May 25, 2007
hesitation
I'm not sure where it came from, this tendency to doubt myself. I was raised by parents who encouraged me to do whatever it was that suited me, even if it was to become a cake decorator or the next Martina Navratilova, both of which clearly never took shape. I was a relatively socially adept child, using what wiles one has as a fourth grader to achieve the nickname Squirt 'n Flirt (I was short, after all). I did well in school except for the flexed arm hang, never used a fake ID in college, only had sex with guys I was at least 50 percent sure would call me the following week. But somehow I never learned to trust my instinct. I wonder how many times this has really screwed things up.

I left work Wednesday night a harried mess of on-the-brain errands. Dry cleaning? Check. Bonne Belle Cappucino Lip Gloss that can only be bought in the DC area at CVS? Check. The Virginia road, the voice on the radio, all of it was all too familiar as the traffic that awaited me.

Within seconds of my left turn, the car in front of me started to hug the curb-level center median. Hug is a gentle word, and is perhaps misused here. The driver skimmed large stretches of the curb, kicking up dust in her wake. Once. Twice. She's probably screwing around with the car in front of her. Ahead, a stoplight turned red. The masses responded appropriately, tapping breaks and cursing poorly-timed lights and checking our foundation in rearview mirrors. She skidded. She had slammed on her brakes so heavily that her tires yelled in response. Something wasn't right.

The dance now included swerving into oncoming traffic. Swerve is a strong word; she in essence was taunting them just a foot or so over the line with her presence. But with each departure from the eastbound norm she surprisingly and eventually returned to the proper path. I eased back, my '96 Sentra and my sanity sacred to me on a night spent an hour late at work.

Her apparent move into a left turn lane was then abrubtly reconsidered; she veered back into traffic without a look or a thought of who was around her. No. Something wasn't right. The driving wasn't odd or off. My brain immediately ran through the Court TV dictionary of overused descriptive terminology and settled on: erratic. But this still didn't do it justice. The driver of this car was making it stumble, jerk, jolt. And it wasn't until I passed the vehicle, and saw just how off she looked in that front seat, that I thought to call 911.

Maybe she just had a little too much at happy hour.

I could be ruining this person's life.

This might really be no big deal.


I'm not even sure why, but I called anyway. 911 for a distant MD county put me on hold, ridiculous not only given the urgency of a 911 call but also that I was at least a state out of their jurisdiction. I hung up and redialed. This is the car make. I'm here. This is the direction in which we're headed.

We'll have someone look out for her.

Almost past the exit for the interstate, she decided instead to swerve onto the entrance ramp for the highway. Now she was in a new direction, one that would lead her to thousands charging toward the city on their way home. She repeatedly curved around the road lines confining us to safety and I thought she might now hit the barrier. Something would have to give. I called 911 again. Me again. Just called. Now changed direction.

If you don't stop her, she's going to hurt someone.

And it is just as they say. Slow motion and more vivid than most childhood memories and complete and utter silence despite the plastic cover of dry cleaning flapping in an open window and my radio playing something I cannot remember.

Within what now seems like seconds of ending my call to 911, she hit the right guardrail while overcompensating for a swerve and spun across all lanes of interstate rush hour traffic, coming to a stop only when she wedged herself in the center median. Then one. Two. Three. It was almost instantaneous. Scarily surreal. One after the other, cars smashed each other and spun here and there, Matchbox cars that were part of a sunny Wednesday play date. I remember holding the wheel and braking through the screen of flying glass and metal, just hoping that none of the spiraling cars would hit me. And getting out of my untouched car in the silence, to see how true shock really hangs on human faces, a car now half its original size, and what looked to be all of northern Virginia stopped behind me on a now-open highway.

I don't think I'll doubt myself so much the next time.


44 Comments:

Blogger Gwen said...

Holy crap, Kris! That is so frightening! I'm glad you're okay.

Blogger Jake said...

Oh my god, Kris, I hope you're doing reasonably well after something like that. I can't believe that happened.

Please tell us that everyone turned out okay. We're thinkin' of you.

Blogger *kb* said...

