Five years ago yesterday, a drunk person drove his car into my lane while we were both traveling at 55 mph. He died; I was fortunate enough to be left with a demolished car and a femur in three pieces.
A few weeks ago while I drove down Mopac alone, I realized that December 18 was approaching. I cried thinking of my mom receiving a phone call from a stranger that night—”your daughter was in a car accident, yes it’s bad, no I don’t know if she will be okay”—which is one part of that memory that is still very raw.
During the months after the accident, I would close my eyes and see this image of the car in front of me, moments before we collided. That second-long flashback would keep me from sleeping when all I wanted to do was sleep. It would catch me off-guard in the middle of physical therapy, in the passenger’s seat of a friend’s car, during dinner with my family.
Later I learned that I had PTSD: My unconscious mind was compulsively reminding me of what danger was, rewiring my neurons so that I would never forget. I worried that there would never be a day when I didn’t think about the wreck at least once.
Now I go weeks without thinking about it. Many of the people I know and interact with now don’t find out until they ask what the tattoo on my right leg means or start showing off cool scars. A distance has materialized between that trauma and my present self, a detachment that I didn’t know was possible or even desirable. I have grown into that space. I have become a more complete version of myself in the past five years with the kind of questionable coping mechanisms and mettle that come from being trapped in a car alone on the side of a road.
Every year on December 18, I spend some time meditating on what happened, the extensive and taxing recovery process, and how lucky I am to be healthy and able-bodied and free of medical debt. In past years, December 18 has been an emotional day for me, each banal task shadowed by my memories of the wreck. If I had been driving faster or in a different car, yesterday may have been the day that my dad took off work to drive my mom to a cemetery.
Instead, yesterday was the day that my parents looked at pictures of my crushed Volvo and told me that they love me. I listened to the Beyonce album on the way home from work and went to dinner with my boyfriend. I got to admire the beginning sketches of a mural that will soon occupy a wall in the peculiar, wonderful commune that I call home.
This is how bones heal: one cell at a time. Flesh gives way to new flesh. The dead parts are reabsorbed, creating protective shells around infant tissue. The body stitches itself back together in the smallest increments.
Every year when this day comes around, I feel compelled to talk about what happened—the collision itself, being pulled from my car by firefighters, the ….
But lately, I’ve been meditating more on recovery. (How hard it was, possibly breaking both legs or one leg again) One night in February, I sat on the edge of my bed and decided to walk across the room without crutches. And I did. I took three steps. It was one of the most emotionally rich moments or my life, and I experienced it alone in my room. No one else could possibly know how that act affected me.