The car slides on the snowy road and I do not panic. I just try to control the skid as best I can. Even as the front side of my car buffets into the guard rail, I am not quite concerned. There will be some damage there. It's true what they say. Everything slows down, giving the crash the illusion of control, the feeling that one is only moment from pulling the wheel in just the right way that will prevent any major interaction of car and roadside metal. Then come the sparks that mean I have lost that front panel, that there is contact between the car's frame and the guardrail, but that is a problem for later. My priority now is to get back on the correct side of the road before someone comes down the hill and cannot arrest their descent. The last thing I would care to experience at this moment is a head-on collision, of involving more people than Melanie and me in this automotive drama. I compensate too well and cannot control my car enough to stop it from stopping in a ditch on the other side of the road, perpendicular, a few feet from a tree that would have crushed my front end and engaged my airbags.
|The dearly departed|
"That was less than ideal," I say, turning off the radio. Behind us, the first of several combination plow/salt trucks passes us by in what we take to be mockery.
"Just calm down," Melanie insists.
"Right, I'm calm," I state, shutting off the engine. "What do you suppose I should do now?"
"Call AAA and the police. Then your insurance company."
"Ah, rightâ€¦ Do you mind if I call my mother first? She has had some vicarious experiences with accidents."
Melanie keeps reminding me that I should be calm and I keep asking her if I seem as if I am not. She agrees that I am actually calm and she is projecting, but that doesn't mean I stop apologizing for getting us in a car accident. I get out and survey the damage. I've lost the front panel on the front driver's side, have some superficial scratches on the other. I study the car further as my remarkably relaxed mother echoes Melanie's advice. I want reassurance. I notice that I have damaged a bit more, a chip out of one door, a crack of the body above the gas tank. Still, it seems manageable. I get in to see if I can back out, but Melanie assures me that I cannot and I should proceed with calling AAA.
I turn the car on to keep the heat going, as AAA says that they will have someone to us within forty-five minutes.
"Have you ever had sex in a car?" she asks.
"Yes. Not this car, mind you." I shake my head, as I know that twinkle in her eye. "We aren't changing that tonight."
She titters (though she will insist that she does not) and claims she wasn't suggesting it, but she is not the type not to at least try to capitalize on more than half an hour in an enclosed, dark space with me.
The winch arrives minutes early and starts the work of releasing my car. Melanie and I stand outside, the alternating yellow lights on the truck pausing the falling snowflakes for just a fraction of a second, lending the atmosphere a bit of the surreal and almost festive. I don't quite know the protocol here. Do I walk home? No, no, the tow truck driver will bring me home. But what will I do with my car? He informs me that he can take it back to his garage, wait for the insurance company and can actually repair the damage on his own from there.
"Oh, great! Just how long do you estimate that will take?"
He thinks for a moment, then begins slowly, "Now I'm not going to lie to youâ€¦" and I brace myself for the bad news that inevitable follows that clause "â€¦Geico is fast. They like getting this taken care of immediately. After they send someone to look at it, I can begin repairs. With stuff like this, with the weather, they're not going to say you were at fault. This'll be just fine." And, though I am calm -- just observing and noting this situation for future recall - this pronouncement relaxes me further. This is what I want to but do not expect to hear.
He paces around the car and points out what will make my car undrivable. The radiator is pushing into the air conditioner, the grill is shattered, but nothing seems too fatal. Still, he is the expert and I have to trust him here. I get the feeling that he would rather my car be drivable, as though this will be less work for him on this snowy night. Or he could be a huckster trying to take my money, but I don't actually care if that is true. I just want to be back in my apartment with Melanie, warm and safe.
A police officer shows up and takes Melanie's and my licenses. She looks worried and mumbles something about not wanting the police to know she is in New York. He studies the car and likewise proclaims that it is undrivable. He asks for a recount of what happened, sits in his car for a few minutes, then hands back our licenses and tells me that I need to go onto the internet and print out the Civilian Accident Report. He rolls up the window and drives off at top speed.
"I have got to get whatever tires are on police cars," I say.
