“I can’t believe you walked away from that! Was anyone else in the car with you?” I still remember being asked this question even though it’s been over 30 years and I still remember thinking someone was there and looking out for me.
After a night out with friends I was headed home. My whole life ahead of me…
As I was driving alone on a two lane road, I saw a car’s headlights coming straight toward me. In. My. Lane. It was swerving but headed right at me. The only place I could go was to my right where there was a turning lane headed into a neighborhood. I veered over as the other car flew by me . My temporary lane ran out and as I tried to get back on the main road, I must have overcorrected – the next thing I remember was I was trapped in my car in the woods. My car was turned over so that the driver’s side was on top and the passenger’s side was against the ground.
Smoke was bellowing from the engine, and I knew I had to get out! The problem was that it was a two-door car so the driver’s door was big and heavy, and I had to push it straight up to get out. I vaguely remember somehow cracking the door and climbing out through the narrow opening, but I vividly remember sitting on top of the side of my car knowing I had to push off and land on the ground below.
It felt like I sat there a while trying to get my bearings – how did I end up in the woods – contemplating how I was going to get down. The ground seemed far away and there was so much heat coming off the bottom of my car – I remember seeing the wheels of my car still spinning so the whole timeline couldn’t have been very long although it seemed like an eternity.
I didn’t realized at the time that I’d lost my shoes in the accident. I was sure the car was going to catch fire – there was so much smoke – so I finally jumped and ran through the woods back to the neighborhood across the street, and knocked on the first door I came to. We didn’t carry cell phones then so I was completely on my own to find help.
I also didn’t know I’d been injured in the accident. I was definitely in shock. I must have been quite a sight – apparently I had blood on my face and down the front of me. Blood on my legs, no shoes and was quite disheveled. I managed to tell the man who came to the door that I’d been in an accident and pointed to the woods where you could see my headlights and my overturned smoking car. He said he’d call for an ambulance which I didn’t understand because I wasn’t hurt.
At the moment someone ran up calling me name. Actually it was more of a question – “Tracy?!” It was my best friend’s boyfriend and he’d seen part of my accident – not knowing it was me – he’d stopped to see if the person in the car was okay.
“I can’t believe you walked away from that! Was anyone else in the car with you?” He wanted to be sure there wasn’t someone trapped in the car – because if anyone had been with me it’s likely it would have been my best friend and she would have been trapped in there. I assured him I was alone.
I had not been wearing a seatbelt – it wasn’t enforced then like it is today, and I never gave a thought to just how dangerous it was not to wear it. Since that day, I start my car and immediately put my seatbelt on no matter where I’m going, and would never consider going anywhere without having it on. Anyone who rides with me must wear theirs too. I should have been thrown from the car – I shouldn’t have just walked away. I know that now – and I’ll never forget it.
I asked my friend’s boyfriend to take me to my boyfriend’s house which was not far away. He wanted to take me to the hospital but I insisted that I wasn’t hurt so he relented. We got in his car and were almost to my boyfriend’s house when I saw blood all over me. The shock had worn off – I started screaming in pain – loudly! He carried me to the door, and I remember the look on my boyfriend’s mom’s face when she opened the door. She was terrified! If I was a mess at the first house, I was really a sight now – and I was still screaming at the top of my lungs. They carried me inside and called an ambulance – and my mom.
I hate that part – the call every parent dreads – you’re waiting for your child to get home and the phone rings late at night and someone on the other end of the line is saying, “Your daughter’s been in an accident…”
My feet had been badly burned – which is why I was in so much pain. It must have happened when I jumped off the car. They were tending to my cuts and trying to take care of my feet. Shock is a strange thing – I’d run through the woods and across the road. I’d spoken to the guy who answered the door and had no idea I had any injuries – but I did now.
I don’t really remember anything after that – maybe I passed out – I just remember screaming at the top of my lungs and then I was in the hospital. Then my mom was there. Then the police were there to ask me about what happened. Then I was at my grandmother’s.
