Monday, January 17, 2011

Guardian Grandpa

November 17, 1997

I remember it being a little colder out, but I still opted to wear my white t-shirt and cute blue shorts that I liked so much.  After all by lunch, when I spend more time outside, the sun was sure to warm everything up by then.  It always did in Mesa Arizona.

I grabbed my lunch, and threw my backpack over my right shoulder and ran out to the van before my sister to claim “shotgun” for myself that day.  Moments later my sister came out and seeing my victorious smile beaming at her through the windshield she took her place in the back and Mom jumped into the driver’s seat.

We drove around the corner to pick up my friend Ronna for school, and then we headed on our way.  My sister and Ronna were moving their backpacks around getting themselves situated, and I was gazing out the passenger side window thinking about my boyfriend and the Chemistry test I had that day.  Then I heard a man’s voice say, “Put on your seatbelt.”  It wasn’t a whisper, or a shout, just a statement. 

I didn’t think much of it… I just thought it was a very distinct thought, and looked down and was surprised to see that I didn’t have my seatbelt already on.  I casually reached over and clicked the belt into place, and looked up to see a pickup truck heading toward the upcoming intersection. 

They weren’t slowing down. 

Mom.”  I said, trying to draw her attention to the truck.

They still weren’t slowing…

 MOM.”  I cautioned much more earnestly. 

The truck was to the stop sign… the one that they were meant to stop at. 

They didn’t stop.

MOM!”  I screamed as our minivan entered the intersection just as their truck ran the stop sign. 

I remember just before impact thinking that weren’t going to hit them.  We were somehow going to just miss them… after all, I’d never been in an accident before, and that sort of thing just couldn’t happen to me.  I remember feeling totally assured that we were going to be just fine, and I completely relaxed, confident in our safety.

A split second later our van T-boned their small pickup truck right on their driver’s side. 

Everything was suddenly in slow motion.  I was jerked forward, hard.  I felt my body pulling hard against the immovable seatbelt.  Suddenly the van started tipping sideways.  I closed my eyes not wanting to see what couldn’t possibly be happening.  We jerked hard.  Everything was so loud.  I felt dizzy and disoriented as the van fell sideways, hitting violently against the pavement. 

I wasn’t sure what had happened at first. 

I was so disoriented. 

It took me a moment to realize that we had flipped over. 

There was a terrible smell in the van, I looked around and saw smoke coming from the engine.  Oh my Gosh!”  I thought.  The engines on fire!”  For a brief moment I was sure that at any moment the van was going to blow up. 

I closed my eyes and waited for the explosion. 

Then I realized… I’m alive.  I’m going to at least try to get out of this van before it blows.

I looked around trying to find a way out.  I looked to my right and saw my window was broken out, and there was a small gap about 2 inches wide between the sill and the pavement.  For a moment I thought, “I bet I can squeeze through there and get out.”  I poked my fingers through, and realized that I would cut myself on all the glass there if I tried to crawl out.  (Can you tell that I hit my head really hard?)  Next I saw the windshield.  The desire to get out was growing more and more desperate as the smell of the smoke grew.  I was sure that at any moment the engine would blowup.  I tucked my knees to my chest and kicked out hard against the windshield. 

It didn’t give. 

Just as I tucked my legs back to kick again I heard my Mom yell, “Don’t!  You’ll cut yourself!”  I looked up to find my Mother still in her seat, being held their by her seatbelt.  It was crazy to see her just hanging there above me.  Hearing her also woke me up to the fact that I wasn’t alone.  Behind me I could suddenly hear my sister crying and Ronna coughing. 

I tried to get up, only to realize that I still had my seatbelt on.  I pulled at it trying to get it off… it wouldn’t give.  I looked at the red button and literally had to sound out the letters on it to read the word, “Push”.  Of course.  I pushed the button and out the belt popped.  I think that was the first time it dawned on me that I wasn’t thinking straight. 

Just then I saw legs outside the windshield, and a man with a beard and a jean jacket bent down to look inside the van.  I screamed through the windshield, “Help us!”

He ran to my Mother’s door and asked her to unlock it.  It is unlocked” she yelled back.  The door was jammed shut.  I realized that my Mom needed to get out of her seat, and she couldn’t unbuckle it without falling on top of me. 

It took me a moment to get my legs under me, I was shaking so much.  I heard noise coming from the back of the van.  The man with the beard had opened the trunk of the van and was helping my sister and Ronna out. 

I stood up and for a moment thought of getting out myself, but then I saw my Mom still tied to her seat.  I tried to push her button.  It wouldn’t go; there was too much weight on it.  I put my shoulder under her hip, and lifted with all I had and pushed the button again.  It snapped open.  Mom was able to get her feet under her and land just behind me.

I don’t remember much else.  I looked toward the back of the van, and saw the trunk open.  It was so scary seeing the van on its side.  I took a step toward the back, and everything went dark.

Next thing I remember I was being carried out of the van by the man with the beard, I could hear my sister screaming, “Oh my gosh!  She’s hurt!”  I tried to reassure her that I was fine, but I couldn’t move.  It was like being sucked down a deep well.  I was half aware of sounds and smells, but my eyes wouldn’t open.  I just felt so tired, so weak.

I have no idea how much time passed.  I became aware of a very strong smoke smell.  I opened my eyes and found that the man with the beard was sitting on the ground holding me, with his jean jacket wrapped around me.  He was evidently a heavy smoker.

I was freezing, and shaking.  Why did I wear shorts that day?

An ambulance came, and the EMT started asking questions, I remember he asked Ronna, “Who is the President of the United States.”  That’s easy I thought, George Bush.  Ronna answered, “Bill Clinton.”  I thought she was wrong, but then something clicked, and I realized… nope I’m wrong.  I became a little worried at that point that I must have hit my head pretty hard.

We were all taken to the hospital, and all released after just a couple of hours.  Thankfully we were all pretty much okay.  My sister and Ronna didn’t have their seatbelts on yet.  When the van flipped Ronna landed on the window, and Sister landed on top of her, knocking out her air.  When she caught her breath she took a big breath in, and inhaled a bunch of tiny broken pieces of glass, that she continued to cough up over the next few days. She also got road rash from skidding on the pavement for a short time, and needed stitches after they pulled some glass out of her arm.  Sister got a black eye from her glasses.  Mom banged her knee pretty hard against the dashboard and it was totally numb for the next few years.  I think it might still have some numbness to it.  I had a severe concussion… I guess I knocked out the side window with my head.  And a small cut on my pinky finger.  I had short term amnesia… I had forgotten that the day before I had broken up with my boyfriend… boy was he surprised when I showed up for school and kissed him.  … We got back together.

I also had a bit of bruising across my chest from where my seat belt held me in the car. 

I know that if I didn’t have that seatbelt on I would have gone through the windshield.  And if I would have gone through that windshield I would have hit the pickup truck, and then our own van would have rolled on top of me. 

I would be dead if it wasn’t for that seatbelt.

I would be dead if I didn’t hear a voice telling me to put it on.

I think that day I heard my Grandfather’s voice telling me to put on my seatbelt.  I am deeply grateful for my guardian  angel.

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