"That was a surprisingly undickish cop," Melanie states.
"Yeah, if you call them 'sir' and haven't actually done anything wrong, they can be agreeable people."
We get back to the apartment to the catcalls of students -- who lack empathy despite my having tended to their massive bloodloss while we awaited the ambulance only days before -- and I call the school district that wished to interview me the next day at the cattlecall to tell them that I would be unable to get to them, then confirm everything with the insurance company. Melanie goes to my refrigerator and mopes that there is nothing good to eat. She comes back to the sofa with leftover cake frosting and eats that with a spoon while I convince Geico that Melanie and I are uninjured even if the car isn't. They do not quite believe this and the representative needs to actually speak with her to be certain I do not have her in my thrall.
When I get off the phone, Melanie says that she wants to go to sleep. I look over at the clock.
"It's barely past 11 and you're a college student," I argue.
"I know. It's been a long day and I'm ready for it to be over."
"Okay, I'll come with youâ€¦ Are you okay?"
She says she is, but there is something inconsistent in her behavior. When we are cuddled together under the sheets, she finally admits that she had been scared for her life. "I didn't think that the guardrail would hold and we'd plummet off the cliff. I thought I was going to die."
I hold her, but my only soothing comes in the form of statements of fact: we weren't high enough to fall off a cliff, we weren't going at all fast, guardrails are made to prevent cars from going off the road, but all of these facts seem insufficient. Her insistence that I remain calm when I had been, her devouring of pure sugar, her inclination toward the bed for someone other than pouncing on me all makes sense now. Squeezing her against me as the snow outside my bedroom window erases the evidence of our trauma, I am frightened for the first time. Nothing in this felt particularly dire to me before, just an inconvenience. I didn't imagine this situation would result in injury, I doubt my pulse even quickened as we glissaded across the slick road. Now, her terror, along with the rest of her, rubs against me.
I dream all night that I am a ghost, that I did not survive the crash and am just waiting for my Handbook for the Recently Deceased. I imagine that this will abdicate of any need to deal with insurance companies and mechanics.
The next morning, the fear is gone. This is simply a series of problems in need of resolution, most pressing of which is how to get Melanie home, once she remembers that her friend Robert is in the city all weekend and therefore unavailable to spirit her back to Bard. I somehow don't remember that cabs exist or would be useful. Instead, I call my friend Liz who lives in Anemia, though I have only previously hung out with her once and was horrid company owing to missing Melanie. The second time she offered, I demurred that I needed to clean my apartment, both because it was a mess and because I was feeling private. Still, I give her a call and she agrees despite having no reason to.
"Wow, rocking the seduction techniques," Melanie says from the couch on which she was lounging, watching the call.
I was not aware I was being seductive, just effective and communicative, and so I feel a flush of embarrassment. "Yeah, well, it got you a ride home."
"Oh, I'm not complaining," she purrs and beckons me to join her on the sofa to demonstrate her appreciation.
The only person outside my apartment and bloodline who called to convey their sympathy for me was Emily, who read my Facebook status reading "Thomm was in a car accident! Shadowfax (one of the names for my car) may be dead!" She does not even bother with a hello, just confirming that I am not dead. I tell her that, aside from my car needing to be repaired, I was fine. She reiterates that she is glad I have not died and that she will help in any way she can. I tell her, honestly, that I really cannot imagine a way for her to be helpful from Warwick, but I appreciate the call nevertheless.
In the end, Geico opts of junk my car. Though it would cost less than a thousand dollars to completely repair everything, they assume that it would cost more than five thousand dollars to have someone fix it. As they value my car at less than four thousand on all the reports I've seen, there is not chance Shadowfax Elvis is going to see road worthiness in quite that shape ever again. Sadly, the amount of payoff I seem to be getting is pennies above $1000, so I am in poor shape. At the same time, I live in a rural hellhole and cannot feasibly go much longer without a car and retain what little sanity remains. More over, I cannot keep relying on the kindness of Liz to transport me to my girlfriend, no matter how pleasant I find her company.