I often see car crashes that never occur.
I am driving, a car slowing in front of me. In reality, I press on the brake and my car comes to an uneventful stop behind it. In my mind, I watch my car slam into the back of the car’s trunk. I see the metal twist in protest and hear the sickening crunch. My head hits the steering wheel.
Or I enter a curve. In real life, my car’s wheels curve with the road and head into the straight away. But I see it losing control, spinning into oncoming traffic, where I hit someone head-on, right before I see the terror in their eyes.
These scenes play out in a split second, but it always shakes me up.
I know that the fact I see these images is morbid. I don’t ask for them. I blame the years of turning police jargon into layman’s terms for newspaper readers. And years of walking through broken class and shards of bumper in high heels, my notebook in hand, my camera slung around my neck.
The police reports were always clinical: At 21:30 hours, party one, heading north on highway X, enters a curve. Party two enters the curve traveling south. Party one loses control and crosses the double yellows. Party two takes evasive maneuvers but is unable to avoid the oncoming party one. Party one over-corrects, sending vehicle one into a spin. Vehicle one comes to rest facing south on the north west edge of the roadway…
I read those words a thousand times. I turned them into conversational prose. That was my job.
It hasn’t been my job for almost two years. And yet I still see the fall-out of accidents past written as I drive my own car, again and again.
One crash I covered in particular haunts my memory. I still remember hearing the 1144 over the radio. I still remember the common household items scattered over the length of a football field on the highway. I still remember walking up to that upside down vehicle, the teenaged driver wearing a brown hoodie — just like my boyfriend at the time. The blanket meant to shield viewers from his and his friend’s lifeless bodies had slipped into the gaping hole where the windshield once was. It was four days before Christmas. I remember driving away thinking those kids’ parents had already bought them Christmas presents. In my nightmares after that, it was my boyfriend in that seat.
To this day, nothing terrifies me more than a car crash.