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Car Wreck

This essay was originally composed December 7, 1994. Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals involved in this account.

On Saturday evening, November 12, I gathered my books together and walked back home from the computer lab. I had just written about half of my English paper, and knew what I wanted to put in the next day. I was making good time. I suppose I could have stayed in the lab and completed it that evening, but I was tired and wanted to go and hang out with my friends. Three of my friends from InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and I had made tentative plans to go out for ice cream.

No sooner had I gotten home to my dorm room than the phone rang. It was Chris.

“Hey, Molly and Jennifer are already over here. Want to come over?”

“Yeah, I’ll be right over,” I replied and hung up the phone. Then, purse in hand, I walked the short distance to Chris’ room, where my friends were.

We didn’t go anywhere for nearly an hour; we just sat around in the room talking. Finally Chris looked at his watch and said we’d better get going or all the places would be closed. It was getting close to 11:00. We all filed out of Chris’ room and soon we were in the parking lot, where Jennifer had parked her pickup truck.

“See, this is my truck,” Jennifer announced proudly. “It’s got shoulder strap seat belts in the front and in the back, and it’s got a roll-bar (my parents made sure it had a roll-bar before they bought it) and it’s got complete insurance on it.”

The rest of us were duly impressed as we climbed in and Jennifer drove out of the parking lot.

“So where should we go?” Molly asked. We exchanged some indecisive conversation for a while, trying to figure out which places would still be open this late at night.

“Hey, have any of you been on the roller coaster?” Jennifer piped up.

“Oh the roller coaster. I've never been on it, but people keep telling me about it,” I said.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Molly affirmed.

The “roller coaster” was actually a paved road a ways behind “A” Mountain which contained several large dips. Driving down this road at 85+ miles per hour, dips and all, gave one the same type of thrill as an amusement park roller coaster. We sped up and down the road, screaming when we came to the dips. Our laughter and screaming only encouraged Jennifer, and she drove faster.

“I have no idea how fast we’re going,” Jennifer said at one point.

“How fast does the speedometer say we’re going?” I asked logically.

“Oh, it says 85, but we’re going a lot faster than that.” The speedometer only read as high as 85. For all any of us knew, we could have been going as fast as 100 miles per hour.

“Well that was fun,” somebody said. “Let’s go back into town.”

“OK,” Jennifer said and slowed down. We turned off the “roller coaster.” Then we took a turn onto a dirt road. That’s when Jennifer lost control of the truck and it started fishtailing. However, all of us were so calm that it almost seemed like the fishtailing was deliberate and part of the fun. The truck wove precariously from one side of the road to the other in almost total darkness. Our visibility was limited to what the headlights showed—about forty feet of the road in front of us and nothing else.

Presently the truck started sliding almost completely horizontally. I knew we were going to run off the road and I wondered how long it would take us to come to a stop, and how many creosote bushes we’d hit in the process. The next thing I knew, we were airborne. “If I get killed, I won’t be able to play my guitar in church tomorrow,” was the thought that came to me as the truck did a complete rollover before landing wheels down with a thump.

Several seconds of stunned silence. Then Jennifer asked all of us if we were OK. We all said yes. Then Molly asked everyone the same question, then I asked, then Chris. Then we sat some more. I had hit my head on the roof of the cab during the rollover, which had displaced my ponytail. I fixed my hair. The next thing I noticed was that my purse had emptied its contents all over the floor. I picked up my things. Jennifer started searching for her organizer which had all the insurance numbers, but couldn't find it.

“We’d better get out,” Chris said. “OK,” the rest of us responded. Then we didn’t move, except for Jennifer, who kept looking for her organizer. It was nowhere in sight. It must have fallen out of the truck when the window broke.

“We’d better get out,” Chris said again. I remember witnessing a car wreck where the engine had caught fire. It’s best to get out of the car as soon as possible. “Yeah, let’s get out,” I agreed, and unbuckled my seat belt. Chris got out first, then helped the rest of us out of the passenger side door. Jennifer could not open her door—that was the only part of the cab which caved in. There was quite a drop from the cab to the ground. I thought that was kind of strange, but didn’t bother to look around for the reason. I didn’t find out until the next day, when Jennifer and her brother went back to the scene of the accident, that we landed halfway inside a four foot deep arroyo, which was the reason why we spun instead of just coming to a stop. I also found out that the roof of the cab had caved in on top of Jennifer’s head, giving her a hematoma and possibly a concussion. How she survived with no more than a concussion is a miracle in our eyes.

Once we were out of the truck, I suggested we pray. We gathered round and Chris said a prayer, thanking God that we were all alive and asking forgiveness for being so stupid and reckless. Then we walked, and fast. We had to have been a good three miles out of town, and the air was starting to feel colder and colder. Chris urged us on. I put my hood up for warmth. Chris told me to take it off if any cars passed by. I asked why. “Because people associate hoods with gangs, and we want someone to pick us up.”

