that was then identified as my wife’s cell.
“I’m at Third and Lyon,” she said, still distraught, but not as shaken as before. Not once had she asked me to come. She just expected me to.
“I’m on my way,” I said, trying to sound even.
“Okay,” she said. Another click.
You don’t have to hang up! I need to know what happened!
It wasn’t like her to do that, either. She must be in shock. Was she okay? Was someone helping her? I knew she wasn’t at her best in emergencies. This wasn’t her first car accident. The last time, it was a guy on a bike, not watching where he was going. It took her nearly a week before she was willing to drive again.
Finally, I made it to the roundabout and made the half-circle to Third Street. Now, in the distance, I could see the flashing lights of an emergency vehicle, either a police car or maybe even a tow truck. At this point, I didn’t even know what condition my wife’s car was in. Frankly, I didn’t care.
As I neared, I could see it was a city police car parked somewhat askew in the road, but far enough over to let traffic by. Then, I saw her, my wife, huddling in the dim and cold on the corner, next to a woman I didn’t know. My wife looked small. She’s all of 4’9”, but wrapped in her heavy coat and muffler, still halfway down the block, she seemed vulnerable, helpless.
She must be okay, I told myself. A wave of emotion hit as I parked the car behind the police vehicle and I got out. I pushed it down. I need to be okay right now. No use having both of us upset.
She must have finally recognized me, as she turned and we came together in an embrace.
“Are you okay?” I asked for the third time.
“Yes,” she nodded, shuddering. Even with the street lamp nearby, it was hard to see. I stepped back, studied her.
“I was crossing the intersection. An old lady ran the red light.”
She turned and motioned to the woman on the corner. “She helped me.” My wife said she was a witness to the accident, and had told what she saw to the policeman, who appeared just then, apparently after talking to the other driver.
“Hello,” the woman said.
I stuck out my hand. Instead of saying something like, “Thank you for helping my wife,” I said, “You look cold.” She was wearing a short-sleeved shirt, no coat, and she was hugging herself. Obviously, she wasn’t expecting to be standing on the corner that morning giving her testimony at the scene of an accident. She smiled as she shook my hand, and I turned to look at my wife’s car.
At first glance, the car looked in good shape. The front bumper and the portion underneath was hanging from whatever it attached to, having flopped over on the asphalt, exposing the insides. From what I could tell, the front grill looked okay and so did the hood. It seemed odd that the bumper would be just sitting like that.
I was starting to feel a little better. I went back to my wife and suggested we get in the car. The police officer said that would be fine. He needed to input the information he had gathered from all parties into his onboard laptop so he could print out a copy of the accident report. My wife gave a hug to the woman who told her to give her a call if she needed anything.
“Thank you,” my wife said.
In the car, my wife sat there, silent, staring into space. She was rarely at a loss for words. Normally, she didn’t like me asking a bunch of questions, but for once, I couldn’t stand the silence.
“Tell me again what happened.”
“I was crossing the intersection. The lady was in the second lane and she was going very fast. Then she hit me.”
I looked over to the intersection. Third Street was two way, east and west. Lyon was northbound only. The woman ran a red light that had been like that the whole time. I shook my head.
“Can you go get my keys?” she said, “I left them in the car.”
There was a tow truck coming, according to the policeman, and I was sure the driver was going to want the keys, but I went ahead and retrieved them from the driver side. As I did, I saw an older couple come around the corner, look at me tentatively, and then continue down the sidewalk to where my wife was in the car.
As I watched, the woman said something. My wife got out of the car, and a moment or so later, they were hugging, too. As I returned, the couple walked back around the corner.
“That’s the lady,” my wife said as I handed her the keys. “The one who hit me.”
Both the woman and the man looked like they were in their seventies. I wondered if she should even be out driving on the road, if she was running red lights.
“She said she was okay, too.”
“Are you sure you’re okay?” I asked for what was at least the fourth time. She still didn’t look like she was all there, and I wondered if she might have a concussion, or whiplash, along with suffering from shock.
“My head hurts a little.”
“Did you hit it?” I asked. “On the dash, the ceiling, or the steering wheel?”
“No, I don’t think so,” she said. “I don’t remember.”
I realized at that point that the airbags had not deployed, despite what must have been for my wife’s vehicle more or less a head on collision. Then, I remembered that the passenger side airbag had a recall out on it for deploying too fast. We had an appointment to get it fixed, along with a general service checkup. We had plans to go see our older son, his wife and their newborn child (at whatever point he was actually delivered), the following week.
We were going to take my wife’s car, since my son and his family were moving back to stay with his in-laws for a while and they would need to fill it up with their stuff. Now, it seemed, taking her car was at best up in the air.
The police officer came over and handed my wife the accident report. She asked him if she was okay, that she hadn’t done anything wrong. He told her that she wasn’t at fault, that the other driver had been cited for failing to stop at the red light, and that the witness had confirmed it. He said to call if we needed anything. My wife thanked him, but managed to refrain from giving him a hug.
As the police officer said goodbye, the tow truck driver showed up. After loading our car onto the flatbed, he asked where he should take it. I didn’t know. I hadn’t worked things out that far. I was still trying to determine if I should take my wife to the emergency room or not. She wasn’t all that keen on going, since she’d already had hernia surgery in August and then oral surgery in October.
“I don’t want another bill,” she said.
The tow truck driver offered to tow her car to their yard until we decided where it should go for repairs. I gave him the car keys and told him that would be fine.
With the policeman gone and the tow truck fading from sight, I turned my car around and headed back the way I had come. When we were home, I tried to convince my wife she should go lie down. She didn’t think that was going to help. “If I’m not doing something, I’m just going to think about what happened. I’ll go crazy.” She ended up playing with our granddaughter most of the day, which probably helped her some, anyway.
I spent the rest of the morning and part of the afternoon calling in the insurance claim, filling out an accident report for the DMV, and then going to the tow yard to take pictures of the damage and to authorize having the car taken over to an auto body repair shop. After signing more papers and getting a rental car, we’re now waiting to know the extent of the damage, and how long it’s going to take to fix.
I think my wife is okay. I know she’s much better off than she could have been. Had my wife been a second earlier into the intersection, the other car would have struck hers somewhere in the passenger door. I don’t want to think about that. I find myself still emotional. I didn’t know what to expect earlier. For several moments, I thought my wife might be seriously injured.
I don’t know what I would do if I lost her now. I’m not ready for that. I know that with crystal clarity. Maybe that’s a takeaway. You just don’t know when the worst is going to happen. I hope I never have to find out.
About This Post
This actually did happen. It occurred yesterday, Tuesday, December 4 at approximately 6:55 AM PST.
All images taken by Glen Anthony Albrethsen. They show the bulk of the damage from the accident.