When I was in sixth grade, I always thought I was on top of the world. I thought I knew everything and everyone loved me. I always told my friends, "Throw something at me and I can take it." (This was of course before I started writing for the Times and definitely before I moved to another state, so honestly, what did I know?) But little did I know how unprepared I was for the real world.
September 2006. It was just another hot and sticky Texas afternoon. My sister and I had come home from school that Wednesday afternoon excited because of the upcoming three day weekend. We decided to skip swimming and play in our backyard instead. While we were outside, I started pulling my sister in a yellow wagon we owned. We had an unusual drive way. From the street you would drive straight until you passed a black gate and then you would basically have to do a U-turn to get into our garage. (Not to mention, it was on a slope. Thankfully, this was Texas where it hardly snows.)
My sister and I were having fun pushing ourselves down our long driveway into the black gate where we would bounce back and laugh as the wagon almost tipped over. I stepped out for a moment to grab us some water bottles to pour over our heads since it was so hot. I rounded the corner and my sister and I heard some screeches. My sister turned towards me. Her little 8 year-old eyes were scared. "What is that?" she asked, grabbing my arm. I dropped my water bottles and ran to our gate, trying to see between the black bars. Suddenly, a black jeep came around the corner, swerving, out of control. I gasped.
The car slid into the house across the street, ran into a tree, backed up, and hit their mailbox. But little did I know what had really happened.
I stood there for a split second, shocked at the crash I had just witnessed. Then the scream escaped my lips.
"HELP! PLEASE! MY GOD, HELP!"
I wrenched myself from my little sister's grasp and the adrenaline rush kicked in.
I've tried to run that speed I did that day, but I can never get up to it. I don't think an Olympic medalist could. My feet carried me up our driveway and into our garage. I ran through our house and through our front door.
"Oh my god!"
My dad pushed me out of the way, phone in his hand, as he ran to the car.
My mom and a neighbor opened the car door.
I screamed, louder than I had ever screamed before. And I have still not screamed so loud.
There was a woman, lying on the passenger's side of the car, face down, not breathing.
I collapsed on the pavement, trying to breathe, but I kept screaming. No one noticed, everyone was just as shocked as I was. The only difference was, even my sister didn't see the crash. I was the only one. I felt responsible for this. I knew I couldn't have stopped it, but I felt this guilt eating at me.
The police and ambulance came, but it was too late. She was dead.
I flew inside my house. I didn't want to see anyone like this, half crazy, screaming, scared, panicking. I picked up my cell phone. I found myself pressing numbers, I didn't know I was calling my friend, but I only realized it when I left a message.
"Um . . . this is Grace. I really need to talk to you, call me back please. Please, this is urgent. Thanks, bye."
I just sat in my bathroom, rocking myself back and forth. I cried and cried, holding my cell phone to my ear, trying to hear it ring or feel it vibrate. At last the call came and I pressed "talk."
"Grace? Grace, what's wrong? Is everything okay?" my friend Julia asked. I started crying.
"Please, help me! I don't what to do, t-t-there was a crash and-and . . ."
"Grace, calm down please, you're hyperventilating, I can't understand you." I took a shaky breath and started over. "There was a crash across our street, and the woman in died, s-she had a broken neck and . . . I'm scared! Please help me!" She took a shaky breath too. "Are the police there? Can you ask your parents? I'm really sorry!" I don't remember much after that, I just remember hanging up.
After everything was over I finally learned the truth, this lady was 71. She had been to a party and was drinking and decided to take a short cut to her house through our neighborhood, without wearing her seat belt. When she hit the tree, she flew up to the window and broke her neck and instantly died.
So I guess that makes me feel a little better about how she died and that she wasn't an innocent little old lady who lost control of her car . . .
But it still catches me by surprise and it's been over two years.
That single crash helped me become a little less naive to the real world. It was what triggered me to study world disasters and tragedies, including the Holocaust and the burial of Pompeii in 79 A.D.
I cry because of this car accident. Other than my friend, Julia, and my family no one else seems to know that I've witnessed something this tragic. It may seem small to some people . . .
But it changed my life in a single crash.