She felt alone in the aftermath of an auto accident, but was she alone when it happened?
Jun 13, 2014
Summer was supposed to be free of worries for a high school grad like me. No studying, no homework–at least not till I went away to college in the fall. I even had a good secretarial job at an industrial company so I could go off with some money in my pocket.
But one afternoon, while I tried to concentrate on entering orders into my computer, doubts crowded in: I’d never been on my own before. I was shy. I’d always lived in the same small town. How would I make it out there in the big, scary world?
I knew Mom would remind me that my guardian angel would be by my side, but I was getting a little too old for that kind of reassurance.
“See you tomorrow,” I said to my supervisor before clocking out. I pushed open the warehouse door and headed outside to the parking lot. Mom’s little silver Toyota shone in the blazing sun. Mom had saved a long time to buy it, her pride and joy. I got behind the wheel and headed home.
Then everything went black.
I opened my eyes in a strange room. Mom was there. I tried to sit up, but I couldn’t move. I was freezing cold. My whole body was sore. My head felt like iron–too heavy to lift.
“What happened?” I mumbled.
“You were in an accident,” Mom said. “Everyone’s okay. Rest.” I fell back to sleep, barely understanding her words.
Hours later a nurse helped me to shuffle into the bathroom for the first time. I stared into the mirror. Thirty-some stitches held my face together; smaller cuts marred the spaces in between.
My guardian angel sure wasn’t by my side in the accident, I thought.
Still, compared to what I’d done, my face was nothing. Mom and the police officers had finally told me the truth: The accident was all my fault. I’d made the worst mistake of my life. Witnesses had seen me make a left turn on Route 37–right into the path of a white van going 60 miles per hour.
My Toyota–Mom’s almost-new silver Camry–spun out into someone’s front yard. I was knocked unconscious. Miraculously, the driver of the van wasn’t hurt. No one was, except me.
About a week after I was released from the hospital, a police officer came to the house, citing me for the accident and assigning me a court date.
“You’re lucky you didn’t have a passenger in that car,” he said.
“We have a lot to be thankful for,” Mom said. She put her arm around my shoulder.
I still had no memory of the crash. I just knew that I could never make up for my mistake. I could see it on the policeman’s face. I’d frightened a lot of people, caused a lot of damage. God must be so disappointed in me.
Mom and I went to see her car before it was junked. The passenger door was completely smashed in.
“It’s just a car,” Mom said. “What’s important is that you’re okay. Everyone’s okay.” That policeman was right about how lucky I was not to have had a passenger.
“What’s this?” I said, reaching through the broken window. On the seat was a bandana. Like everything else in the car, it was covered in blood.
“That must belong to the man who helped you,” said Mom. “Remember, I told you about him.”
One of the witnesses at the scene was a man on a motorcycle. He’d stayed with me, trying to clean my face with his bandana, until paramedics arrived.
“We should wash this and return it to him,” said Mom. I knew she was looking for something, anything, I could do to feel better about myself. Maybe this would help.
Finding the man turned out to be easy enough. He worked at a barber shop not far from the site of the accident. Mom and I dropped in and waited until he was between clients.
“I hope you’re feeling better,” he said when I handed him the bandana. Coming face-to-face with someone who’d been so kind to me only reinforced my guilt. I held back tears.
“Thank you for everything,” I managed, and turned with Mom to go.
“Hey,” the man said, “by the way...” We looked back at him. “How’s your passenger?”
Mom and I glanced at each other. “Jennie was by herself that day,” she reminded him.
“That’s what I told the policeman,” the barber said. “After the ambulance took Jennie away, he asked me some questions. I told him Jennie was alone. The cop looked confused.
"According to the driver of the van, there was a second person in the Toyota. Saw them both, he said, right before impact. The van driver was so sure, the cop and I started to think we must’ve made a mistake.”
For the rest of that summer I thought a lot about what the barber said. How the policeman must still have been trying to make sense of what had happened when he mentioned that I’d been lucky I had no passenger.
I still had a lot of challenges. The judge had me attend a community class on road safety and write an essay about how I could improve my driving. Both helped me look to the future instead of beating myself up over the past. My confidence behind the wheel returned.
By the time I left for college I was ready for the big world out there, and whatever it held. I knew I’d be okay, because I wasn’t exactly on my own. My “passenger” would always be by my side, no matter what, just like Mom always said.
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