Several cars passed us without stopping. Each time a car passed, a dark fear would grip my throat. I envisioned each one of these cars performing the same stunt we had done, and us being in the way… One of the cars that had passed us earlier came back.

“What happened?” the driver shouted from the window.

Chris stepped up to the car. “We got into a wreck—rolled a truck,” he answered.

“You rolled a truck?” the driver exclaimed. Then he extended his hand. “Congratulations!” Chris backed away.

“I didn’t do it; I can’t take the credit.”

Jennifer stepped up and shook the driver’s hand.

One of us, probably Chris, asked if we could have a ride to the hospital. The guys in the car agreed and we piled in. the car was extremely small, and had certainly not been built to fit four people in the back seat. All of us had to bend our heads to fit, and I had to sit on Chris’ lap. The ride to the hospital was nerve wracking. Seat belts, which is what had saved our lives in the rollover, were out of the question in this situation. I felt extremely vulnerable perched on Chris’ lap, leaning forward so my head wouldn’t hit the ceiling. Whenever we hit a bump, I would sigh in fear. It took us forever to arrive at the hospital. It would have been a long walk, had we not been able to get a ride.

The emergency room was crowded and disorganized. We were told to wait for triage. Someone had just reported in with a gunshot wound, so all the doctors were tied up. We sat down in the lobby. Chris said we should call the police. The only phone available was a pay phone. Jennifer said we could use her calling card number. But as Chris began to dial, Jennifer started feeling really sick. I said she should sit down, and we could use my calling card number. I tried to dial; but I had never used my calling card to make a local phone call, and I couldn’t figure out how to do it. Chris said he’d try his number. Finally, I said I had a quarter and got one out of my wallet. Chris and I laughed nervously at our missing the obvious, and he finally made the call.

“Could we call some people from Inter-Varsity?” Jennifer called out from the sofa she was sitting on. “I’d like to have some of our friends with us.”

“Sure,” I replied, looking for another quarter. “I’ll call the NEST and see if Scott and Heather can come. If no one’s there, I’ll call the guys’ apartment.” The NEST is a student apartment where three of the girls from Inter-Varsity live. I have the phone number memorized and usually someone is home. I dialed and got Heather.

“Heather, this is Nanda. We’re all fine, be we got into a car wreck and we’re at the hospital. Could you and Scott come over?”

“We’ll be right over.”

About ten minutes later, Chris and I stepped outside to get some air. Just then, we saw Heather and Scott get out of the car. The car started rolling backwards.

“Heather, put your brake on!” I shouted. Scott was yelling the same thing. Heather put the brake on, and then she and Scott came towards us. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Lynn coming from another direction. She is one of Heather’s roommates.

“Are you guys OK?” Scott asked us as they approached. Heather put her arms around me.

“Thanks for coming,” I whispered.

“No problem,” Heather replied. Then Scott gave me a hug.

Before long I saw Dave walking towards us. He’s dating Lynn. He must have gone to the NEST to see her and been told of the accident…

He put his arms around me. “Are you OK?” he asked, his concern evident in his voice. I leaned against him. “Yeah, we’re all fine, as far as we know. I think my neck’s messed up, though,” I replied. I knew Dave from a Spanish class we’d had together last semester. When I found out he was Christian I invited him to InterVarsity. He started coming to meetings this semester, and got involved on the worship team which I direct.

The four of us went inside. Lynn was already at Molly’s side, holding her hand. Jennifer was nearby. Scott went over to where they were and asked if they were all right. Jennifer complained of a headache and said that she hadn’t called her parents yet. Scott said she should call her parents, and that he’d stand by her. They went off to the pay phone in the corner. Scott looked after Jennifer for the rest of the night.

Molly wanted her brother to come, so she asked Lynn to call him, and then pick him up. As she was leaving, Chris asked if she could get something from his room for him…

We stayed at the hospital the whole night. Most of the time was just waiting. We alternated between sitting in the lobby and stepping outside for air. Eventually, Molly was examined by the triage nurse.

A policeman came. He questioned Jennifer, then Chris, then me about the accident. When he got to me, Jennifer and Chris and I were in the foyer. The officer asked me what happened. I told him as best I could. I didn’t think I came across very coherently because I was so tired and shaken up and the events of the accident were rattling around in my brain in a disorganized manner.

“How fast were you going?” the officer asked.

I looked at Chris, then Jennifer. “How fast were we going, Chris?”

“Look at me; don’t look at them,” the officer ordered impatiently. “I’ve already talked to them. Now how fast were you going?”

“I have no idea.”

“But how fast do you think you were going?”

“I don’t know.” I glanced at Chris for some sort of clue.

“Don’t look at him; look at me. How fast were you going?”

“Pretty fast.”

“Give me a number.”

