The Impact Zone

In the United States a car accident happens every 5.2 seconds, or roughly 6 million times a year. Saturday is the most dangerous day of the week to drive, Tuesday is the safest, and any given day between 4:00 P.M. and 7:00 P.M. is the riskiest time to be in a car. The summer months, especially August, see more collisions than any other time of the year. And, the likelihood of being involved in a crash while also driving in a funeral procession is especially low. But, life has a funny way of defying the odds. My family got hit in a limousine leaving my Uncle’s funeral on a Tuesday in January 2019 at around noon. It was the worst day of my life.

I wasn’t in the limo because we had decided earlier to split into two limousines: one for the six girls and one for the five boys and my brother Louis’ wife, Cindy. Louis and Cindy had just married 5 months prior, in August of 2018, and were inseparable. By the end of the wake we were tense and exhausted, yet relieved to have made it through the day unscathed. My limo was first in line, the other directly behind. Things were calm for a moment; I wasn’t hiccupping with every other breath. My index finger traced a heart in the condensation on the window. I wiped the excess on my Aunt’s palm before clasping her hand. Her thumb made lax circles around mine. Then, there was a loud screech and a bang, followed by my mom’s incessant yelling. The driver barely whispered, oh shit, when I turned around to see for myself. Our second limo was T-boned in the middle of the intersection. They had been hit twice. Once on the right, and then again after spinning on the left. The tailgate from the landscaping truck that hit them initially was sprinkled across the asphalt. I hesitated, am I imagining this or is it real?  Instincts took over before I could answer that. My knee scraped in an attempt to jump out of the still moving vehicle. The wind was spiraling and my long hair whipped across my face almost immediately. I was dressed in black stockings and a black dress, black gloves and a thick, almost suffocating, black coat with my mascara still running from the morning’s funeral service. Although my feet carried me to the scene I didn’t feel present. I was moving, frantically, but frozen in thin air. As if I were watching a paralleled version of myself through a void in another dimension. I managed to wade through the heavy air and the ice that lingered from the day before as it bit at my exposed skin. Each step was more deafening than the last. I could hear my family members screaming Louis’ name. Their yells, combined with the cold humidity, rattled my eardrums. That limo, now debilitated in the middle of the street, held every single man in my life—well except for the one that we just buried. We eventually managed to pry open one of the crumpled doors and saw Louis. Unconscious, sprawled across the back seat, and pale. His body looked unnatural, like it was made of wax and was molded to distortion. His glasses were shattered on the floor below him.

Kenny, my eldest sibling, held Louis’ neck until the paramedics came, paying no attention to the blood pooling around his own right eye. They had been each other’s best men. Charles, the youngest brother yet older than me, was responsible for Kenny’s black eye. Their heads banged together in the crash. Charles’ face was a pale white as he put his hands behind his head and silently walked a safe distance away. I was hyperventilating in the middle of the busy street, stuttering repeatedly I can’t do this I can’t do this I can’t do this, and huddled around my hysterical mother, who was unable to make a cohesive sentence, and Kenny’s wife, Sasha. My father held his aching ribs firmly so that the EMT’s focused solely on his son. Gaw Gaw shrieked at the driver who had run a stop sign. You killed my fucking grandson!! It was the first time I ever heard my grandmother swear. Andrew, our middle brother who at the time was halfway through law school, nearly got arrested. He was fighting with the cops who asked him to step away from the vehicle, clawing to get close to our hurting brother. They kept pushing us further and further away from him. Louis remained laid out, his eyes rolled back, naked from the jumbo scissors they used to cut through his clothes to get to his chest, and gargling. My aunt, newly widowed, tried to calm Cindy, whose thumb was now dislocated. Cindy draped herself over the edge of the door and stayed as close as she could without getting in the way. She never left Louis’ side. The ambulance took Louis away on a gurney. When they drove away we were left in the street, amidst the debris, filling out police reports.

