On Saturday Feb 25, I was in my car, transporting plastic bins full of things from the house to a storage unit near West Chester, which I had rented earlier in the week. Everyone in my family has been working to get the house ready to put up for sale as soon as possible this month, and because I moved into a very small, affordable - and also fantastic - apartment, storage has become a necessary, but stress-inducing, step in the process.
I was experiencing a lot of ambivalence about doing anything (and also nothing) that day. I felt disheveled and jittery as I went down the stairs of my apartment's deck to the car sometime in the mid morning, wishing I could sleep, or at least rest, so that I could relax some of the knotted muscles and racing thoughts that pervaded my body and mind. I've been keeping things relatively balanced lately, but on this particular day I felt on the edge, exhausted from twice driving to New Hope the previous weekend for lectures at Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve, where I volunteer, and from a busy Monday followed by my usual four afternoons of work, which involves cleaning out coolers, pricing packages, packing up orders, stocking shelves, creating produce displays, and breaking down cardboard boxes. In fact, I was pretty much freaking out about how tense my body felt and when I was going to find the time to get it back into a more relaxed state. The previous evening I had called a friend who gives massages to set up an appointment, as I had enough money at the end of the month to afford one. I felt like I was barely keeping things in control.
One of the compromises I made to take care of myself was to not rent a truck and carry all the boxes for storage out of the house and then into the unit that day, but to merely pack my car and begin the process of filling the storage unit that way. I was able to load all of the plastic bins that I had grouped together in the master bedroom, though I had to set one last bin on top of another in the passenger seat to get them all to fit, which I did, knowing that it was a little risky, but making sure that the bottom bin was squarely set on the seat and that the top bin was set firmly onto the recessed lid of the lower bin.
The bins were packed with childhood belongings, such as matchbox cars, letters, drawings, toys, and stuffed animals, as well as things from more recently that I hadn't a place for in my new digs. I headed toward the storage unit by a roundabout route (another manifestation of my ambivalence perhaps), ending up on Goshen Road, which is a beautiful, winding country road that passes estates and farms that lie between the Main Line and West Chester. Just beyond a curving hilltop past Delchester Road, the clear Sterlite bin with folding white lid halves slid off the lid of the bin below it and lodged against my right arm. Shit, I thought, with alarm, this is not good, but I'll shove it back and steer the car back into the curve ahead of me. SHIT, I thought, when the bin would not slide back onto the other, and instead, was keeping my arm from turning the wheel. I don't remember if I got around to putting my foot on the brakes after dealing with the surprising fact that I could neither turn the wheel nor shove the bin out of my way, or if my leg, too, way somehow impeded by the bin. I gave it one more effort, then looked up and concluded, Well, that utility pole is going to stop me and there's nothing I can do about it.
And it did, very quickly. But I was unhurt. It felt like I imagine a hockey player would feel, when he stops quickly at the boards. Both airbags went off, and I don't know whether my head hit the one on the steering wheel or not, but I was relieved to find out that it wasn't as bad as some people had told me. The cloth was strong and soft and if I did hit it, I didn't notice, and there were no bruises or broken appendages from the air bag deploying. The car, on the other hand, was a mess.
The first thing I noticed was thick, white smoke coming in through the vents and then, that the car was still running. I remembered going to a movie or reading a newspaper article about a race car driver who was in an accident and told the person who came to help to turn the key off because he didn't want to die. I turned the key and the car shut off, but for some reason, it wouldn't come out of the slot. The tow truck driver apparently succeeded at that, because it was on the floorboards when we arrived at the junk lot to empty out the car an hour or so later.
I got out of the car, moved around, and felt no aches. Because I would really be upset with myself if I took a chance of the things I had been working for so long to organize, of burning up in a car that might catch fire, I began unloading them and setting them on the side of the road by a driveway. Sorting and organizing things is one of my routine behaviors that I do to calm myself. I guess it served me well this time. I patiently found places to set the things while a retired gentleman, who was the first to pull up behind me, with his wife in the passenger seat, called the police.
I had not gone back to get my cell phone when I left my apartment in my car, without it, that morning. I have some old recalcitrant attitude about being at the beck and call of a phone all the time, which I was still working on getting over, and am being more diligent about now. I was very grateful that I had gone back to get my homemade knit hat, though, as I waited later in the cold wind for a ride.
At some point, I went over to look at the pole. There was a hole about two and a half feet deep and a foot wide on the side opposite where the car had hit it and pushed it through the soft, thawing ground. I was probably driving about thirty or thirty-five, the limit for that road, and generally being as mindful as I could, when I lost the ability to turn the wheel. The pole was badly splintered and occasionally made alarming creaking, splitting, and groaning noises that sent me running but hadn't concerned the gentleman on the phone. The police later said the wires could hold a pole up, no problem, they were that strong. I once saw a tree resting on wires, so I guess they are right. Still, I worked all the more diligently to remove (and keep organized) the bundles of things that had been in the now-splintered plastic bins in the passenger seat. I actually had to remove them to get into the glove box to retrieve my documents for the officers. One of them called my sister, who had also been moving things out of the house that day with her fiance, Ed, and they came to pick me up. It was the only number I remembered, and I knew they would be home. There were breaks in the bins in the back seat, and trunk. I had a collection of reusable shopping bags in the trunk, so we used those to put things in for the time being. There are still a few in the storage unit. As you might guess (or should), I am operating with a different attitude about getting all these things done now, being more reluctant to push myself beyond what I feel okay about doing.