Very scary!!!!!!!!! I hope everyone was ok!!!

Blogger mysterygirl! said...

Wow. I'm so glad that you're okay.

Blogger t2ed said...

This is why in the future, all cars will be equipped with lasers.

Glad you're okay. But did you get out of your car and yell "Citizen's Arrest" at the top of your lungs just like Gomer did to Barney? Cause that would have been totally appropriate.

Blogger DCchick said...

So glad you're okay.

what the hell was up with the girl, did you ever find out?

Blogger whiskeymarie said...

God, this is one of my worst fears.
Glad you're o.k, hope everyone else was- but it sounds like there were more than likely some injuries.
What a horrible experience- I'd be curious to see what was up with the driver- but it sounds like happy hour was a little TOO happy.

Blogger Heather B. said...

Holy Shit! That just gave me chills.

Blogger ETK said...

Oh my god. Yes, it gave me chills too. Thank goodness you are OK and what a serious lesson learned for me - thank you! I would have had the same questions running through my mind before calling 911. I don't know if i would have done it. Now I will.

Blogger Serena said...

Wow. Things like that are so terrifying.

Blogger Jürgen Nation said...

You wrote this so vividly. I'm just glad you're okay.

Blogger Matt said...

Women drivers....

Seriously, that's awful to see.

Blogger Rebecca said...

Are there any consequences for 911 being so negligent? After all, they were informed and could have done something about it if they had chosen too. Do they just get so many fake calls about erratic driving that they ignore all of them?

Blogger kris said...

Rebecca - it's a great question, but in this case, things happened so quickly that they wouldn't have had time. I would guess it was no more than 2-3 minutes from my first 911 call to the accident.

Blogger Cheryl said...

Whoa! I hope you are all right and that no one was hurt too badly. Did you ever find out what was wrong with the woman?

Blogger bandick said...

Krisser, you absolutely did the right thing. Your potentially ruining a not-so-innocent person's life is a better choice than allowing them to risk ruining a truly innocent person's life. I've had to do it before and I wouldn't hesitate to do it again.

Glad the Sentra made it through...and you too, of course!

Blogger Melissavina said...

Wow Kris! I saw an incredibly drunk woman driving once. I made eye contact with another driver who held up his phone to show that he was already dialing 911, so I continued on to work. I had always wished I stayed there to see what happened. Now I'm glad I didn't.

Good job, you did the right thing.

AND I totally love that cappuccino lip stuff by Bonne Bell. So great, and hard to find.

Blogger Skyzi said...

I just did that two weeks ago. A big rig was driving and I dialed the highway patrol. Their systems are f*cked, I was transferred three times before they sent the troopers out, but the person I spoke with did tell me immediately to get as far away from the truck as I could.

Life and the fact that it is so fragile can be particularly frightening at times.

Blogger Alison said...

Very, very scary. Your portrayal of this was so vivid, as JN said.

I'm glad you're okay. I hope no one was hurt, or worse.

Blogger Beth said...

Good for you on calling - I would not worry about "what if I'm ruining someone's life" - after all, *you* are not the one ruining her life by calling... if she had been arrested for drunk driving, it would have been her ruining her own life. And clearly, she wasn't worried about ruining - or *ending* other people's lives - when she got behind the wheel of that car.

I hope the injuries caused were not too serious. It sounds like it was horrific accident.

Blogger Christine said...

Sounds like your instincts were spot on.

Glad you weren't injured...let us know about the others involved if you can, okay?

Blogger Beth said...

That's horrible! I'm glad you were OK. That must have been so terrifying for you.

Blogger kris said...

Thanks all. Truth be told, I don't know how the others are doing -- I will say that although a few people went to the hospital, there were no *visible* major injuries.

Blogger Nabbalicious said...

Good lord! I'm glad you're okay! Good for you for staying on it and calling 911. How scary.

Blogger thethinker said...

Wow. I would've been scared out of my mind. It's a good thing you were okay.

Blogger lisa q. said...

what a horribly scary story...at least you called...how many of us wouldn't have i wonder...glad you're okay...

Blogger Trundling Grunt said...

