A teen loses his control of his car on the interstate, but a stranger is there to lend a hand.
- Posted on Aug 2, 2013
Mr. Responsible. That’s me. My friends liked to joke about it, but I took things seriously. That’s why I was the one driving my three friends back to school after play practice.
The day was drizzly, so I was extra careful on I-35. I kept my eyes on the road, except for a quick glance in the rearview mirror. “Lauren!” I said. “Put on your seat belt!”
Lauren was sprawled sideways across the backseat with her foot on Matt’s knee. “We’re almost to the school, Marcus,” she said. “I want to keep my ankle elevated. I think I might have sprained it on stage.”
“That’s no good reason to take chances,” I said. “You never know what can happen on the interstate.”
I looked at Molly beside me in the passenger seat of my mom’s SUV. At least her seat belt was on.
Lauren sighed and pulled out the seat belt. I hated to sound like a nag, but safety was important. I remembered back to my sixteenth birthday—the same day I took my driver’s test. Mom was so proud when I flashed her my new ID in the driveway, but not so proud she didn’t give me a lecture.
“Driving is a big responsibility,” she said. “You and your friends are precious cargo.”
“I know, Mom,” I said.
Hadn’t I proved myself by acing my driving test? What else did I need to be safe? Mom pulled something out of her pocket. “I trust you’ll always drive carefully,” she said. “But I want you to slip this clip on your visor for extra protection.”
She dropped a little round clip into my hand. It was a guardian angel. Mothers, I thought.
As we neared our exit on I-35 I glanced up at the clip still fastened on the visor. I hadn’t had any need for a guardian angel yet—not with my careful driving—but it didn’t hurt to have it. It was like I told Lauren about the seat belt. You never knew what can happen on the interstate.
I moved into the next lane and turned on my right signal. The fifteenth street exit was coming up. In a few minutes we’d be back in the school parking lot.
I slowed down to take the sharp curve. But when I turned the wheel the SUV hydroplaned. I hit the brakes. We slid and swerved back and forth over the road. “It’s okay!” I said as calmly as I could. “It’s okay!”
We fishtailed sharply to the right. I’d practiced spinning out of control with my dad in empty parking lots so I’d be prepared for something like this. Now was time to put those lessons into effect. I gripped the steering wheel tight and turned the wheels hard in the direction of the spin.
But a slippery interstate wasn’t like an empty parking lot. Instead of slowing down, the car spun faster. The tires on one side ran over the curb and dropped into a drainage ditch. The whole SUV tilted and flipped. My friends screamed. My door slammed into the ground.
Then we were upside down. Then the passenger side hit the ground. We tumbled down the grassy slope, over and over, like a wooden block tossed down a hill. The car was filled with the sound of crunching metal and shattering glass. My passengers went silent in shock. We must have rolled over eight or nine times.
When we finally stopped, the driver’s side lay on the grass and the front of the car faced the highway. Glass covered the dashboard and seats like sharp confetti. My heart pounded in my chest. I twisted in my seat. “Is everyone okay?” I croaked.
Lauren and Molly hung suspended in their seat belts on the passenger side. Matt, like me, was on the side nearest the ground.
“Yes,” Molly whispered.
“I seem to be,” said Lauren.
“What’s that smell?” asked Matt. Burnt rubber? Gasoline? All I knew is, we shouldn’t be in this car a minute longer. With shaking hands I got my seat belt unbuckled. Matt and I stood up. I held Molly around her waist as she unbuckled her seat belt while Matt helped Lauren.
But when we tried to get out, the passenger-side doors were jammed. The jagged glass made the windows too dangerous to try to climb out.
I don’t know what to do, I thought. How do we get out of here?
I poked my head out the window next to Molly hoping—praying— there was someone outside to help. Whoa! Just outside the car, as if he’d been waiting for me, stood one of the biggest men I’d ever seen. He was African-American and bald, maybe in his late 30s, wearing jeans and a white T-shirt.
He looked about the size of an NFL linebacker—only taller.
“You kids all right?” he asked in a deep baritone.
“We’re okay, but we can’t get out.”
“Allow me,” he said.
He reached into the car, put his hands under Lauren’s armpits and plucked her up as if she were a toddler. He pulled her gently through the window, avoiding all the broken glass, and set her on the grass. Molly spread out her arms and he lifted her out. Next came Matt. Then it was my turn.
I’m about five feet eleven, but I felt like a baby when he picked me up in his hands the size of oven mitts. When I stood on the ground outside of the car I came up to his chest. He must have been seven feet tall.
“You’re going to be okay,” he said.
The girls rushed me and Matt for a hug and I heard sirens coming our way. I turned to thank our rescuer, but he was gone.
“How could a man that size disappear so fast?” I said, looking up and down the service road for a clue. I didn’t even see a car that might have been his.
A couple firefighters jogged up and asked if we were all right. “A stranger pulled us out of the car,” I said. “Right before you pulled up.” The firemen just looked at each other. “But we saw you climbing out of the car when we drove up. There was no one else here.”
Maybe I was more shaken by the crash than I thought. But we didn’t all imagine the man lifting us out!
Back home I carefully washed the broken glass out of my hair while my parents went back to the car to collect my things. The SUV was completely destroyed: windshield and windows blown out, body dented and the hood creased down to a V right over the driver’s side. Right where I had been seated.
“I can’t believe it didn’t cave in right on my head!” I said when Mom described it.
“Believe it,” she said. She reached into her pocket and pulled out my guardian angel clip. “It was fastened at the exact point where the roof came down,” she said. “The angel must have spread his wings to protect you.”
Spread his wings—and stretched out his arms to lift me to safety. I was lucky my guardian angel was with us that day. You never know what can happen on the interstate.
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