Monday, October 09, 2006


The car settled in the trees, gently rocking for a moment or two as if it wanted to get back up, then it settled into stillness. Steam hissed from the crumpled front end as I ran up to the car, briefly wondering if it was liable to burst into flames or explode (thank you, years of bad TV). The whole time, I dreaded what I would find.

Augusta is tucked away in the hills of Missouri, about 20 miles south of St. Charles. It’s a quiet, rural area of rolling hills and farms. It’s a stop along the Katy Trail, and it’s known for its wineries. Every October, a long caravan of cars full of wine-country pilgrims wind their way up and down the hills along the country roads.

Darcy and I were headed there Saturday afternoon, when we came to one of the steepest, most winding hills. A short line of cars had just started down the hill while we were starting our climb. The lead car in the downward procession suddenly tried jerking to a halt, juked right and left, spun out, sailed off the road, flipped twice and landed in the ditch not 30 feet from my car.

When you see an accident like this, time slows. It takes a second to register that lives – including your own – are potentially at risk. You feel like you’re watching something that’s going on somewhere else – thing like this don’t happen, they can’t. Something like this is too terrible to contemplate.

I told Darcy to call 911 as I jumped out – along with several others – to see what could be done. And really – there wasn’t much. Someone had already helped the sobbing seven-year-old off to the side. Two people were helping a forty-ish woman from the car as a girl climbed into the back seat to remove the baby from her car seat. I helped the woman from the car sit down on the embankment then started to go around to the other side to see about freeing the driver. With someone else’s help, he climbed out of the car and walked around to his family.

Glancing inside the car, I could see air bags limply hanging from the dashboard and steering wheel. Toys, pens, and all the assorted flotsam scattered throughout the passenger compartment. Had they not been wearing seatbelts, we’d have been carrying their bodies from the remains of the car.

Someone more knowledgeable in first aid than I started treating the victims, and the army of cell phoners finally reached emergency services. Help was on its way. Realizing that standing around and staring with ten other people would do little good, we returned to the road and headed onto our destination.

This summer and fall especially, it seems like tragedy and fear are lurking just a heartbeat away, ready to spring at a moment’s notice. Second chances are rare. Don’t let the piddling problems weigh you down – save that for the big ones. Hug your kids, kiss your wives (husbands, etc.), and revel in what you have instead of dreaming about what you don’t.

1 comment:

Farrell said...

Omig how horribly terrifying, though wonderfully written.