When my ride arrived, I waved them off the road into a driveway right away. My sister got out and gave me a firm hug and started crying. My body also shook with the tensions it had been holding in while I worked to keep things together and safe. One of the things I thought at first after crashing, and I didn't have anyone to talk to, was, Well, there, now - doesn't that just perfectly get across how much I want help with all these things I'm supposed to be doing. Not that I tried to crash a car to make that point, because that would have put me at risk of being hurt and I wouldn't have been able to do that, but all of it came bubbling up from just below the surface, as I had been doing the best I thought I could to balance responsibilities to others with responsibilities to myself, which is always a little harder to justify until something like this happens.
I got my first car when I was twenty-two, and I've been in more than a few mild and not-so-mild fender benders, and there is an odd history of car crashes in my dad's family, which I am just learning about, but totaling a car was not something I had ever done before. In fact, up until this past year, when rebellious Uranus moved into rambunctious Aries, I had five and a half years of clean driving. Since then, I have been rammed once by a new driver pulling out of an intersection, I backed gently into someone's door from my driveway, I've been warned twice about driving a little fast, and I narrowly missed a collision when I myself was pulling out of an intersection. I know I have to watch out for these things, and that there is a chance they will happen when I am trying to do too much at once or do things I don't want to do. It has become a major focus of my life to watch out for the subtle signs that I am getting myself into potential trouble, and even with the events of the last year adding to that challenge, I think I'm still getting better at it. Given that I was unhurt, and had been conscious (though not enough so) of safety, I tend to believe that I'm learning what I need to, though I am wanting to drive less and remain more cautious than I have been. Some people have problems with cars, and I think I might be one of those some time yet into the future. Better to accept it and work with it than keep denying it because it doesn't fit someone's image of what they want you to be. Sometimes making everything come to a stop is a good thing. I just don't want to have to be in a car crash to feel grounded.
My sister, and Ed, and I got everything from the car into the storage unit by the end of the day, then, because I just admitted to rather not wanting to spend the evening by myself, we went to a diner a few blocks from my apartment. Despite the dramatic events, all of us got everything we planned to do that weekend in. Rushing and panicking doesn't help, I have learned, but quiet, persistent, patient effort will finish what needs to be finished, in time, and that attitude is the star I'm steering my ship by.
That evening, or maybe it was the following morning, my sister talked to my father and told him about the events of Saturday, and he relayed to her that our mother, who has Alzheimer's, had, that same day, fallen and received a hairline crack on her pelvis while they were walking out of a Target in Lancaster. She is being taken good care of in a skilled nursing facility at a retirement community near the one in which our parents live. I think how much her life is changing. While much of her daily routine was for a long time spent working by herself in the home, now she is usually in groups of people involved in some kind of activity or care. For the first time since she was a child, she eats heartily, though the caregivers say this will reverse itself later and she will lose the weight she has gained recently.
My father, at the advice of my sister, postponed the meeting with the realtor for ten days, but he remains anxious to sell the house. I have withdrawn from most any involvement with the house or my father's plans for it, because I do not feel it is emotionally safe, though I will spend some time cleaning up the yard and removing the things of mine that remain there rather than fighting with him over what should be done when. It is so trivial. But also a learning experience.
My week since the accident was spent simply getting back to normal and climbing steadily back out of the depression that set in while I focused on taking care of myself. First, I tried to think of ways to get where I needed to, wondering if I could get along without a car, and then, starting Sunday (the 26th), talking to insurance agents, getting a rental car, trolley tokens, and, finally, when I felt ready, researching cars on the internet, all of which went pretty darn well. I purchased a used Civic yesterday from a small, private dealer in New Jersey with the money from the insurance company. My thinking is that it is a car that can serve me for the next two and a half years, maybe more, if I am vigilant, though I'm also seeing how much of my life I can manage without a car in case that should prove necessary, given the costs that might be involved. I take the trolley to work now - it's a rather pleasant ride and I enjoy reading a sci fi book instead of waiting for traffic lights. I am actually sleeping better these days, too, though I still could use more, and I've taken another load of things out from the house to storage without incident. As for knitting, I have started on the pair of mittens that I have been trying to get right for a couple years now, and if I need help with something, I may come by to the group I've been knitting with on Monday nights, but for now, it really feels like the right time to make some changes, which includes reducing the number of things I am committed to getting to and shifting into or focusing on the interests that really reflect who I am becoming and what I most need to learn.