My life changed on Thursday. Forever. I met real-life heroes, I experienced a second hand fear as a Mother and as a Daughter, and I learned a very valuable lesson that I will share with you as the story concludes.
On Thursday morning, I was in a rush to get ready for work because I needed to run to the store down the road before I left. Because my Nanny arrives right when I need to leave, I had gotten my kids ready to go too - so we could run to the store together and be back in time for their Nanny to arrive and I could head to work. We were dressed and ready to run out the door when she arrived about 10-15 minutes early for work that day - which meant I could leave early, run to the store for some new pantyhose (since mine ripped that morning), and still make it to work on time without having to take the kids out.
So, I pulled out onto the main road that I live right off of and started my day. I had only been on the road for one minute before right in front of my eyes, a scene that will never leave my memory, happened.
I was driving behind a little Ford Taurus who was driving behind a big utility truck. A Jeep coming in the opposite direction on this two-lane road with a speed limit of 55 and guard rails on both sides - went off the road and hit the guard rail on her side of the road, boomeranged into the guard rail on our side of the road - just missing the truck, and smashing into the Taurus that was right in front of me - causing her to spin out of control as the Jeep then flew back onto the side of the road she was originally driving on and smashed into the guard rail head on.
I saw the whole thing happen. It's like time slowed down and I saw the glass fly up as it cascaded down, glistening from the reflection of the sun. I saw the car parts shoot across the road and heard screams, whaling cries, collisions and then, silence. Complete silence.
As I jumped out of my car and ran toward the Jeep, I saw the two men from the utility truck running toward the Taurus to help the girl that was driving. As I approached the Jeep, the windshield washer fluid was spraying all over the place, smoke was coming out from under the hood that was totally smashed in, and the driver was beside herself in shock and emotion and her music was playing so loudly she could barely hear me. I immediately noticed a rear-facing car seat that was tipped over in the back seat of her car because that door was completely smashed in. I asked the woman; "Is there a child in the car with you?" She kept telling me she couldn't hear me and didn't know what was going on. At the time, it was clear to me that she was in shock and I needed to help. I couldn't get the car door open because it was smashed in. The power unlock wasn't working anymore, so I couldn't unlock the doors to open the passenger doors on the other side. I leaned into the broken window on the other side enough to see that THANK GOODNESS that car seat was empty and there was not a child in the vehicle with her.
Back to the Mother, I went. I told her that her child was not in the car with her. I asked her if she was okay and how I could help. It was then that I realized that she was having a seizure. I yelled out for help and for someone to call and make sure an ambulance knew she was having one. Another driver ran to my assistance as we worked together to help her. I placed my hand on her chest to feel her heart pounding and her breathing fast and deep. I checked her for cuts and bleeding and we tended to her seizure. Two random strangers, having never met before - untrained to respond to medical emergencies and we were working together as if we knew exactly what to do. When the ambulance arrived and took over, it was such a relief to know that they could provide her with treatment and oxygen and make sure that she is okay. My heart hasn't stopped aching since that day, wishing I could know that she is okay and that she, as a Mother, was returned home to her child. Also so thankful her child wasn't in the car where the door was smashed in and then realizing how thankful I was that my own children weren't in the car with me. Because they were supposed to be, as we ran to the store together, and could have been in the accident that happened just seconds before me.
I held back my tears as I walked over to the girl who was driving the Taurus. I had already received information from the other drivers that she was okay and not injured. She was standing in the wreckage and just looked shocked. The two men from the utility truck never left her side. In fact, one of them stood next to her as the other one cleared the car parts from the road and proceeded to pull a leaf blower out of their truck and blew the glass off of the road. When I arrived at this girls side, I asked her if she was okay. She wrapped her arms around me and we just stood there - wrapped in a hug. I didn't even know her name. She needed me there, right in that moment. I held this young girl as she stood there shaking in my arms. I asked her if she had any injuries or if she remembers hitting her head. She said no, I don't remember, please just hold me. So I did - I held her. For about 20 minutes, we stood there and cried together. Tears were silently running down my cheeks as I was thinking about how terrifying it must have been for her to see this and know that she was going to be hit and couldn't avoid it. To see her car, completely mangled, in the middle of the road. Her phone was lost in the car and one of the other drivers called her Mother for her - letting her know that she was okay and had been in an accident - and that she needed her to come to the scene. The Mother in me needed to protect her until her own Mom arrived. She needed to feel safe and be kept warm. Nothing else in my life mattered in that moment and I will never forget this girl. I have a daughter. I could feel so much empathy for how the mother must have been feeling as she was on her way to this scene. I am a daughter. I could now resonate with how my Mom must have felt when a similar situation happened when I was young and rolled my car. When the police and paramedics came to help this girl, I asked her if she was okay or if she wanted me to stay. She assured me that she was okay, would not need a ride anywhere and that it was ok if I left. We made direct eye contact at the end when I said to her "I'm so glad you are okay" and she said "I'm so glad you were here".
I got back into my car and just sat there shaking. Feeling so thankful that this wasn't worse than it was. Thankful it wasn't my kids and I in the crash because it could have been. Thankful my kids weren't in the car which could have limited my ability to get out and help. Thankful that at the time that I left the scene, both women were okay. I prayed so hard for both of them.
It's been three days since this crash and I still have not been able to work through all of the emotions I have because of it. I have personally been in car accidents. None of them impacted me as much as this one I just witnessed. I saw everything. I felt everything. I still do.
In hindsight, I will never look at an accident scene the same way again. So what that I was late for work. I was initially very worried about this, knowing that I was going to miss a conference call. But I knew I had to stay - not only legally; as a witness of the crash, but morally. As a human. As a Mother. Watching those two men that were driving the utility truck clear the roads so other drivers could resume their commute, watching them care for this girl, watching the world stop - watching other people leap into action to help complete strangers.
You never know what is going on unless you're involved. You don't see the extreme emotion, the efforts, the teamwork. You just see that long stream of brake lights in front of you and watch your clock thinking of how much it will impact you. Well, at least I used to. But, I never will again. Whatever life changing moments those people involved are experiencing, those are more important than my delays.
To the community that came together to help these two women - you are my Heroes. I will never forget your faces, your gestures. I don't know any of your names or if I will ever see you again. But I admire you. To the 17 year old girl that was driving the Taurus - I felt your heart pound into my chest, I felt your tears drop onto my skin. I will never forget you either; and I am so happy that you were safe.
This scene will never leave my memory. Because of this, I will drive slower. Safer. I will always take the extra ten seconds to make sure my kids car seats are still installed properly and make sure their belts are positioned properly and that they are as safe as I can keep them. I will do better to ignore distractions and keep my eyes on the road. I will remind myself that sometimes a car crash has nothing to do with my driving abilities and everything to do with others. I am never above the risk of this happening to me. So, I will do my best to be sure that if it does - my precious cargo is as protected as I can make them. It's worth the extra time and efforts. You never know in what moment your life, and theirs - can change forever.