Sep 17, 2011
It was the piercing sound of a woman shrieking in terror that brought me, unwillingly, swimming upwards from the blackest depths of unconsciousness – near so deep as that blackness which awaits us all – and, allowing my eyes to flutter open, I found myself prone on the pavement with my view blocked by a scuffed and tread-bare truck tire which – the vehicle - I later noticed, had skidded for six feet before coming to a stop only inches in front of my nose.
There was, oddly, no nebulous interlude that interceded between that place where I had been and the apparent, full recollection of my faculties – no facsimile of consciousness accompanied by an expression made dazed and uncomprehending by the onset of shock: only wakefulness.
“There was an accident,” I whispered – more for the security of hearing my own voice than to anyone in particular because no one seemed to be assisting. “He came from the left, running the red.”
In the distance and, coming from several directions simultaneously, I could hear the approaching wailing sirens and blaring horns of emergency vehicles picking their way, with difficulty, through the chaos of the early morning, city commuter traffic. The woman's screams had subsided to emotion-wracked sobs nearby.
I had not been alone in the car. My wife was there, beside me.
Despite wanting to shout, my voice exited my mouth, articulating the name of my wife, as no more forceful than a sigh and, amidst the city noise and rising crescendo of sirens drawing near, that single word simply drifted off, having no impact and no effect.
I raised my head, slowly, expecting to be struck by a visceral, wall of pain from my injuries and be flung back to the ground but, it didn't come. Encouraged and, proceeding with the due temerity of the situation, I flexed my arms, bringing the palms to pose against the traffic-warmed pavement. Carefully - no – with infinite care – I began to rise; first, extracting my head from beneath the running board of the truck and, then, teetered to my knees. Finally, my hand pressed, for support, against the side-wall of the truck, I got to my feet with, still, no rush of nauseating pain. I was beginning to count myself fortunate.
“Constance!” That breathy, willowy sound escaped me, again, and drifted away on the cool breeze. In the periphery of my vision there was a flash of red; a fire truck raced to a stop and I heard the crackling of radios:
'Pumper 108, logged, on scene.'
'Copy that. Paramedics report 10 seconds out.'
I turned on surprisingly steady legs and faced the wreckage behind me.
The SUV was far larger than anyone really needs, perhaps an Escalade – black and indecipherable. It had come, as we waited to proceed in our more compact and economical model, from the left. Just before it appeared – despite that Constance and I were talking – I had turned to look left and seen the traffic slowing for the amber; the lanes were not all full but, I knew they soon would be. With that done, I turned back to Constance, smiled and, then, looked ahead to gauge the green in my favour. It came and I accelerated into the intersection quickly, wanting to nudge to the left in order to turn left at the bottom of the next block and drop Constance at work. This was our habitual route.
Instead, in a blur, the SUV appeared, running fast and, before I could react or even remove my foot from the gas, it caught the front quarter just behind the bumper. At that point, physics made its decisions based on the system that had been imposed. There was nothing more we could do. I think that I was still accelerating.
Locked together and, with the SUV gradually shearing through the front grill, the two vehicles began to pin-wheel, driven forward by the mass and speed of the other.
My body, in an ethereal moment of unexpected flight, was thrown from the driver's door which exploded open as the car frame distorted and despite my death grip on the wheel. I landed about five yards away – toward the centre of the intersection and where the delivery truck skidded to a stop.
The swirling mass of metal moved inexorably toward the curb where dozens of pedestrians were standing and waiting to cross. They scattered like startled pigeons, flocking away in search of safety. A woman started to scream, staring into the street. The process finished when, with a ground-shaking, metal rending and glass shattering collision, the two vehicles stopped, deformed, against a concrete light standard.
The windscreen of my car had burst outward. The glass was streaked with blood and bits of pink tissue.
No. I will not accept this.
Distracting me, the paramedics and, almost in the same moment, the police arrived. The vehicles swarmed into the closed and obstructed intersection and, promptly, disgorged their occupants who sprang to action, wheeling out gurneys, dispensing reams of yellow 'Caution' tape and, the whole began to feel like a scene played out far too many times to the tune of headlines which proclaimed, 'Husband and wife killed in tragic early morning, downtown traffic accident'.
I wanted no part of that. I skirted the wreckage and began to search for her, calling in that whisper of a voice that I could manage and scanning the crowds of voracious onlookers that, unconscious of their questionable morality, filmed and photographed this scene of devastation and what, for me, might still result in a personal loss greater than I could ever imagine. I called and called. The driver of the SUV walked in circles, repeating, 'I'm so sorry.'
She was standing on the opposite corner – the one which we should have traversed - not the near corner with all the gawkers and, when I saw her, my heart melted to a puddle at my feet and my breath hitched. Pitching into a hasty walk which was not quite a run and made disjointed by the state of my body, I navigated the intersection – the stopped, impatient traffic – and came to stand before her, my arms spread to enfold her and rejoice in our collective fortune.
When she saw me, she flinched and turned away, saying, “No.”
“Constance, it's me,” I replied. “I'm OK. What is wrong?”
Soundlessly, she began to weep, her hands covering her face and her frame shook with spasms.
In the street, the paramedics had finished their work and, wordlessly, they covered the bodies where they lay with reflective yellow sheeting. I assumed they were the bodies of innocent bystanders caught in the accident.
“Not you, too.”
“Baby,” I said, conscious of her shock. I gently touched her arm and her grief grew worse, rending my heart.
“We're OK,” I pronounced with confidence. “Look!” I attempted a smile but it felt ill-reasoned and malformed.
She peered at me in disbelief from between spread fingers and continued to shake.
“Don't you see us?”
“But, Constance, we are right here.”
“I wish we were,” was her response, pointing into the street.
I turned and, aghast, the gentle breeze, cooling though it was, whipped up a corner of yellow tarpaulin and, railing against, I recognised a face that I knew better than my own. Beneath the truck, after the passage of the front tires, of myself, there was nothing left to know as self.