On my second-to-last day of high school, I almost died.
*prepares for the inevitable "RIGHT, oh ye drama queen" eye rolls*
No, but really. I did. And it fucking changed my life.
*and here come the "You learned a lesson, isn't that fan-fucking-tastic" eye rolls*
On the second-to-last day of high school, I had two finals. English and History. I had an A in both classes, but had worked myself up into a state regardless. I was going to fail and not graduate and not be able to go to that horrible Christian college in the Midwest that I didn't yet know was horrible and my life was going to be ruined because I was going to end up at a COMMUNITY COLLEGE where I would never meet a nice Christian boy who wanted to marry me and my life would be horrible and I'd probably die alone in a maroon velour housecoat while watching the 700 Club.
And all this would happen if I got anything less than an A-minus on these finals. So I was worked. Up. Just a little.
(Obviously, this is the one part of my life that was not changed by the whole almost-dying thing, because even today? I can take two parking tickets and a bad PowerPoint presentation and map my life out from comfortable yuppiehood to crack whoredom in about five minutes.)
I took extra puffs from my rescue inhaler in the bathroom and chewed deeply on my knuckles to calm down.
In the classroom, the girl seated next to me folded her hands and bowed her head in prayer. I snorted and doodled out a list of all food products I had consumed in the last 24 hours.
And then I kicked ass on the finals. One right after another. I wrote English essays until my raw knuckles couldn't take any more and I knew every damn date of every motherfucking crusade in whatever damn century those motherfucking crusades happened in.
I was allowed to leave after my History exam, as I had a car and no real friends that I felt like goofing of in study hall with. I'd really stopped caring by senior year though. I was dating the captain of the football team at a local public school and had tons of friends there -- who needed these snooty rich kids and goody-goody church kids when I was getting to second base on a regular basis with a really hot guy?
So I left after my exam. I got in my 1988 Honda Civic sedan that was really just on-loan to me while a missionary friend of my parents was missionarying in Japan. We'd given her $1,000 towards her trip and she agreed to let me drive her car while she was away. I loved that car.
I went to the McDonald's drive-thru first -- I lived 25 miles from my little school and it was a long, boring-ass drive -- and was shocked to see one of my classmates was already manning the window.
"That history exam was freaking cake. I was done in 20 minutes," she said with a shrug.
"Yeah." I replied. I still never expressed original opinions to any of these people, ever. Even ones who worked at McDonald's.
"This way, I figure I can get off shift a little earlier." She handed me my super-sized Coke.
"You gotta study for Chem tomorrow?" I asked, and deciding to play all Happy Days/Dukes of Hazzard cool, took off my seat belt and slid out the window, sitting on the door frame.
(Which, hello, 1: proved that the only TV I was ever allowed to watch was on Nick At Nite, and 2: meant that I couldn't see my friend unless I twisted my torso awkwardly, and 3: made me look like the biggest tooliest dork ever.)
"Yeah. Study. Right." She eye-rolled and handed me the rest of my order, which I grabbed by twisting my left arm over my shoulder and then almost lost my balance while sliding stupidly back into the car.
I'd ordered some burger that was aimed at "adults" with "adult tastes" or something. The Arch Deluxe? The XXX Pounder? I forget. But I went through a phase where I always ordered it, because I bought the marketing hook, line and sinker. Although I always scraped about 99% of the crap they put on it before actually taking a bite.
I got stopped at a red light and absent-mindedly put my seat belt back on.
I drove past my school and popped in a tape. An alphabetical collection of the Beatles that I'd recorded off the oldies station during a "Beatles A-Z Weekend."
I hit fast-forward to "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds."
I hit the gas.
My bag of food fell off the passenger seat.
I reached out to stop the spill, but was too late.
I surveyed the Value Meal damage.
I looked out the windshield.
The road had curved. I hadn't. My right tires were on the grass. There was some kind of ditch. For drainage? For dumping bodies? I don't know. But it was just steep enough that my tires slipped and I couldn't correct. I couldn't get back on the road. I couldn't slow down.
shit shit shit shit shit
Then I saw it. A wall. A wall? What? A stone wall supporting a driveway over the ditch. A stone wall I was headed straight towards.
Oh my god. This is it. Is this is?
I don't remember the impact. I sort of remember the sounds but mostly I remember the deathly silence that followed. The deathly silence right before I realized I needed to start breathing.
I opened my eyes. I was alive. The car was...no...let's not think about that...
