Wednesday, February 26, 2014

She Just Didn't Know

I live in Buffalo, where winter pretty much extends from October through April. Once the snow and ice come, they pretty much never really disappear. In the past five years, I've learned to deal with this interminably long season, and even found some things to love about it -- like thundersnow. So it's fair to say that driving in Buffalo is an acquired skill, and it's a skill that I haven't acquired, because I haven't driven since my trauma. My friends know this, in part because sometimes they have to drag me places that our bus system doesn't service, but most strangers don't. It's not like I introduce myself by going up to them and saying "Hi, my name is Erin, I have PTSD and I don't drive because of my trauma." Trust me, PTSD makes it hard enough for me to make friends. I'd rather not throw potential new friends in the deep end of the pool right away.

Anyway, I was at an event on Saturday, and as I was leaving, someone said to me "It's a mess outside. Be careful on your way home; you don't want to kill someone."

It's hard to describe what it actually feels like when the entire world comes slamming to a standstill, brought down by an innocent turn of phrase. That's all it was to her, a casual expression. But for me, it was trauma and trigger and accusation and condemnation all rolled into one. Because you see, I was involved in a fatal motor vehicle accident. It truly was an accident. There was no drinking, no speeding, no talking on my phone. I wasn't trying to sip a soda and change my radio station. I wasn't yelling at my kid in the back seat or trying to apply another coat of lipstick when this all happened. I was just driving. And there was a pedestrian, who wasn't visible, because of where he was, and then it was too late. The human body is not designed to withstand the impact of a car traveling 55mph on a highway.

So for me, "you don't want to kill someone" will never be six little words -- an innocent, meaningless expression. It will be a series of horrible images and sounds: a single shoe lying in the road; bits of yarn tangled in the grill of my car; an ever-widening pool of blood shining in the sun; the whir of the helicopter blades and the wail of the sirens; the screams of family members when they arrived on scene.



But she just didn't know any of that. So I walked outside, gulping in air, trying to calm down, praying I wouldn't start flashing back and actually seeing the accident replay on the street in front of me, re-experiencing the sirens, feeling the gravel bite into my face when I fell, shaking from shock. Eventually I made my way home, courtesy of the aforementioned public bus system.

It's strange. I live with this accident every minute of every day. It is constantly on my mind. I don't go for more than a few minutes without having a discrete thought about it, and that includes while I am sleeping. But when it comes out of nowhere like that, it still has the ability to eviscerate me, even after all this time. It hurts like hell.

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