Where angels fear to tread
In 2007 I almost killed a young couple — with my car.
I was heading home from a long vacation in California. The accident occurred – not on one of the big city freeways I had just navigated – but on a lightly traveled two lane road just outside of Mount Shasta City, California.
It was the last day of my trip, but I was well rested. It was a beautiful sunny day and the road was dry and clear. I was singing along with the radio, and looking forward to returning home to Oregon.
A helmetless young couple on a motorcycle had stopped ahead of me to make a left turn. I didn’t see them until it was too late, so I swerved to miss them. My car spun in circles and rolled down an embankment.
It was all over quickly. All I remember is seeing flashes of light through the windshield as the car tumbled.
When the car came to a stand-still — thankfully upright — my first thought was, “Oh shit, there goes my vacation.” My next thought was of cars I’d seen blowing up on TV, so I quickly unbuckled my seat belt and slipped out to put some distance between myself and a possible explosion.
The car didn’t explode, but it looked like it had.
It was totaled and all my possessions were scattered far and wide in the roadside weeds. People scrambled down the hill to help me. The young motorcycle couple very sincerely thanked me for not hitting them.
An ambulance took me to the hospital where I was treated for shock and abrasions on my shoulder from the seat belt. A policeman questioned me there. Although I had not been drinking, I was suspect because my cargo had included a case of wine from my sister’s vineyard. The whole accident scene reeked to high heaven of Syrah.
The next thing I knew, a police car was dropping me off at a local hotel. I was dirty, disheveled and clutching my plastic hospital bag as though my life depended on it. Thankfully there was a credit card in the bag, but for some reason the police kept my phone and wallet. Still stunned, I spent the next few hours in my hotel room confused and not sure about my next step.
Eventually someone came and got me and I tended to all the things you do when you have totaled your car. Although I did not hit the two kids, the possibility of that still haunts me – now five years later.
And if I had hit them — this would be a different story altogether.
A month after the accident I developed severe neck and back pain. I could no longer work. I quit my job, took very early retirement and started physical therapy. I eventually got better and went on to a new phase of my life – one that was actually more satisfying.
The accident was a blessing in disguise. And isn’t that how it always turns out given enough time?
But here was the difficult part – the trauma didn’t go away.
For at least two years after the accident I could not drive over Siskiyou Pass or even remotely in the direction of the site of the accident. My rational brain told me I was relatively safe on Interstate 5, but the primitive part of my brain told me that I would die.
I got therapy, had EMDR and over the years – little by little – I began to venture out of my Rogue Valley cocoon. My first step was driving from Medford to Ashland. I had a lot of flashbacks. The next big step was traveling north on Interstate 5. Last year I made one successful trip south on Interstate 5 to Sacramento.
Time has healed much of the trauma. Flashbacks are rare, but it is still not easy.
The driving part of my walkabout might be mildly stressful to others, but it is much higher on the Richter scale for me. There is some shame associated with this. I am not sure my friends and family even know the severity of it.
And there still is a great deal of driving to do in the near future.
The next phase of my walkabout has me diving kitty-corner from south to north across the whole state of Oregon. So far I have made it unscathed, but there is still some part of me which is still afraid.
I started the collage, “Where Angels Fear to Tread” just before I made my walkabout trip to San Francisco. Without planning to, I turned the female forms into angels and the balls into tires with hubcaps! It wasn’t until I made this collage that I began acknowledging my fear of driving on this walkabout.
So much of my life I have spent blazing difficult trails with no thought for myself. Today these remnants of my fear won’t stop me, but I am going forward differently – with more awareness, less judgment – and more kindness and compassion for myself.
And it appears I am calling on Angels.