The year I graduated from high school, much like most of the people I knew, I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. I had looked into the military, but they wouldn't accept me, what with a bad heart and all. Mostly I was just looking for some good way to pay for college, and since Uncle Sam didn't seem to need my help, I took a job. I took the first one that came along and saved my nickels and dimes.
I was eighteen, had a girlfriend, and I was very much in love. She had been the apple of my eye for a couple of years and we had always been friends, but she had only just recently agreed to go out with me. I was working for next to nothing, living at home with mom and dad, and spending as many nights as I could staying with her. My 1976 Chevy Impala cost me five bucks to drive to town and five to get home, and this is when gas was $0.99 a gallon.
She had a little girl that was the product of a high school romance with a man by the name of John Dum. I am not making this up. Most guys her age weren't looking for a ready-made family, but I loved her and her little girl too, and I tried very hard to be everything she needed.
One night in 1991, I went to see her. I drove from home to her house which was usually fifteen minutes, but I stopped at a gas station to fill the tank, all of two minutes from her apartment.
I poured as much as I could afford into the tank and set off to see my girl. All the way to town, I wore my seat belt and kept it under thirty-five as I went from winding country roads to city streets. After I gassed up, I climbed in and reached for the seat belt, but then I thought better of it. The thing had a buckle the size of a dinner plate with no shoulder strap and was grossly uncomfortable.
"Screw it," I thought, "I'm only two blocks away from where I'm going. I don't need no seat belt!" and I left it lay. I turned off the main drag and onto her residential side street with a smile on my face. Between me and her was one stop sign at the only cross street between here and there. I pulled up to the stop sign at a slow crawl, as it took a lot of brake to slow down this much steel. The only problem was I couldn't see down the side street, as there was a building in the way and my car seemed to have a twelve-foot hood.
I inched forward until I could see, and sure enough, there was a car coming. He was two blocks away. As most of my car was already half way into the intersection, I gunned it to cover the eight feet necessary to not be in his way.
I didn't make it.
While the posted speed limit was twenty-five miles per hour, he was headed home with his buddy from the bar and they were moving at sixty-five in his tiny Honda.
He connected with my passenger-side front tire and proceeded to try to drive on, despite his injuries.
At this point, I took flight. Have you ever had dreams where you were flying and felt your body lose it's weightiness, and gravity means nothing to you now? Perhaps you are floating over a familiar scene or just looping through the clouds, but you are flying, or at least floating above the Earth. I've had those dreams, but now they always include a severe smash to the head as I strike the top of the passenger side windshield and busted out that corner.
The split seconds I spent airborne are the worst, and are drawn out like a life-long disease, as I see my car careen off a parked car, through a chain link fence, and into a two-hundred year old walnut tree that must have measured eight feet around. I slowly pick myself up off the floor boards and survey the damage as I try to unkink a series of vertebrae that will cause me to consult the chiropractor for the rest of my life.
The other driver is hurt, and hurt bad. He is doubled over the steering wheel of his tiny Honda and complaining of sever back pain. We can't move him and my first-aid kit is of no use. His buddy, who came through without a scratch, keeps bitching at me about the horrible wrong I have done. Even though they are drunk and were speeding in the middle of the road, and are clearly in the wrong here, I just don't have the heart to point this out to them. I lean against the trunk of my car until the ambulance arrives, followed by the cops. I have a chew of tobacco and the EMT on the scene advises me not to.
From there, the blur sets in and I remember very little, other than informing the cop that there were cigarettes strewn about the back of his cruiser. I wouldn't have mentioned it, but I knew how valuable they were in jail. "Smoke up," he offered. "No, thanks."
I kept calling my girlfriend from the house where I had struck their tree, but a constant busy signal was my only answer. The cop offered to get me a cab to where I was going but I declined. It was only a fifteen minute hike to get to where I was going and every cent I had was in the tank of the car that the tow truck had just hauled off. The cop reminded me that I could pick it up at my convenience from the impound lot but I would have to pay the lot fees first.
My redheaded girlfriend opened the door to my knock and had the phone receiver wedged between her chin and shoulder and kept chatting away to her friend with intermittent bursts of laughter. I slumped into a chair and just stared off in a daze. She talked for twenty more minutes and then hung up. No sooner did the phone hit it's cradle then she turned to me and said, "Where the F*CK have you been? You were supposed to be here two hours ago? You bastard! Can't you F*CKING tell F*CKING time? And don't give me some lame-ass excuse. You were hanging out with your buddies weren't you?" she sighed disgustedly.
"I was in an accident..." I mumbled. "Where?" she insisted. I was at this point she noticed the blood slowly oozing from my hairline and making it's way down my forehead. "I tried to call but the line was always busy...,"I trailed off. Her pale face turned even whiter and she spent the next hour picking glass shards from my scalp and dabbing me with an alcohol soaked cotton ball. At no point did she ask how I was, but she did bring me a glass of cheap California table wine and that seemed to help a little.
I know what it's like to be the victim of a drunk driver but not on the grand scale that some people have. I still have my life, even if I did lose the car and my back will forever remain a little tweaked. I have learned my lesson, for sure.
I'd like to say the story had a happy ending, but that would be a lie. The car was junked after my brother pulled the engine out of it to put in his truck and I got nothing out of the deal. I paid sixty dollars to get my car out of impound even though it had sat there for about twelve hours and it cost me fifty for the tow truck that drug it home. My girlfriend left me for a man who would later become my boss. They married, had two more children, and they fight all the time. They can't stand each other except in the bedroom department.
The final insult of the the whole ordeal is that I had to pay a Failure To Yield ticket for sixty-five dollars and all my dreams of flying now end in a sickening crash.
Be careful out there and wear your seat belt,