What If

If Jenn hadn’t called to cancel on our girls night plans (her dad had just been released from the hospital, thank goodness, and she wanted to spend some time with him), I would have headed straight to her house around 4:45pm and not decided to head home and shower before meeting the girls in Tacoma for a fun night on the town. As it was, I was hot and sticky from the beautiful Seattle day and figured since it was just me trying to to meet up with the girls by 6pm, I’d give myself the extra time to get freshened up.

Clara was just waking from her nap at ten after five, when I got home – a full hour later than she should have been. I told Chad she would be up ’til 10 o’clock having slept that late! It was such a great day, I knew she could happily entertain herself if we set out the galvanized tub with an inch or two of water for her to play in. Getting her ready in her swim diaper and bathing “soup”, while Chad filled the tub on the deck, was cutting into my getting ready time. Once we got her out there, I had Chad take over so I could jump in the shower.

Afterwards, as I was putting on the finishing touches of makeup and jewelry, Clara came looking for me and that slowed down my progress significantly. If she hadn’t come into the bathroom wanting to play in mommy’s makeup, I probably would have been ready to head out the door by 5:45 or so. But it became quickly obvious that I was going to need a little more time. Then my cell phone rang, and it was Maria who was supposed to already be in Tacoma having dinner with her boyfriend, but he was running late and told her just to go ahead and meet up with the girls for our dinner. She was calling on the off chance that I hadn’t left the house yet (everyone knows I’m ALWAYS running late). Lucky for her (“we’ll see” said the Zen master) and me, I was still getting ready, so now we could carpool and save gas going the 30 miles south it would take to get us to dinner.

She arrived just before 6:30, we are both famished at this point, so we got on the road. I needed to get on I-5 South and as I was passing the on ramp to 509 South, which would have had us at least going in a southerly direction, Maria questioned if it wasn’t faster to go that way than the 509N to 518 to I-5 South I was planning to take. “Oh, yeah, if I’d thought it through, I probably would have gone that way. But it’s not too much out of the way to do the latter, which is now our only option. Whoops!”

Heading down I-5 South at a quarter to 7 on a Saturday night meant traffic wasn’t too tight and with us in the HOV lane, we had some room to maneuver. But, I wasn’t really in the mindset that I was going to need to as Maria and I discussed the painting she and Mike have been doing at their new house, her nervousness at chopping all her hair off into a great bob earlier that afternoon and the like. Perhaps if we hadn’t been talking, I would have noticed the black Lexus zooming up on us a second or two sooner than I did. As it was, I saw them at the last second. According to Maria I let out, “Is this a joke?” as the car that should have hit us at that moment seemed to back off. But, immediately it was speeding at us again and at the last second, as I was trying to move right into the fast lane, it was trying to swerve into the left shoulder. He didn’t quite make it and his front right hit our back left, putting us both into a tailspin, the moments of which will stay with me for the rest of my life.

It was so fast and yet playing in slow motion, the way were were being tousled back and forth, like one of those motion machine theaters you have to be a certain height for and to which “NO PREGNANT WOMEN [are] ALLOWED.” I had this feeling that pain was immanent while I waited for a car or pole to slam into us. I desperately tried to pump the brakes – was I pumping the brakes or the gas? I don’t know! – and kept my hands on the steering wheel. I could hear Maria screaming and felt as long as she was doing that, at least she was okay. Then we both thought the car was about to flip, but it didn’t and we stopped moving. You couldn’t see out the windows; dust was flying. I yelled at Maria, “Where are we? Maria, where are we?!” I was terrified that we had fully crossed the median and were now facing on-coming traffic on the other side of I-5.

Maria said she thought we were fine and in the median. I think we just sat there in shock and then I heard tires spinning out. If I hadn’t heard that, I would have missed the fact that the driver that hit us was attempting and did flee the scene! “Oh no he isn’t” was my thought and I yelled at Maria to “remember this number!” and rattled off the driver’s license plate over and over again. As I was trying to decide what to do next, I noticed a burning smell, similar to when the airbags go off after an accident.

That’s when I realized that the airbags hadn’t deployed and I was telling Maria, “We’ve got to get out! I think the car is on fire!” At that same moment I heard people yelling at us to “get of the car, it’s on fire!” The next thing I know, I’m standing outside the car, holding my little coach wallet in my hand and looking back to make sure Maria was right behind me. She wasn’t. She was still sitting the car. My next thought was what in the world am I going to cut her seat belt off with?? But, she was already out of her seat belt, she just couldn’t get her passenger side door open. I ran back to try to help her and had we both not been scared to death the car was going to blow any second, I’m sure we would have laughed even then at how ridiculous we must have looked with our hair “did”, in our going out clothes and heels, me trying to both run and drag her along the ground and she desperately trying salvage her purse, change her mind, climb over the parking brake, get around the steering wheel and get her footing on the hill!

After that, we were running down the shoulder. Maria kicked off her heels and I, at some point, dropped my purse. We were safe and the car was burning sky high within a minute or so. I don’t really know how long any of this took. There were so many people who stopped, offered us their cell phones, wanting to make sure we were alright and no one else was in the car. It was an amazing show of good samaritin-ness. I even remember that as I was trying to see the hit-and-run driver’s plates, a woman sped after him. I wan’t sure at the time she was following them for that reason, but it turns out that she was. And, thanks to her diligence, the police had caught the driver before the fire was even put out on our car. If she hadn’t followed him, he may still have been caught later, but he may not have, so I really appreciate the fact that she took the time to do that and, potentially, put herself in harms way for us.

That Maria and I were able to start half-joking about the fact that we literally walked away without any serious injuries as we were still watching the “flames, on the side of my face, breathing, breathless, heaving breaths” plume into the sky, is [circle the best answer: lucky, amazing, surreal, ludacris]. What if we hadn’t just walked away? What if we had spun into traffic? Had left a few minutes later or earlier? What if I’d taken the other route to I-5? If we’d been in Maria’s Civic instead of the Chad’s Maxima, if my daughter had been in the back seat, if either or both of us had been put into a coma or died? What if it happens again and the next time I’m not so lucky?

There are a thousands “what if’s” and I think I’ve played them all through my head since we sat down on the side of the road last night. I hope writing this all out will help me let it go. There is no use going down the what if path, except, I suppose, to help me find flaws and potential regrets in the way I have been and am living my life. I see that I need to get my will in order RIGHT NOW, that life is pretty simple in a lot of respects, and I need to continue the process I’ve already started to simplify mine so that I’m left with only time to play with my kid, enjoy my time with friends and family, and otherwise appreciate the things that matter in life.

I also see that I should be very thankful to play the “what if” game and not “if only.” If only Clara hadn’t been in the car. If only Maria was okay. If only the car hadn’t exploded. If only no one had died. If only it wasn’t my fault. That’s a game I never want to be forced to play.

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