On this day five years ago, my mom was on her way to my apartment; we had dinner plans with her girlfriend, Ruth, and her daughter, Jessica. My mom was just a few blocks away, heading to the bank before she came to my place, when a drunk driver (understatement of the century… she wasn’t just drunk, she was passed out at the wheel at 6:00 on a Wednesday night after polishing off a bottle of vodka) ran through (and over) a stop sign at 40 MPH, T-boning my mom’s Jetta, pushing her into the axle of an oncoming 18-wheeler, and forcing the 18-wheeler to hit the car behind my mom and push it into a telephone pole.
Talk about horrifying.
My mom, who never saw the car coming, passed out immediately from the impact of the crash and doesn’t remember a thing, but when she came to she immediately found her cell phone (tucked into her purse, which was still sitting on the passenger seat beside her) and called me. When she first said she had been in an accident, I thought, oh no, fender bender, but then her voice changed and I quickly became very, very fearful. She managed to tell me where the accident was, so I bolted out my door (yelling to Ruth and Jessica that there was an accident, and to please pull the door shut behind them), sprinted up the street (in heels) towards the sound of the sirens, and was terrified at what I saw before me. The 18-wheeler was blocking the road so I couldn’t even see my mom’s car; I had to run around the truck and through some bushes to see my mom still sitting in her crumpled Jetta. A kind gentleman who witnessed the accident had forced her door open when she came to and was feeling claustrophobic, but she was not allowed to move out of the driver’s seat for fear of injuries.
Nick always says that the worst thing that happened that day was me seeing the whole thing, and I have to agree with him. While my mom’s bruises and (thankfully) minor injuries eventually faded away, the image of that terrifying scene will forever be ingrained in my brain. It has been five years and it still seems like it happened yesterday; I still take extra caution when driving through the intersection where it all happened and can’t help but picture the scene every time I do.
I’ll never forget what happened in those following hours and days, either. I remember weird things, like riding in the front of the ambulance and feeling stunned to learn that drivers really don’t move out of the way for emergency vehicles; I remember my mom being upset that they had to cut her sweater off of her (it was new). I also remember things like strangers comforting me on the side of the road when I wasn’t allowed to stand near my mom, still in the driver’s seat of her poor, totaled Jetta, since there were flammable substances on the road (yeah, that makes a worried daughter feel better).
I remember sitting in the waiting room of the trauma center by myself, still wearing my pink pants and heels, holding onto my mom’s new yellow purse, waiting for George (my now-stepdad) to arrive; I sat waiting to be allowed to see my mom, and trying to convince myself that I’d be okay without a mom if that’s what it had to come to. I remember thinking that maybe women in our family just weren’t supposed to have mothers beyond our early twenties (my mom’s parents both died by the time she was 24). I didn’t want to believe that possible reality, but I was afraid that I may have had to, so I tried to be strong. But really, I was a mess.
Thankfully, as I mentioned above, aside from being extremely bruised on most of her body and sore (she passed out from the pain a few times in the hospital), my mom didn’t suffer any major injuries, though she still has knee issues from her knee slamming into the steering column, pain in her ribs often from where she slammed into the driver’s side door, and she had a concussion. We had both been nervous about possible internal injuries since the impact of the crash was so strong, even though on the surface she didn’t look injured, and waiting for hours to hear that news seemed like weeks. (I knew we had both been thinking about poor Princess Diana, but neither of us wanted to say it.) We later heard that the 19 year-old girl who was in the car that had been pushed into the telephone pole had some pretty bad cuts on her arms from the broken glass, and the truck driver was unharmed — just very shaken up. The accident wasn’t his fault, but clearly he felt very responsible. Out of everyone, the woman who caused the accident was the most injured and required the longest recovery time.
I don’t know if I’ve ever felt quite as much anger as I did when we received the police report a week or so later and found that the 40-something woman who caused the accident had been drunk and passed out at the wheel (up until that point, we didn’t know why she had been speeding and driving so recklessly). Her blood alcohol level was .309 — the legal limit in Pennsylvania is .08, and the police sergeant assigned to the case told us that .5 would have meant death. I was so angry that this woman’s abandon for her own life had harmed the lives of so many others. I don’t want to think about what could have happened if that tractor trailer had been a foot ahead or behind where he was when my mom’s car was pushed into him (yet I think about that all the time). I had many a nightmare where I was in the passenger seat of my mom’s car when the accident occurred, which was where the initial impact was.
I was in therapy for a year to overcome my driving fears after the accident; I didn’t trust anyone on the road and there were many days that I arrived at work in tears after someone cut me off or startled me on the road. I accompanied my mom to the court hearing where we saw Drunk Lady (as she came to be known by me) and my mom had to testify; on our way out of the courtroom I heard Drunk Lady ask her lawyer if she should say something to us as she walked by. I gave her the stink eye and she (smartly) kept moving. As much as I had a lot I’d love to have said to her, she was not worth the breath.
I have zero tolerance for people who drive even a little drunk. And the people who then joke and “brag” about it after the fact, like it’s a badge of honor — well, I’d like to smack them into next Tuesday. There is nothing admirable about doing something so incredibly stupid. Sure, the woman who caused my mom’s accident clearly had a real problem, but you don’t have to be an alcoholic to make a stupid decision involving alcohol.
If ever you’re considering getting behind the wheel after you’ve had even one drink too many, don’t do it. Just don’t. You’re putting your life and countless others at risk, and it is not worth it. Just imagine all of the moments you could be robbing your innocent victims of, and the families that could be forever affected by your choice. Please: be smart, and be safe.