Terrifying. Happy that you're ok, be interesting to know what caused her to drive so erratically.

Blogger JordanBaker said...

Oh my god. So glad you're ok; so sorry you had to see that.

I couldn't help thinking that had the cops arrived, they'd probably be as likely to give you a ticket for driving while on your cell as they would to do anything about the woman actually endangering people.

Blogger Jessica said...

Glad you're ok girl. *hug* Stay safe!

Blogger WanderingGirl said...

When you get frustrated at hitting another red light, be greatful, for you might have wound up being next to her instead of behind.

Glad you're okay.

Blogger brookelina said...

Oh my God!

Take a deep breath and have some wine...in the safety of your own home.

Blogger Sizzle said...

holy shit. it definitely sounds like she was drunk. that is so sad, for everyone involved.

Blogger Jorge said...

You called.

This is the point.

The fact that you called is great. It's more than most people would do.

Did they ever tell you what was wrong with her? (Or am I just a stupid head and miss that part of your entry?)

In any case, I'm glad you're all right.

I'm also glad it was "Squirt 'n Flirt" and not the other way around.

That would lead to many more comments, I suspect.

Blogger Kelly said...

Were you all hands-shaking, heartbeats-raging afterwards?

Car accidents are so scary. Unpredicatable, deadly, skin/bones-vs-metally...

You're okay! And that's what worried us most. (But, I suppose, not really. What's most worrisome is how common that is! And in the afternoon, no less. Gawd. So many innocents.)

Blogger Dirty Dan Sin said...

makes me glad that i don't drive when i come back east

Wow, your writing was riveting!
That's pretty scary, though. Reminds me of an accident I saw once that ended in people being thrown from the car like rag dolls. I don't think that image will ever leave my mind. >_<

Doesn't it just infuriate you when you call 911 and there isn't a magical cop car INSTANTLY on the scene?

I'm such a tattle tale, I could probably use a little more hesitation in my life. A few years back I was in the grocery store check out line. The guy in front of me was clearly drunk at 2:00 in the afternoon. And all he was buying was a big bottle of vodka. I watched him walk out to his car and drive out of the parking lot completely smashed. I called 911 -- they could not have cared less. They said, "He's probably just headed home". OH! That's good, because I'm sure there aren't any children who play oustide in neighborhoods. Ergh.

Blogger Paperback Writer said...

Holy frijoles!

I'm glad you're okay!

I really wonder what was up with her though...

Blogger Mia said...

omg... I was in a bad car wreck when I was a teenager.. we were Tboned by a truck making an illegal left turn. your post just brought it all back.. the surreal feeling... the quiet tinkling sound of glass falling somewhere. Looking up to see your family crumped in the car, broken.. bloody.. and hear the ambulance in the distance, praying they hurry.

Your whole life can change in an instant. I think about that every day... how it can all change to quick.

Thank God for people like you who DARE to call 911 and try to stop something like that from happening....at least you tried. how many people didn't?

Blogger Esma said...

Not without my children

In the middle of civilized Europe, first decade of 21st century, mother and children being forcibly seperated. Children on a run, their only mistake to become baptized, Christians. German Government closing blind eyes. Who we are? Where are we going to? Is EU the same place that we been fighting for through ages?

Please visit this site and leave your comments. Every voice and opinion counts.

http://petition.germanasylum.de/WordPress/

Blogger ps said...

glad you are okay. thinking of you and all the others today. xoxo

Blogger Circe said...

OMG! I was shaking reading this. And you so tried to do the right thing by calling to get her off the road.

Blogger Lord Fondleberries said...

the first line of this post reminded me of an old favourite song, "i don't know where it comes from" by ride. check it out, you may like it.

huggin long-haired hippie freaks who need not apply,

lord f

Blogger Absurdity said...

Yikes! Something similar happened to me on my way to work around noon one day. Only it didn't end with such a big pile-up. Just two cars, the drunk-or-otherwise-intoxicated person and the person he bumped into. I was on the phone with 911 when it happened and all I remember was a string of profanity leaving my mouth. Poor 911 operator.

Glad you turned out okay.

*goes back to lurking*

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