Safer America is an organization that brings awareness to people about safety with the use of data visualizations and safety outreach programs. According to its “Car Accident Statistics for 2019” report, 38 percent of all fatal car accidents began with a collision involving another motor vehicle. The report concluded that about nine people are killed and more than 1,000 are injured in crashes involving a distracted driver every day. EAch year, over 1.3 million people die in a crash— roughly 3,287 deaths per day worldwide. Universally, car accidents are the principal cause of death among young adults aged 15-29. For people of any age, fatal crashes are the 9th leading cause of death.

Two years since the crash at 30 years old, Louis is doing well, contrary to the statistics, minus a slight limp. He had a broken rib, a concussion, and should have been using an asparatus to ensure that his lung wouldn’t collapse. Though, I remember it being a battle to get him to use that breathing machine. Doctors assured us that these ailments would lessen with time. I wondered how they measure the lifespan of trauma. Sitting in a small, fluorescent lit, hospital room that night, surrounded by my four older brothers, my parents, my two sisters-in-law’s, my aunt, my grandma, and almost $100 worth of McDonalds I listened to the doctors explain that if he had gotten hit an inch to the left, the results could have been much worse. They were hesitant to tell us how much worse. I like to think that maybe we had an angel on our side.

Since being in the impact zone, I’ve thought a lot about how we are supposed to grapple with the enormity of what occurred. I mean, what happens when you beat the odds, for better or worse? I realized that life moves on even if you are not ready for it to continue. Even if all you want to do is press the pause button and take a break. You can have hope, but eventually you are going to get tired of wishing for a sense of relief that may never arrive. All you really can do is wait it out. Frankly, the results are out of your hands. Fate seems more reasonable. In her poem, A Person Protests to Fate (1953), Jane Hirshfield writes:

A person protests to fate:

A person protests to fate: 
"The things you have caused
me most to want
are those that furthest elude me." 

Fate nods.
Fate is sympathetic.

To tie the shoes, button a shirt, 
are triumphs 
for only the very young, 
the very old. 

During the long middle: 

conjugating a rivet
mastering tango
training the cat to stay off the table
preserving a single moment longer than this one 
continuing to wake whatever has happened the day before
and the penmanships love practices inside the body. 

Fate is a hand to hold; a mouth to kiss. Fate understands that one sort of stress leaks into other stresses. Fate is aware that the contusion is absolute—sudden. Fate is reliable yet beyond our immediate control. Fate embodies hope and places it yards away, so that our fingertips are outstretched and reaching yet we are unable to completely grasp its magnitude. Fate helps to settle intense emotions. Fate takes away some of the burden. “Fate nods. Fate is sympathetic.”

I never wanted sympathy from others. When people heard our story they’d say things like: Oh my god, I am so sorry; Why do so many bad things happen to good people?; That’s really tough. And my personal favorite: I have no idea what I’d do if this happened to me, you must be a wreck! I never really felt bad for myself, either. Instead, I worry that I wasn’t feeling enough. The motions of grief are a little too confessional for my liking and so, I washed over them. I tried hard to feel nothing so as not to feel anything because I was scared of what might happen if I let all my emotions go at once. I didn’t want to waste them, but I also didn’t want to remember them. So, I rebelled against the empathy I was offered until it was distant. Until everyone had forgotten that this even happened—forgotten that I am still scared. Until the, It could have been worse, remarks began to roll in and I wonder well, just how much worse? The truth is that I was feeling too much and I didn’t want people to know that I was l letting this bleed into my every day. I didn’t want people to know that my heart still jumped at loud noises and that I woke up in the middle of the night, cold and sweaty, stuck once again in the daunting distance between myself and the wrecked limo. A distance that has been and always will be drenched with their muffled shrieks and cries, and a distance that leaves me in the dark, eyes wide open, thinking about what could and perhaps should have happened.

