My wife and I are mostly creatures of routine. We get up around the same time each morning, have breakfast at the same time, have dinner at the same time, sit in our bedroom watching television for about the same amount of time each evening. We call our far-flung children and grandchildren each Sunday, visit our nearby daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren usually once a week. Each Saturday I make out a weekly task list to run off on Sunday morning after I start the past week's laundry. For a good long while, I worked off and on during the week preparing a blog entry to post on Friday morning. A calm and predictable routine, modified and tightened somewhat lately by pandemic precautions, the specifics modified by changes in location and employment over past decades but essentially stable and orderly. What varied this year was adjusting our schedule for Sue's in-person tutoring at a Milwaukee elementary school and my fetching curbside orders near there some of those days.
Then the accident happened. Traffic lights were off in Elm Grove when we passed through around 6:40 that morning and were still out on our way home from Sue's tutoring just after 3. At one familiar intersection, traffic had stopped in all four eastbound and westbound lanes of a major avenue. We stopped there southbound on a single lane road. On our turn to cross, we were barely midway when an eastbound car surged in front of us and we collided. Instantly smoke across our windows cut off our vision, our car swerved eastward, hit a signpost and rose onto a curb, our seatbelts yanking us backward, airbags slamming into our chests, emptying them of breath. I remember yelling, from shock and fear and pain. Somehow the car stopped. Somehow I turned it off. Bystanders came by to offer help, Sue already mobile. Struggling for breath, I wondered if, completely unprepared, I were about to die.
The other driver and we two lived. A firehouse ambulance crew thought I'd be alright, but drove us to a Hospital where their emergency team thought I'd be alright, and our daughter the nurse attended to us there, eventually helping to get us home. Our Honda Civic, purchased in 2010, nearly 174,000 miles on it, with brand new rear and right front tires and our daughter's birthday gifts in the trunk, was totaled. The street corner where it sat when we left was littered with parts of the car, a great deal of whatever flowed out of the engine, and the pole with a stop sign attached that we knocked over. The next morning Sue filled out a police report and an insurance report and located our car so we could get birthday presents out of the trunk and empty the glove compartment in the dashboard. We both forgot to grab our garage door opener. Our daughter drove us to get a rental car. Our son-in-law drove us to a celebration of his wife's birthday. On the fourth day after the accident, we commuted to Milwaukee again for Sue's tutoring. By the eighth day, we'd leased a new car. Three weeks later the scrap yard sent us our garage door opener. Nine weeks later I barely felt any pain in my chest or back. We still commute several days a week, alternating drivers, both of us alert and sometimes tense, not completely trusting ourselves on the road and ever wary of other drivers.
The day after the accident, December 17, I posted the blog entry I had prepared earlier that week, originally intending to take the next two holiday weeks off. I've taken ten weeks off. Some of what I've written here was adapted from an accident report I was required to write as the driver of one of the vehicles. Our insurance company was reliable and responsible. I just made the second monthly payment on our new car's lease. We still drive through that intersection several times each week and never see any remaining sign of the accident. Except for driving a white Kia instead of a dark blue Honda, we seem to be living through the same routine we'd been living all along.
Except for the persistent anxiety.
Except for the awareness that if I'd turned right at that intersection, the way I usually did and again usually do, instead of crossing it in hopes of getting to an area where traffic lights were still working, we wouldn't have been in that collision. And, yes, if that woman hadn't ignored the stopped vehicles and the dark traffic lights and blithely stayed in motion into our path, we wouldn't have collided. But, in a matter of seconds we did. And now our routine has an added element—it repeatedly, consistently, feels ominous.