Friday, December 09, 2005

Musings: six inches

It occurs to me that I have never chronicled my brush with death.

And now, looking back, I suppose it wasn’t really a brush with death, but a brush with the realization that death can come swiftly in familiar surroundings and at unexpected times. Makes you want to be thankful for everything and every moment in your life – even the little things like sunlight on your face or hot coffee in the morning.

It was a cold September morning in 2002 when I woke from my secure and warm bed. I showered, shaved and got ready for work in my usual manner, never thinking this work day would be much different than any other. It was Friday and I had the weekend to look forward to . . .

. . . Or did I?

I had joined a ten pin bowling league that year, and so I left extra early so I could bowl a couple practice games after work. It was dark and cold outside, but my new car started easily and I was soon on my way.

I don’t really remember what I was thinking about during that drive in, but I would have had the radio on listening to CHUM FM. I like their morning show. Geez, I must be getting old.

There is a large intersection on the way to work where two highways cross. At the intersection there is a set of traffic lights. It takes me about ten minutes to get to it from my house. The speed limit for these highways is 80 kilometers per hour, but most people drive around 100. And yes, I am as guilty as any other traveling these roads of exceeding this limit, but this had nothing to do with what was about to transpire.

As I piece together the moments before the impact, I recall being stopped at the red light at the intersection. I was behind another car. To my left a truck, I think, was turning and so my vision was partially blocked in that direction – the direction from whence it came.

I recall the light from opposing traffic turning orange, then red as it had done a thousand times over the years at this very intersection. My own signal lights flashed green and the car ahead of me went out into the intersection. I followed, paying little attention to what was coming – I mean what could possibly be coming?

My god how close this was, I actually get a sick feeling in my stomach thinking about it now.

I was the second car through that green light, listening to the radio, thinking of practice bowling when, out of my driver side window, I see bright headlights – the headlights of an 18 wheel transport truck.

I had but one second to react - I put my foot on the gas to try and get out of the way -

- but it was not to be.

I remember the impact as only a flash in time. There was a smashing sound, disorientation. I was hit! My mind flew into some kind of quasi-dreamstate, where time and distance and thoughts all merged into a muddy nothingness.

And no, my life did not flash before me as is so popularized in fiction. I recall no real thoughts at all except - I’ve been hit. I’ve been hit.

It was probably only ten seconds, but I don’t really know how long I was in that state. When I emerged from that headspace, I had no idea how long I was sitting there on the side of the road where I had been forcibly driven. The radio was still playing, but I really didn’t hear what was on it. My car was still running. My headlights were still on. The sun was just starting to rise.

I remember thinking to myself – I have all my limbs, nothing seems broken, I can breathe, I can move. I must have been in shock, what else could it be? My knee hurt because it had been bashed into the side of my steering column during the impact, but that was the only injury I could discover.

A girl, from the car behind me I learned later, had walked up to my window and was tapping on the glass. “are you okay?” she asked. I think she did this a few times before I rolled down my window and said that I was.

After a few more minutes, I got out of the car. The 18 wheel transport truck was parked a long way away, and two turbaned individuals had gotten out of it as were coming over. The younger one approached me - offering to pay for my car if I didn’t report the accident.

This was some kind of joke, right? I was just T-boned by this idiot running a red light at highway speed in a tractor trailer and he wanted me not to report it?
I recall asking him if he was willing to pay 20,000 dollars to me in cash so I could replace my less-than-a-year-old car? “I don’t have that kind of money?” he said. He was actually serious. His partner, a truck driving trainer I later found out (some trainer – probably yelled “floor it, you can make it go go go), stayed off in the distance avoiding eye contact with all who were about including me.

I do recall getting pissed off at the young turbaned idiot then. I told him, in no friendly manner or tone, that he could have killed me. Did he realize that he COULD-HAVE-KILLED-ME? I wonder now if that actually meant anything to him at all.

The girl who had tapped on my window had phoned the police and it wasn’t long before a cruiser arrived.

The police officer was a very nice lady who told me to get in her cruiser to warm up, which I did, while she talked to witnesses (four people actually stopped to give reports – which was very nice of them). She then talked to me and I explained, as best I could, what had happened.

Needless to say she charged the young man with careless driving. Careless – How about butt-stupid-you-should-never-drive-again-asshole driving. That would have made more sense.

I phoned my wife to let her know what was what and that I would be towing the car to the dealership where they would later pronounce it dead for my insurance company. She would meet me there in about an hour.

At the dealership, after calling my insurance company, I had time to look at the wreck of my 2001 Saturn S car before my wife arrived to pick me up. Yah, the S car is the small four door one Saturn makes – no match against an 18 wheeler. I wanted to see just where the front of the transport had struck it.

I was chilled to the bone when I finally walked out into the parking lot where the tow truck had dropped it. I looked through the driver side window and could see where my head would have been in relation to the front seat of the car. The initial crunching point of my car was no more than six inches behind that. This, more than anything, made me feel that life is such a fleeting thing and I had, in fact, narrowly escaped with my life.

Six inches - I kept thinking to myself. Six inches further forward and my head would have bounced off the window and into the grill of the transport – the transport doing about 90 kilometers an hour at the time. Ever see those pumpkin commercials where they are trying to stress using your seat belt so you don’t get thrown from the car during accidents? That would have been my head.

I sure wouldn’t be writing about it now, or ever.

And every day since then I value my life a little more. I try not to take things too seriously. I try to be good, make people laugh, love my family.

Whenever things get tough, or I feel depressed, or something happens that I don’t like. I think to myself – six inches. And the problems seem so much smaller then.

1 comment:

  1. A chilling account.

    Just before I read this I read on CBC.CA about a woman and her husband eating at a restaurant on her 33rd birthday. A slab of concrete fell off the side of a hotel and struck her dead... she didn't feel a thing. Just like that, it was all over.

    Life is indeed fleeting. You have to savour every minute.