Aftermath

The rending of steel felt like the end of the universe.

Instinct made me throw out my right arm to protect Victoria in the passenger’s seat, a mechanical response in the heat of the moment. The truth of what happened only set in when I watched a black Jeep skid past the right side of my car, scraping the silver paint of my old Impala; even then, it didn’t feel real.

The whole accident was an out-of-body experience, obscured by a thick fog in my mind when I try to remember it now. Everything—the initial crash; the moment in which the back of the car seemed to lift and everything, cups and backpacks and papers, fell forward; the dumbfounded silence permeating the Impala’s interior in the moments afterward—felt like a movie. Hours later, lying on my couch to recuperate, I still can’t believe it.

“Are you okay?” I asked Victoria.

She nodded, as robotic as I felt. “Y-yeah, I think so.”

“We need to call 911.” My phone was on the floor beneath me, thrown out of the cup-holder from the impact. The radio crackled static. After grabbing my phone, I stumbled out of the car, taken aback by the abrupt shock of cool air. Cars streamed around us on the street, never slowing. The Jeep that hit me had collided with another car as well—a blue Toyota Camry. The drivers of both vehicles had just emerged, confused expressions on their faces.

“Are you all okay? Is there anyone else in the car?” I asked.

The driver of the black Jeep, a woman in her late thirties, shook her head. “What happened?” Her voice was breathy and strained, her gaze unfocused.

“Did you hydro-plane?”

She stayed silent. I turned to the other driver, a man just a bit older than me.

“Are you okay?” I asked. “Were you the only one in the car?”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine.” He seemed a bit more aware.

I nodded, glancing at the woman in the Jeep. She still looked so confused, her gaze roving slowly over the scene of the accident. Shattered red tail-light glass littered the road, along with someone’s hubcap—ah, that one’s mine— and the bumper of the Jeep. No one had called the police yet. I looked at the other two drivers to see if they were in the midst of doing so, only to realize they were both staring at me. Somehow, I had taken control of the situation. Perhaps because I was the first to ask if everyone was all right, or perhaps it had something to do with the strange disposition I always affected in moments like this. Whatever the reason, I felt I didn’t have much of a choice in this, so I unlocked my phone and dialed the numbers I’d been told all my life.

911, what’s your emergency?

“Uh, yes, I was just in an accident off I-55, at, um, exit 103.”

Is anyone injured? Do you need an ambulance?

“No. No, we’re fine.”

All right. Hold on. I’ll transfer you to the Jackson Police.”

“Thank you.” The phone rang as I was transferred, and I told the woman who answered at the Jackson Police Station the same thing. She said officers were on the way. I hung up and turned to check on Victoria again, still sitting in the Impala.

“Are you sure you’re okay?”

She nodded again. “I’m a bit shaken, but fine.”

“Good. Just let me know if you feel confused or dazed; those are symptoms of whiplash.”

Flashing red-and-blue lights reflected in my rear-view mirror, distracting me. I straightened out of my car and closed the door as two cop cars rolled up. A woman got out of one, donning a reflective yellow vest to direct traffic around the accident; a male got out of the other and immediately approached me.

“Is anyone hurt? Do we need an ambulance?” he asked.

“No. We’re all okay.”

“Are there passengers in the other cars?”

I shook my head. “Only mine, but she’s okay too.”

“Okay. If everyone is all right, then I need you all to get your license and insurance information to me.”

He moved to the other two drivers to tell them the same. I opened the door of the Impala and leaned in to grab my wallet, shaking still. Adrenaline was making my heart race, but I still felt as if I was being controlled by some external force.

“I need my insurance card,” I told Victoria as I pulled my license from my wallet. “It’s in my glove box. Could you get it?”

She nodded and flipped the glove box open, searching through registration papers and medical records. “Geico?” she asked, handing me a small, folded piece of paper.

“Yes, thank you!”

After handing the license and insurance to the officer, I moved around to the right side of my car to survey the damage. I expected a severely bent, possibly detached bumper or a side door damaged beyond repair; I’d prepared myself for the worst. Instead, there was simply a shattered tail-light, a long scrape across the right side of the car, and a broken side-view mirror. Even then, only the glass had fallen out of the mirror. Confused, I glanced at the other two cars—the black Jeep had lost a bumper, a rear-view mirror, and most of the front was caved in; the Toyota Camry was all but wrapped around the front of the Jeep, its right side completely bent and sliced through, and its back bumper twisted into something unrecognizable. Their cars would definitely have to be towed, but mine was fine.

Rain started to fall again, just a light sprinkle. I stared up at the sky. Old cars like mine were known for being more resilient. Still, I remembered the car lifting when it was hit by the Jeep. I remember how I’d been thrown forward, how I would have gone through the windshield if I hadn’t been wearing my seatbelt.

There should be more damage than this.

When Victoria got out of the car soon after, she said something similar. “I know this car is tough, but still …” Her voice was full of awe. “God must have protected us.”

I could only silently agree.

After the officer got the phone numbers and statements about the accident from all of us—the woman in the Jeep agreed that she had hydroplaned—he gave me a copy of the accident report, told me to give the case number to my insurance, and said I was good to go.

“Wait, what?” I asked.

“Your car is fine to drive,” he said. “The other two are going to get towed, but unless you need an ambulance, you can go ahead and leave.”

Startled even though I’d expected as much, I climbed back into the car with Victoria. The officer in the reflective vest slowly guided me out onto the main road, and the scene of the accident slowly faded into my rearview mirror as I drove away.

Later, Victoria and I stopped at a coffee shop to calm down and regroup, and I again wondered if the accident had really happened. None of it felt real. The Impala sat, dinged up and grumpy, in the parking lot as I sipped on a Frappuccino and discussed normal things with Victoria to sweep away the day’s earlier events. We headed back around three, and I dropped Victoria off at her apartment. I called my boss on my way home to let her know I wouldn’t make it to my work-study job that evening. I may not have been injured, but I was exhausted in the wake of my adrenaline rush, a dull ache spreading from my neck to my shoulders.

When I got home, I ordered a pizza and tried not to think about how much worse the accident could have been.

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