Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Accident

So I'm sitting here, in Madison, Wisconsin, wondering how to even begin this post.  I guess the location is the biggest thing--Wisconsin.  Yeah, you read that right.  Wisconsin.  Not Colorado.  To say our plans changed is a huge understatement.

Four days ago, 3 a.m. on Saturday morning, we were traveling on Interstate 80 about 10 miles west of Lincoln, Nebraska, when a deer crossed our path.  T. was driving, going somewhere between 75 and 80 miles per hour (the posted speed limit is 75 through there) and he couldn't see the deer until it was right in his headlights.  At that point it was only about 10 feet away.  There was nothing he could do.  It was nobody's fault, except for maybe that stupid, stupid deer, just a chaotic random event.  

It was a terrible car accident, and somehow, some way...  we walked away.  We are so lucky.

(Continues below the jump for length reasons... thanks for reading.)

Let's take a moment to rewind.  The Friday before, I worked my fourth very early morning shift, finishing up my first full week on the management staff.  It was a crazy morning but I learned a lot and it was a great way to close out that first week.  I ran some errands after work, headed home to clean up and finish packing, and then waited for our house sitter and her boyfriend to arrive.  Once they got there, we loaded up the Yaris and spent some time chilling in the living room, waiting for T. to get home from work.  Soon enough, he and I were all ready to go, and about 7 p.m., we hopped in the car.

We drove westward, watched the sunset, stopped for dinner before we got too far.  I was exhausted from working my first 50 hour week, which is certainly reasonable, but it had been all very early morning shifts so I was also coming into the trip with a bit of a sleep deficit.  T. and I had worked it out that I would sleep early on in the trip and then later on when he got tired, in theory, around 3 or 4 in the morning, I'd take over and do the middle of the night boring driving through Nebraska into eastern Colorado.  So I slept on and off, and we talked on and off, listening to music and NPR and settling into a good rhythm.  Everything was going fantastically.  We were both so excited, so ready to just be there already.  We only stopped a few times on the way out, so we were able to cover good distance.

I slept through Omaha, but woke up for a few moments somewhere between there and Lincoln before dozing off again.  Energy-wise, T. was doing fine, though I was certainly prepared to jump in there and drive whenever he needed me to.  I had gotten quite comfortable in the passenger seat, having reclined it back slightly a couple of hours earlier in Iowa--I know you're not supposed to, and it wasn't reclined very far back because of the cooler right behind me, but we've all been there, just wanting to get comfortable.  One minute, I was falling asl--

Suddenly, the impact occurred.  The sound that the collision made was, and is, completely indescribable.  I was thrown forward into my seat belt and by the time I opened my eyes, the car was not moving, the airbags had deployed, and the interior was filled with smoke and dust.  It was the most disorienting experience of my life.  What the...?  Did we just hit something?  Did someone just hit us?  Are we okay?  Is T. okay?  And then, "T., what the fuck was that?!" I blurted out, trying to catch my breath.

He was shifting around in his seat, batting away the airbag, trying to get his bearings; I was filled with relief, because even though I had no clue what had happened, at least he was alive.  "Deer!  Deer!  We hit a deer!  Call 911!" he screamed back, and I immediately fumbled for my phone.  My hands were shaking.  The Yaris was completely disabled.  The horn was making the most eerie sound, endless and low, and we were overwhelmed by the strong smell of the airbags (and I can still smell it now).  So we'd hit a deer, and now we were suddenly faced with another very real danger: the car was stuck in the right lane.  Not good.

Even as we were sitting there in those first few seconds, cars and trucks in the right lane were just barely getting over to the left lane in time. I tried to talk to the dispatcher, to help him locate us--a horrifyingly difficult task, considering that just prior to the deer I had been sound asleep, so I could give him no specific place... I only knew that we were somewhere in Nebraska, around Lincoln.  

Meanwhile, T. put it in neutral and got out once, then again, to push the Yaris from the right lane onto the shoulder.  It's a lightweight car in general, but it was filled with all of our luggage, and I was in the front seat, and he was dragging half of the front bumper and the engine bay.  I could feel the adrenaline racing through my veins and tried as hard as I could to keep from freaking out as I spoke to the dispatcher on the other end.

After we were (more) safely tucked away on the shoulder, T. got back in the car and tried to help me relay to the dispatcher that I was speaking to where we were.  I tried giving him GPS coordinates from T.'s phone, which proved unhelpful.  We'd ended up halfway between two mile markers, unable to see unless you got really close.  T. tried to run down to the next one, but to no avail.

When he got back, he called 911 on his own cell phone, which was actually getting service--mine was not--and connected to a dispatcher in the county that we were actually in.  I had been talking with a dispatcher in the next county over, one of the reasons why he was having difficulty finding us.  After I hung up with him, T. continued to speak with his dispatcher, and before long he hung up with the news that Nebraska Highway Patrol was on the way.

