We got into a car accident yesterday – a fender bender that happened faster than my reflexes could respond. It was my fault, as the insurance company will attest. Thankfully, everyone was fine. But it left me with a post-adrenaline shakiness I couldn’t shrug off.
Aside from the surprise of the accident (though are accidents ever not a surprise?) was the fact that my son was not wearing a seat belt. It was on when we left, as I never start driving without hearing the chorus of “clicks” from the back. But I guess wearing a seat belt was killing his vibe because the kid decided to take it off somewhere between Springdale and Church roads.
This is the paradox of children: they embrace life with every cell in their bodies, while doing everything in their power to kill themselves.
After I hit the car in front of me, I looked to see if everyone was okay and found him on the floor.
This is when I lost it.
I have told my children at least once daily since they were able to hold up their heads that seat belts are no joke. My grandmother died in a car wreck at the age of 36 because she was not wearing a seat belt. They may not be the most comfortable or chic things on the planet, but any fashion expert will tell you that it’s more attractive to wrinkle your outfit with a seat belt than to stain it with your own blood after you’re tossed through a windshield.
As I screamed at my son, who suddenly looked very small and scared, I felt a floaty, untethered feeling, like gravity had slightly loosened its hold on me. If someone had handed me a pencil at that moment, I’m not sure I could have controlled my grip. Perhaps this is what happens after a momentary glimpse past the scenery of this world to the reality behind it: in a split second, everything can change. Life as I know it – life itself – could disappear.
After exchanging information with the other driver (who was, bless him, beyond understanding), I drove home in dreamy silence, barely feeling my hands on the steering wheel. The kids hopped out of the car as if nothing had happened, though I noted that my seat-belt renegade was quieter than usual. My stepdaughter went back to her FaceTime conversation. All was well again in their world. But as I entered the house, every sound seemed to clang in my ears, from the shudder of the air conditioning, to the tossing of shoes on the floor, to my children’s voices asking for snacks and arguing over the safety scissors. The debris that had accumulated over the week around the living room – legos, paper scraps, Pokemon cards, discarded underwear (don’t ask) – was suddenly overwhelming. The smell of the garbage can made me gag. The dial on all of my senses were turned up high.
I wanted to cry.
And then, like an angel, my friend Eve appeared in the door. She was there to pick up her son, who was over for a playdate.
Seeing my face, she asked, “What happened?”
I told her about the accident, the seat belt, how shaky I was. She nodded and groaned sympathetically in all the right places.
Then she hugged me.
Eve, I realized right away, is a good hugger. She hugs like she means it, with warm firmness that doesn’t crush your lungs. After the customary second or two, I made to pull away. But she pulled me closer.
“They say a good hug needs to last at least five seconds,” she said.
So we hugged on. I felt myself breathe a little slower, root a little more firmly into the earth. And for those five seconds (which are surprisingly long), I was okay.
I forget, as an adult, that I still have a child’s need to be held, to be comforted, to give myself over to the care of another person, even if just for a moment. I’ve become accustomed to handling it all myself, as so many of us women do, and even more so since I lost my mother. There is no one to fill my need for mothering, so it goes mostly ignored. In emergencies, self-care is my inadequate substitute.
Until Eve took me into her arms, I didn’t realize how powerful the embrace of a loving person could be. Or maybe I’d just forgotten. Either way, she gave me the grounding I needed to take a deep breath and move forward with whatever was up next.
And all I’d had to do was let her.
When Eve let me go, I exhaled deeply to indicate the calm I was beginning to feel.
“You’re gonna be okay,” she said.
And I believed her.