I felt fine. Really, really fine.
I bet I could walk back to school and catch the bus home
So I opened the car door and tried to get out.
HOLY MOTHER OF BABY JESUS GOD I'M HAVING A HEART ATTACK. MY HEART IS ATTACKING AND THE PAIN, OH GOOD GOD THE PAIN
Then I didn't feel so fine. My chest burned and throbbed and ached and all sorts of other words the Thesaurus could supply you with. I gasped for breath and started to cry.
Which didn't help anything, as the tears just made all the blood that was gushing from above my right eye run down the side of my face.
What the fuck?
Yes. Blood. GUSHING FROM ABOVE MY EYE. BLINDING ME. WITH BLOOD. Blood that was GUSHING FROM MY OWN BODY.
These were the first words I said out loud. I said them calmly, staring at my bloody fingertips.
Suddenly there was someone there. By my door. An elderly man. Apparently it was his driveway that I had plowed into.
"Oh my gosh, I am SO SORRY." I gasped. "I go to school down the street...if you call them they will get me and I'm sure the nurse can take care of..."
"Close your eyes," he said. "You have a really bad gash on your eyelid and your collarbone is swelling. Stay still and close your eyes. I've called 911."
*11? What? Shit. This is going to be a whole big thing now, isn't it?
"Where are my sunglasses?" I asked, but he was already running back to his house.
I opened my eyes and tried to survey the damage once again. The glove compartment was missing and the steering wheel was really close to my chest. I was soaking wet. The hell? Every window and mirror was shattered.
My foot was stuck under the gas pedal.
Elderly Gentleman was back at my side, bearing a hand towel. He pressed it against my eyes and told me again to close them.
"I'm really sorry," I repeated.
"It's okay. Third accident since we've lived here. You're okay though. You're really okay."
We sat in silence while I bled into his guest towel. I wondered if he used the nice towels or if he knew there was a difference. I wondered if I would get out of my Chemistry final tomorrow. I wondered what my parents' missionary in Japan would say when she found out I wrecked her car.
The EMTs arrived and were openly amazed that the girl inside that crushed soda can of a car was awake and talking and insisting that they find her damn purse and also, there is a BUS at her SCHOOL and a NURSE and this is all not NECESSARY.
I barked my parent's phone number to Elderly Gentleman who said he'd call them and my school, and the thought of my bastard classmates finding out that Amy, poor, ignored, under-appreciated Amy was very nearly killed several hundred yards away made me extremely happy.
"Tell them I was bleeding!" I yelled at Elderly Gentleman as I was loaded into the ambulance. Then that heart attacky feeling came back and I gasped and flailed until they strapped an oxygen mask on me. Although it could have just been good timing, because I was sort of being a pain about the commands and WHERE THE HELL IS MY PURSE?
I passed out on the ambulance ride and woke up in the trauma center at St. Mary's Hospital (aka Our Mother of Holy Staphylococcus). They cut my clothes off (including the most adorable eyelet lace bra from Victoria's Secret that I have never forgotten and never found a replacement for) and asked if I was lying in a puddle.
"Actually, I think that's a super-sized Coke." I was coming to my senses now.
My dad arrived. My mom was at the motherfucking gynecologist getting a goddamn pelvic when he called the office in a panic. She was on her way.
"I'm so sorry about the car, Daddy."
You know when someone is crying so hard that the most they can do when they hear something absurd like that is shake their head and cry harder? That's what my dad did.
I had surgery on my eye socket which, to our best guess, was hit with the rear-view mirror and sliced up with glass from a variety of sources. The plastic surgeon who stitched me up liked to tell me how stupid Americans were for treating their children like little princes and princesses because it made them grow up weak. I was awake and disturbed by this but I knew better than to argue with a man who had several needles going through my eyelid and also controlled the morphine.
I was lucky.
I did not break a bone. My ankle and foot? That had been pinned under the gas pedal? Had actually been protected by the pedal when the front of the car crunched in. My sternum and ribs took a nasty blow from the steering wheel, but since I drive with the seat so far back from the dashboard I wasn't close enough for my ribs to be crushed. Shards of glass fell from my skin and hair for weeks but I have tiny scars that only I can make out.
I was lucky.
My car had no airbags. The entire dashboard closed in on me. The force of the impact sent the glove compartment flying into the backseat.
I had put my seat belt back on less than five minutes before the crash.
I was lucky.
I lived. I was 18 years old. My life started then.
It's been pretty good so far.