An Inspiring Life Lesson

She felt alone in the aftermath of an auto accident, but was she alone when it happened?

Jun 13, 2014

Jennie Bailor

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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