I felt badgered. “About 70,” I blurted out. I had no idea.

“What makes you think you were going 70?”

“I don’t know, it’s just a guess.”

“Was there any alcohol involved?”

“No.”

The officer asked me some more questions, then went into the lobby to question Molly, and also to get the names and addresses of our friends who had come to the hospital. I found out later that this officer called Lynn up the next day and asked her out. Lynn reported him, not because she wanted to be vindictive, but because when she told Jennifer about it, Jennifer had said that Lynn’s report would help her case. So Lynn reported him.

I was called in to have my vital signs checked. Heather had been waiting in line for me. Chris would be next. We both went into the little office where the triage nurse was and I sat down on a chair against the wall. Chris stood next to me and placed his arm on my shoulder. Jennifer was already in there, and the nurse was having trouble with the blood pressure gauge.

“So, you have no pulse?” I jokingly asked Jennifer. The nurse needed the chair she was sitting in or something so she got up. I got out of my chair and told her to sit down. She did, until some other nurse called her into a back room.

The nurse took my vital signs and gave me a collar to support my neck, which was already starting to hurt. Then there was some paperwork to fill out, which Heather helped me with. Then there was more waiting.

I don’t know how long we all waited in the lobby before I was called in to see the doctor. Heather asked if I wanted her to go in with me. I said that would be nice, so we both followed the nurse to a hospital bed surrounded by these ugly green curtains. I got on the bed and Heather pulled up a chair.

We waited in there for at least an hour and a half before seeing a doctor. Heather and I just talked the whole time, the wall clock silently informing us that we were well into the morning already.

“Hey, we can pretend we’re having a sleepover, and we’re just staying up real late and talking,” I said.

“Yeah, where’s the pizza? Where’s the VCR?” Heather quipped. But I was glad for her company and grateful for all the support she was giving me.

Finally, the doctor came. She looked at my neck, told me she was prescribing an anti-inflammatory pill and said I should ice my neck three times a day. She asked if I was wearing my seat belt in the accident. I replied that I was. She said that’s what saved my life.

“You’re a very lucky girl,” she said.

The whole consultation took about five minutes. Heather and I walked back to the lobby. Marisa, the third occupant of the NEST, and her boyfriend Ralph were there. Molly and her brother were somewhere in the examining room. Chris and Jennifer still had not been called in.

I wanted to stay with them, but Heather insisted on taking me home. We had already decided that I would spend what was left of the night at the NEST after we got my prescription filled.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to try to kill you,” Jennifer said as we were leaving.

“Oh, that’s OK,” I mumbled. “I’ll kill you later.” That brought on a tired laugh from those who were awake.

By the time Heather and I got to the pharmacy I was so tired and groggy that I could barely answer the questions the pharmacist was asking. Routine procedures like spelling my first and last name took a great deal of effort. At one point, Heather disappeared, and I felt helpless. She cam back later with a cold pack she had picked off the shelf. I was so glad she had thought of that.

We got to the NEST after that. Heather fixed some food for me, told me I could sleep in her bed, and then went back to the hospital. I ate the food, took my medicine, then called my parents. It was about 5:00 a.m. by then, which would mean 7:00 a.m. where my parents were. I hadn’t wanted to wake my parents up in the middle of the night.

After talking to my parents I called my friend who normally gave me a ride to Church to tell her I wasn’t going. Ralph and Marisa walked in at that point, and asked why I wasn’t in bed yet. I asked them how everyone was doing. They said everyone was fine and should be going home soon.

“Thanks so much for coming to the hospital,” I said.

“You’re welcome,” Ralph replied.

“Right,” Marisa agreed. “Sure, we’re going to come home and find that our friends are in the hospital and say ‘Oh well, they’re OK. We’ll just go to sleep!’” Marisa laughed at the apparent stupidity of the idea. I stared at her.

“Go to sleep!” Ralph ordered. I wasn’t about to argue.

The rest of my friends didn’t get back until 7:00. Christ didn’t even end up seeing a doctor. Jennifer was diagnosed as having a hematoma and bruising in her leg. Molly’s neck and back had been jarred and she had deep bruises from being slammed against the door of the cab.

I woke up after sleeping for about four hours and called Jennifer and Chris to see how they were doing. I would talk to Molly later that afternoon. Heather drove me back to my dorm. I had to do homework—I had my English paper to finish, a Spanish paper to write, and there was always plenty of reading to do for my plant physiology class. The whole world wasn’t going to stop because I and three friends had rolled a pickup truck.

When I got to the computer lab, Scott was already there, working on one of his papers. I sat down at the computer next to his. I knew he would be spending twice as long working on his paper as he would have on a good night’s sleep. I also knew that it was a price he would be willing to pay all over again were the opportunity to present itself. In that, he could speak for the others who had spent the night at the hospital with us. Friends do not count the cost.

Non-fiction


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