Splintered Mess

RainWhen I mix up my right and left hands, we all chuckle. When I mix up the brake and gas pedals while parking, someone loses their cool.

More accurately, that someone losing their cool is me: I’m pounding my steering wheel with both fists, swearing and half-hissing half-wailing because I’ve hit the gas while trying to hit the brake, and all because I thought my Honda was safely in park when I leaned out to check the distance from the curb.

But alas, ‘twas not.

I’m in the heart of Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood with cars jammed around me, trying to park for dinner reservations my family made for my brother’s birthday. There’s a King Country Metro bus with a dented panel to my left and a sleek silver car with a splintered headlight directly behind me. My five month old son is in the back seat of my car.

This is my first at-fault accident. My perfectionist, drill sergeant inner voice is blaring in my head. I can’t think straight, let alone park my effing car. (I definitely did not use the word “effing” when I was shouting about it. I used the real word.)

My dad, bless his heart, emerges from the restaurant where he’s arrived early and parks my car for me. I walk the walk of shame, coming forward to claim my guilt and exchange insurance information with the bus driver, and then with his supervisor who arrives in a white van with flashing yellow lights. The supervisor takes down my insurance card and driver’s license details. I feel like a criminal submitting to a mug-shot.

But the bus driver is kind. He tells his transit authority that I’m “a nice girl” and declines his option to involve the police. Of course, it’s obvious that I’m on the verge of tears again, doing my best to hold composure. The bus passengers, who’ve all had their schedules thrown off by my driving blunder, assure us that it’s okay. “Accidents happen. This is what insurance is for,” they say.

After finishing with the transit authorities, my dad and I find the architect who owns the silver car to which I gave the black eye. He’s calm and considerate. He and my husband, who’s also arrived now, exchange small talk about the firms where they work.

At last, I enter the sushi restaurant with my family. The manager has heard of the accident and extended happy hour discounts to our table for as long as we want to order. They are so kind to us. They are so kind to me. My dad says we should all crash into buses more often if it gives us eternal happy hour.

I excuse myself to a bathroom stall where I finally let myself cry and unleash the anguish, frustration, and fear. Instead of hearing more snarls from that inner voice of self-condemnation, I hear myself gasp,

“Thank you God that George is okay.”

My baby has no idea what just happened. He was napping, felt the car jolt, woke up crying, and was whisked off to his grandmother’s lap where he was snuggled and fed rice cereal. His peace is intact and his health is whole.

Five years ago, I would not have been the woman to murmur her blessings so soon after a crisis. I would instead have spent those moments obsessing the what ifs, harping on my foolish mistake, crushing my spirit with self-directed rage. And now all I see, in this private moment of solitude, that my son is well and sound, happy and beloved.

This car crash was a mess. I’ll be sorting it out for days, I’m sure. But this discovery, this realization that, through grace, I have grown more thankful, and more attuned and aware of the truly important things…that’s not messy at all.

It’s downright beautiful.


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This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Simply beautiful. I am so glad everyone is safe.

    1. You and me both! So very very grateful!

  2. Elise: wait until George gets to Thomas the Train age and you’ll hear a lot of this: “Accidents happen every day…” You’ll know what that means when time comes. In the in-between, take a deep breath and relax. It’s over and there’s nothing you can do about it.

    1. Thanks, Jack. Since it had to happen, I am just so grateful that this accident was what it was.

  3. Sorry to hear about your accident! I was in the exact same sort of accident when my daughter was about eighteen months. My foot slipped off the brake at a stop light when she cried and I turned to see what was wrong. I hit a tow truck! Glad you’re okay.

    1. Thank you, Jan! It’s so much scarier when our kids are involved, isn’t it?

  4. Hi Elise!
    I was ok with gas and brake pedals, which is weird because I am really really dyslexic. I can’t tell my right from left anywhere…. EXCEPT in a car! But I DO have a thing about hitting poles. In much the same way you struggled with the bus, the silver car and the brake. I had one set of poles that was particularly bad, back about the time you were,,, uh…. two or so. We had a station wagon (think boat on wheels) and I hit a low pole in front, then a telephone pole behind as I went to back away from the first. I had to stop and regain composure. Happily, poles don’t take insurance info, and these were unchanged by the wagon. There was another pole a few years later that left BRIGHT yellow on the side doors of our van, when I did not see the low cement pole upon leaving a parking space. That cement pole had gotten others as well, I am told.
    I am glad George is safe as well. And you . Love you!
    Auntie Reb

    1. Ah, the simplicity of hitting poles… 🙂 Thanks! Glad to know I’m in good company.

  5. I’m glad you and George are okay. Beautifully written post. It’s a lovely thing when our brains shift away from the negative to the positive. Hope the follow-up finishes quickly and well.

    1. Thank you, Michelle! It is indeed wonderful see my mind finally seeing what is truly important.

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