Needless to say, my car was totaled. My leg was in a brace – I had a huge gash under my knee that required a ton of stiches, and I couldn’t bend my leg until it healed which took a long time. My chin had stitches and I had cuts and scrapes all over. But the 3rddegree burns on the bottom of my feet were the worst. I could barely walk and they took months to heal.
What’s incredible is that the bottom of my feet didn’t scar at all. It was so odd because they looked really frightening for months and took a lot of care to heal but then once the blisters were gone it was like nothing had ever happened. My family moved to the beach shortly after my accident, and I was stuck inside for quite a while but I was lucky as hell – and I knew it.
I think back and marvel that I walked away. I also think about this…the person who ran me off the road was most likely drunk. They never found them – no one got the license plate or could identify the exact type of car it was. I knew it was a dark color sedan – not exactly helpful.
I hope they made it home safely. I hope they didn’t encounter anyone else. I wonder if they even saw me that night – if they did, did they see me go flying across the road into the woods? If they did, why didn’t they stop to help? Do they wonder if I was okay? I hope they did see me and saw the accident and wondered about my survival. Maybe it scared them like it scared me – maybe they never drove drunk again. Maybe they are looking out for someone else now.
The awareness of drunk driving was just taking off – MADD was just getting started and what a difference that has made. I’m adamant about not drinking and driving – it’s basically the one rule we gave our kids when they started driving – along with seatbelts and no texting. They were “no exception” rules!
I think about how much more distracted drivers are today – if I’d been texting at the time of my accident, I never would have had time to react like I did. We likely would have had a head on collision and all been dead – an almost certainty without our seatbelts on. Difficult to imagine but I do because I don’t want to ever lose sight of how fortunate I was that night. There is no place for drinking and driving and no excuse for not wearing your seatbelt. I’m so grateful that my best friend’s boyfriend stopped to help – not knowing it was me – he was looking out for whoever had just been through a horrible car accident.
Since I got a second chance – I want to make sure that I never take it for granted. I also want to look out for others – to be a reminder of the dangers of drinking and driving or driving distracted. I was just a high school girl trying to get home safely back to my family – and someone almost took that away. Thankfully I was young and resilient – my body healed and slowly my mind healed. I had to force myself to drive again – especially at night.
I didn’t think about how close I’d come to being killed until much later in life – I hope the other driver thinks about that now. Maybe the driver who hit me was just a kid like me trying to get home – but they were either drunk, reckless or distracted and therefore, extremely dangerous.
When we’re young, we don’t give a lot of thought to how our actions might impact someone else – it’s why as parents we remind our kids so often. As young people we think we’re invincible – and get annoyed when our parents tell us differently.
Our job as parents is to be sure our kids know this – whether it’s drunk driving, texting and driving, hazing, bullying, harassment, wearing their seatbelts, or excessive drinking –doing the wrong thing or not doing the right thing can have a lifelong impact on yourself and others. We have to take care of each other and step in and help when we can.
All it takes is for us to remember how carefree – and sometimes careless – we were as teens and young adults to remind us that these lessons are critical to our kids’ and other kids’ survival. It’s extremely important as our kids head off to college (and turn 18 and have to be fully responsible for their actions) that they remember how their actions impact those around them. We want them to have fun but more importantly we want them to remember that they don’t walk this world alone in a bubble.
Take it from someone who’s been there – actions have consequences.
Tracy Hargen is a Southern girl born and bred but did a stint in NY and NJ after meeting her Yankee husband. Having known each other for a mere 6 months, she and her husband eloped and it seems to have worked out: they have been married 28 years and counting. Since their two sons recently flew the coop, they are empty nesters. Working in corporate America from a home office for the last 30 years, Tracy finds juggling work and home both exhilarating and exhausting. You can find her on Twitter @t_hargen. Her work can also be found on LoveWhatMatters.com.