Thursday, February 4, 2010

"A car..off the side..rolled over...crazy lights."

Yesterday I boarded a plane in Boston that carried me through Chicago and Denver before arriving at its final destination in Salt Lake City. There I was greeted by my younger brother and my just older sister. Sam took my luggage for me, and we walked to the car, before hopping on the freeway to travel south. I was tired and my stomach hurt, but everything else was the same--the familiar drive, the style of the jokes, the topics of conversation.

We were in the midst of one such conversation when Sam and Charity exclaimed something about lights, and Sam hurriedly steered the car to the side of the road. My first impression was that we had been pulled over, but I didn't see any lights. I didn't see a cop car. I asked them what had happened, "What lights? Why had we pulled over?" They answered in halting phrases, with a matching tremor and urgency I had never heard in their voices. "A car..off the side..rolled over...crazy lights." It takes me a moment to internalize their words, to realize these things just happened, directly in front of us, while I was in the back seat talking about a wedding.

As soon as we are firmly parked Charity tears open the passenger door and runs down the hill. Sam exits slower, phone in hand. He dials 911. I follow Charity. Not because I am brave, or noble, but because I finally see the end result of what she and my brother both witnessed: a smashed, overturned car at the bottom of a hill. And though I am afraid, I think, "If someone is dead in that overturned vehicle, I don't want my sister to face it alone."

I see a small Mexican man there before us, opening the passenger door. Out comes a girl. A stranger. A neighbor. She has blonde hair and looks no more than 20. Her first words, "I'm bleeding." And she is. Her face and hands. Her eyes seem frozen in fear. She moves, but stiffly. Other bystanders are on the scene now. With their collective wisdom and action they help her sit down. One man offered a flashlight. Another blankets. Me, my coat before the blankets came, and face washcloths I remembered only later, and ran back to our car to get. Charity washed the blood from her hands, her mouth, her ear, as she sat beside her, gently caressing her and speaking calmly. She learned that the girl's name was Brianna, and that she was trying to honk at the van veering into her lane, the vehicle that made contact with her. That was the last thing she remembered.

Sam called Brianna's parents after he got off the phone with the EMT. "You don't know me, but your daughter..."

We waited for the emergency vehicles to come.

I thought about life, and death, and accidents, and remembered another day and another hill, when I was the one in the turned over car, the one with the frozen eyes. My family. I thought about how fast things can happen, how quickly they can change, and the timing of it, that we were there. I thought of how amazing my sister is, how calm, and how if I were the girl, I would want it to be Charity comforting me. I thought of Samuel too, who spoke to strangers about something grave. It was amazing really.

3 comments:

ju said...

you were in an accident like that once??

Jendar said...

crazy...

Cumorah said...

How did I not hear about that? Oh, that makes my heart sink. I think about our accident often. I think about all of the little miracles that equal the cumulative miracle that we are all still here today. I think of how we must have many things to do and accomplish and people to love and look after, because we were saved, watched over, protected. I think of Sam asleep through it all, and the moment when I found him, seeing only his feet sticking out from under the seat - him not responding, when I thought for sure he was already gone. The sickening, crushing feeling that my baby brother was gone - replaced by the greatest joy imaginable when he woke up as we pulled him out. I look back and am amazed at the calmness in a crisis. And remember clear as day the first witness who arrived on the scene, a retired EMT, yelling down the ravine, "Is there ANYONE alive down there?" And the sweet boy who was on his way to his theater performance, who knew stopping to help us would mean he would be late to his own show - but he threw his arms around us, and sang you songs from The Little Mermaid anyways. All of it is amazing to me. I'm so glad Brianna had you all there. She will never forget you and your kindnesses. A coat, a washcloth, a hug, a tender voice, a phone call. Small things that at the moment mean the world. A strangers care at a time like that never leaves you. You were there for a reason. You've been there before. Love you all!