As soon as we knew help was on the way, he told me to get out of the car and into the ditch.  The car did not start on fire or explode or anything like that; one of the light bulbs that got dragged underneath the car started to melt the bumper cover, which did scorch the earth below a little bit but did not cause any serious damage.  We also felt much safer out in the ditch, back a ways from the car, in case anyone swerved onto the shoulder.  It was here where I burst into tears for the first time.  And also dry heaved.  Because holy shit, did that just happen?!  It had, and our vacation was most certainly over, the Yaris was destroyed, and we were almost at the exact halfway point on our drive to Colorado, stranded on the side of the interstate in the middle of the night with a completely wrecked car but... we were alive.

Only two or three minutes had passed at that point, from when we hit the deer to T. pushing it onto the shoulder and the moment where we were standing together in the ditch.  We stayed down there for a little while...  we made a few phone calls and hugged each other so tight and checked and double checked to make sure that neither of us were injured.  I was definitely sore in my back, chest, shoulders, and neck; I knew that my seat being reclined didn't help, but I was also sore prior to the accident, so everything was just exacerbated.  Feeling a little more safe, we went up to the look at the car while we waited for help.  It is totally dark there on that part of I-80, but T. has a flashlight app on his phone, which was quite helpful to us then.  I knew it would be different in the morning, in the daylight, but even then, I could not believe the damage.

Eventually, the highway patrolman arrived.  I sat in the back of the cop car and called my dad again, while T. provided his information and helped with the report up front.  I wasn't back there very long before I started feeling a little claustrophobic, so I asked T. to let me out.  I paced back and forth down in the ditch, so grateful for the fact that I was even able to do that, move around without injury and minimal pain.  He came and joined me after a while, and we waited in shock for the tow truck, still totally in shock and totally amazed that we were okay.

We waited between 30-45 minutes for the tow truck, a completely reasonable wait time for the middle of nowhere in Nebraska, and when he finally did arrive, T. and I were each able to grab one thing to take with us in the cop car, including my purse and our laptop bag.  The driver gave us a business card and told us to call when we were ready to get the rest of it.  

The patrolman drove us to a Comfort Inn, where we checked in around 4:30 or so.  T. called the insurance company while I tried to calm myself down, and then we walked to the nearby McDonald's.  I ate half of a bagel sandwich and T. got a hold of his dad, who would actually be rolling through Lincoln on I-80 later in the morning.  From there, we went back to the hotel and, around 6:30 or 7, finally crashed for a two hour nap.

It was a difficult day.  We didn't get much sleep, and we were dealing with the physical and mental shock of our ordeal.  And then there was all of the paperwork and logistics... dealing with insurance and trying to figure out the car situation and coming up with a plan to get back to Chicagoland--because we were hundreds of miles and 8 hours away from home, stranded without a car.  It was a nightmare situation, something neither of us ever wanted to have to endure.  In addition to all of that, there was the awareness that the two of us could have been very seriously injured, that we could have not walked away from that... it was all a bit much. 

Later in the afternoon, after picking up a rental car, we drove to the tow yard and grabbed our things out of the Yaris.  I think the photos more or less speak for themselves.

We also drove past the accident site, which was a good experience for the sake of closure, but one that I would never want to replicate.  It was tough.  The evening found us enjoying the swimming pool, pizza, and episodes of House.  In the morning, we checked out of the hotel and headed for home.  It was a very bittersweet drive and we lamented that we were heading back defeated in the other direction... but still so damn grateful and thankful.  And that's been an overwhelming refrain since that moment on Saturday morning, even still today, Tuesday--we walked away from that.  

Colorado will always be there for us.  We are going to try again, in the fall, perhaps, or maybe we'll try it again next spring.  The car can be replaced, and T. is already looking into a few options.  We're both hoping that the insurance works out sooner rather than later, too.  As far as the vacation is concerned, well... we're together, and that's what counts.  Doesn't matter if it's in Lincoln, Nebraska, or the Greater Rockford Area, or Madison, or even home, our sunny one bedroom.  We can still have an enjoyable week together, and we are planning on it despite the circumstances... it's still early, after all!  The latter part of the week will hopefully include a Cubs game at Wrigley and the purchase of a new car.  We shall see.

All in all, we are just so grateful that neither of us got hurt, and so thankful for all of the love and support that we have received from family and friends all over the world--more thankful than we will ever truly be able to put into words.  I am so proud of T. for how he handled the situation, and proud of myself for keeping it together--in the most traumatic and stressful emergency situation of our lives, we got through it together.  I have never loved him more, and I am lucky to still be sitting next to him.  We are here, and it may not be the version of here that we are really wanting, but it certainly is enough.

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