I should have swallowed my pride and went into my Uncle’s bedroom when I was crying in his living room. Why is she crying? I’m not dead yet. He was right, he wasn’t dead yet. I should have gone to the hospital that first night he was admitted to hospice, at least then I would have been able to make him laugh one last time, or vice versa. I should have taken his sweatshirt when I was cold and he told me to wear it. I should have spent that last Thanksgiving making hot chocolate and mashed potatoes with him like we used to. I should have known that it would be the last. I should have sat in the seat all the way to the right, in the third row of the limousine, and taken the entirety of the force that was smacked into my brother. I should have moved quicker. I should have cried more. I should have nursed it. I should have hugged my family harder before I left again for college just a few days after we got trapped in the turbulence, knowing that they still had each other but I was alone and three states away. I should have answered honestly when people asked me how my winter break was. It was alright, I’d say, happy to be back though! It wasn’t alright, and I wasn’t happy to be back. I should have announced my numbness and my migraines sooner. I should have, but I didn’t.

 In Greek mythology, fate refers to a group of three weaving goddesses who assign individual destinies to mortals at birth. The three fates are known to spin the thread of human life, to determine ‘the long middle,’ and to then cut the thread with gigantic sheers to signify the exact moment of a person’s death. They had an insurmountable amount of power. The decisions they made were unpredictable; scripting entire lives like one would control a puppet on a string. Regardless of their potential to do damage, the three fates maintained necessity. They held the answers for anything that moved against the current, giving comfort to the inexplicable. The fates were responsible for what is, and completely disregarded what should be. There is no other possibility, only their woven thread.

In modernity, the fates have taken to quantum physics. An MIT physicist, David Kaiser, explains a strange phenomena called quantum entanglement. In his research he says, “Somehow what happens to one particle can have an impact on what we would expect the second one to do, even if those particles are nowhere near each other.” The particles are influenced by one another immediately and physically. If they are truly entangled, then each particle’s properties should be related in a way that if action is taken upon one of the particles, then information is exacted about the future action of the particle it is associated with. So, if they are truly entangled, then my Uncle’s death on Saturday, January 5th, 2019 in a hospital room in New Jersey exacts the probability of my family getting hit leaving his funeral, in the middle of the sweet spot of times to be involved in an injury-less car accident, at an angle just right, therefore exacting the success of my brothers’ survival. Seems legit.

Fate makes trauma digestible. Things come and go, passing by in the blink of an eye until something more dramatic happens just minutes later. Hours. Days. Years. Until it becomes visible, the thread that the three fates have woven for you. Until it becomes clear that the hurt you feel is spread across a million other fates. That other people are feeling it with you—that this is not entirely for you. That this fate is entangled. That this fate has a promise—is intentional.  Fate is sympathetic. Fate makes sure that life has a funny way of defying the odds.

We walked very slowly down the aisle, behind my Uncle’s coffin, at the church ceremony dedicated to him on Tuesday, January 8th, 2019. My lips were pink and blistered from all of the anxious biting I had done since 7 A.M. that morning. My throat, tight; my eyes, swollen. I squeezed my hands together, aggressively, to try to stop myself from crying—again. I continued to push my fist into the arch of my back until someone unclasped them and held my elbow. When I turned around, I saw Louis, he was crying too. It was a real cry, with flared nostrils and a red face. His hand was shaking against my own. We made it outside, where some people were saying goodbye, talking about how it was a beautiful service. Others were in a circle, smoking from a pack of Marlboro’s and using a communal lighter. I watched Louis walk to the concrete pathway, standing still, silently crying, hesitant to move anything more than just his legs. I continued to watch my mom approach him with concern as I sat down in the limo next to my Aunt. We were all sobbing. Louis moved with caution when he reached out to hug our mother, as if something we do every single day was suddenly foreign. His shoulders normally tower over hers, but now they seemed shrunken and heaving. Against her black dress, his knuckles were a startling white. Something came over me and I began running towards them, desperate for their closeness, with my own tears streaming. I forgot to close the limo door that the rest of my family was sitting behind. I reached out with my whole wingspan and hopped onto my tippy toes. My head laid flat against Louis’s shoulder, hugging them as they hugged each other. Our bodies drained together. I felt safe here; sturdy. Eventually, the church parking lot had cleared and the rest of our family was left waiting to leave, the limo door still wide open. But we stayed there, the three of us huddled together under the greying sky.

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