Suburban Soliloquy #71



Intersecting Destinies

Ms Keogh, my more significant other, was working late. No one but the cat would be waiting for me at home. There was no reason to hurry. Rush-hour traffic in the right lanes would not allow me to merge. It appeared I would miss the entrance ramp to Interstate 95. It wouldn't matter, I could continue straight on U. S. Route One and waste some time browsing at Triangle, an art supply store. Then, a slot opened and I slipped in. I made the entrance ramp and was part of the tightly packed flow of vehicles heading southbound on Interstate 95, a highway with three lanes in each direction.

The CD player switched to the sixth CD in my dashboard, the last CD of sixteen from the unabridged book I was listening to, The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper. I entered and stayed in the slow right lane of the Interstate. A gigantic, white pickup truck in the middle lane was overtaking me.

Ms M, a young woman of nineteen years, was driving in the left lane, the fast lane, of the northbound Interstate 95. For "unknown reasons" (Drunk? Drugs? Suicide? Sleep? Epilepsy? Hysterical panic? Malfunction?), Ms M lost control of her car and drifted into the middle lane to "tap" Ms L's car. Ms M's reacted to her error by steering left, driving her car across the wide grass median that divides northbound traffic from southbound traffic.

I cannot remember now if I saw a blue car crossing the median. The memory is vague, but I have the notion I saw it briefly and wondered why, what were they trying to do? Was it a police car making a u-turn? Then the white pickup driven by Mr S pulled ahead obstructing my view and I had no further interest in the blue car.

The next second of my life was no longer than any other second of my life, nor did it feel longer, yet I was made more aware of the number of elements that can get packed into a second of life. There was the sound of a crash and the white pickup truck swung preternaturally into my lane, too quickly for my eyes to refocus on its sudden nearness.

This was the instance when I understood the impact was unavoidable and about to occur in another micro-fraction of a second. In that moment, I judged it not unreasonable that I was going to die, if not be horribly maimed for the rest of whatever life there could be. No sooner did I arrive at that conclusion then I was snatched up in a ballet of sudden motion and rapidly changing configurations, too quick to perceive clearly.

The screeching sound of friction on rubber, the smash of sheet metal, impressed me with just how accurate the movies make their sound effects. At the first impact I could sense the change of direction in the shifting weight of my jaw. A cascade of glass pieces showered the car's interior. My eyes snapped shut until I stopped feeling the hail against my cheeks. There was a second jolt and I thought I had been rear-ended by the car behind me, which was not the case. (I had collided with the pickup again.) It was all a blur of colors, predominantly truck white, sky blue, then forest green. In another fraction of that first second I knew I was still alive, possibly uninjured, wondering how many more jarring collisions would come until the fracas was finished unfolding. The next fraction of this first second was longer and there were no further impacts, so I thought I was beyond the crash. My vision stabilized and I saw out my windshield that I was driving towards a short embankment that fell away into trees.

I turned the wheels, but the grass was slippery. A touch of the acceleration pedal and the car obeyed. My front-wheel drive redirected the car back to the roadway, only it was too quickly. I had overreacted, the car's rear swinging out. I reversed the steering. During this swiveling that first second probably concluded, and seeing that I was a safe distance from anything, I slammed the brakes and the car came to a rest sideways on the shoulder of the highway. I was less than two hundred feet beyond the pickup. The crippled pickup blocked all three lanes and held back the tide of rush-hour traffic like a dam. I knew I was out of danger and I was pretty sure I was unhurt. A few red scratches on my face, but not really bleeding.

I studied my immediate situation and found no injury to my body. Quite the opposite. I felt invigorated and surprisingly healthy. The driver's side windows were gone, in pieces coating the whole of the interior. The rearview mirror from the door was now on the passenger seat. The door itself was bent in against my shoulder. I took the CD out of the player and put it back into its case for its return to the library. Someone came running along the shoulder to see if I was all right, but I waved him away and told him I was fine. I called out, worried about the others. Two other drivers were badly hurt, but alive, he shouted.

Climbing out the passenger side I discovered blood on the back of my right hand. I think it happened from pressing against the seat when lifting myself out, I failed to notice a piece of glass. It was necessary to untuck my shirt and shake off all the glass bits. I found them in my hair and inside my left ear, but the safety glass did what it was supposed to do and I found no further injuries. I thought to myself, this will be remembered as an eventful day. I began reviewing what I remembered, rehearsing it to get it all accurately into my memory.

The police cars were already there. The fire trucks came. Then the ambulances. Finally the tow trucks. I stayed near my car, emptying it of its contents and packing them into bags. Coming home from work I had my briefcase. In the trunk I stored an empty knapsack and tote bags. My rear bumper was missing. I looked at my new 2003 Honda Accord EX Coupe, the five speed with leather seats and trim, and less than 5,000 miles on the odometer, a car of only 3,073 pounds. The driver's door was pushed in eighteen inches, but it had held. The car has side airbags, but they didn't deploy. Perhaps the car's brain decided it wasn't necessary, after all, that door kept a Ford F-350 Lariat Superduty Diesel V8 4X4 with dual rear wheels, a vehicle of over 6,200 pounds, off my lap.

A policeman finally found me and took my report. I was a poor witness. The pickup had blocked my view of events unfolding and avoidance was entirely impossible. It happened in a blur and afterwards I sensed a surprising loss of vital memory, but less than a fraction-of-a-second's worth.

When the officer finished taking my report, my curiosity got the best of me. I could see nothing of the seriousness of the accident from where I stood. The right side of the pickup was facing me and still blocked my view. The pickup showed no indication of any damage, but as I walked around the front of it, I saw the devastation. The pickup was deeply crushed where there had once been a left headlight. Poor Mr S was still in the cab being treated. He looked confused. He had been knocked out, had a concussion, but the medics assured me he would be okay. The real shock was Ms M's blue Chevrolet sedan. It was in ruins, the roof entirely gone. It took a moment to realize the rescuers had to cut off the roof to reach Ms M. They used hydraulic tools to lift the crushed dashboard off her legs. She sat there staring blankly, lost. The medics assured me she would live, but she had a broken arm and maybe her hip and legs.

Remembering the colorful blurs and two thunks, it was eventful to say the least. I was lucky the pickup was passing me at the time, intercepting the blue Chevrolet sedan that was moving against traffic and maybe saving my life. If I had been a second or more sooner, I would have been uninvolved. Had I been a second or more later, I would have been stuck in the backed-up traffic. I have speculated different parameters. In some I avoid the accident all together, but in others I am either maimed or die. I could almost wish nothing different in that no one died. I would like to believe my quota has been filled and my future holds no more of these intersecting destinies at high speed.

The same philosophy that stands by me every other day did not require a major rewrite to apply on this occasion. My existentialism remains intact. We always stand at the threshold, at the edge of oblivion, and since I have been spared serious injury, this event offered no challenge to my philosophy.

The New Jersey State Police took me only so far and I was dropped off at a motel in Pennsylvania where I knew they had a comfortable lobby. I called Ms Keogh at her job and had a short wait quickly filled with various phone calls, to my job, to my insurer, to the Honda dealership. And then Ms Keogh arrived. It was like every meeting with her, I am always grateful at the first sight of her, another chance to be together, always grateful and not just on days when the accident actually does occur. Every day I am aware of my mortality.

Bruce Bentzman

This essay is number 71 in a series of regular reports from the life and times of Mr Bentzman. If you've any comments or suggestions, the writer would be pleased to hear from you.
Mr Bentzman's collection of poems, "Atheist Grace" is available from Amazon, as are "The Short Stories of B.H.Bentzman"