Reflecting on a pretty close call
I had a dream the other night. One of those vivid ones that makes you check twice to make sure that’s all it was and tends to linger, stay wedged into one of the corners of your conscious mind the next day.
It was about one of the several times in my life when I should have died, but didn’t. It was an election night, now just about 18 years ago, when little country editors like me all over the state, after collecting the vote totals from their respective areas and arranging them on their front pages — not always aesthetically pleasingly — were scurrying to get their weekly editions to respective printers — in my case, Greenville.
It was pouring down rain. Really hard. And Highway 1 was slick. Really slick. And while I was not driving all that fast (or as fast as I usually do), I was probably driving faster than the conditions dictated, spurred on as I was by the journalistic prime directive: The first rule of publishing is that you have to publish.
And so, just about Wayside, my wife’s Chevrolet Lumina (that sometimes spookily precognitive woman had insisted I take her car that night rather than the small pickup I usually did), began to hydroplane, first down, then across the highway. Most of the time if you steer in the direction you are sliding, you can pull out of it. Most of the time, but not this time.
The left front tire caught the roadside ditch of the opposite lane than the one I’d been in, and that’s when the car went airborne. It side-swiped a tree; then it hit a culvert, and spun back around, ending up in another ditch, facing the highway.
Needless to say, at that point in my life retaining the childhood developed notion that I was Superman, I had not taken the for-mortals-only precaution of wearing a seat belt.
And so, after bouncing around and making contact with various sections of the Lumina’s cockpit, when it finally came to rest, I was in a prone position, on the passenger side floorboard, facing the driver’s side door. I have since tried to duplicate exactly how one might do that unbroken, but have been unable.
Both of the car’s airbags had deployed, one of them directly over my head, a situation which resulted in immediate disorientation and a tad of claustrophobia.
Realizing I was not dead, I remember my own voice (maybe in my head, maybe aloud, I don’t know) yelling, “Take deep breaths. Think.”
I tested whether I could move. Yep. I felt around to see if anything was obviously broken. Nope. Then, with a bit of urgency, I set about getting the hell out of that car. Passenger door? Nope. Driver door? Just a little. Just enough for not the biggest fellow around to squeeze out. I staggered, but managed to stay upright.
The little car was a mangled pile of metal that looked like some mad giant had taken a can opener to it. I should have been dead. Had I been in my pickup I would have been dead. Ironically, had I been wearing the seatbelt I would have been dead.
But the amazing thing is that in any real sense I wasn’t even hurt. I had seen enough wrecks in my time to know that anybody in that one should have been hurt, and really bad. And I wasn’t, outside a lot of bruises, few cuts and what turned out to be a concussion.
The wonderful people in whose yard I had crashed not only took first-rate care of me medically, notifying family and the like, but also carried my paper to the Delta Democrat Times so it could be printed and all the locals got to see the election returns the next day.
The show had to go on and it did.
But, here’s the deal: I probably should have been dead or at least seriously broken up and I had hardly a scratch. And for that to happen, everything had to be perfect. The car had to leave the road at just the precise angle to hit both the tree and culvert glancing blows, not head-on. Not only was I not thrown from the car, but I had to be tossed within the vehicle in just such a way as to end in exactly the right place in exactly the right position as to not be hurt and be able to get out of what did not, but easily could have caught fire.
That’s enough to get the attention of even a dyed-in-the-wool cynic like me. I have always harbored a suspicion that the Almighty occasionally takes a hand in the affairs of men but is pretty discretionary and circumspect in so doing. So why, as that Highway Patrolman obviously thought and as others have since, would this occasion rise to such a level?
It’s been a long time, but I still remember what that trooper said to me that night, and I will admit that from time to time I experience something of a sense of awe in contemplating just what that something else for me to do might be.
Ray Mosby is editor and publisher of the Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork.