Do you ever wonder where you would be if you had not had a particular experience or been present at a certain event? I believe the following events have radically shaped the course of my life and nothing about them were anything I could have planned for or predicted… and with hind sight in hand, even if I could, I wouldn’t change a thing about them!
It all boils down to a car accident… well, actually… two.
The year was 2002. I was living and working at Mt. Gilead Camp and Conference Center (“camp”) in Sebastopol and I was also a full-time student at the Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC) where I was finishing up my Associates degree. It was mid-Spring and I was 19 years old.
Over the course of the several years leading up to these events, I had become increasingly aware of how sleepy I was all the time. It didn’t matter how much sleep I got the night before, if I wasn’t on my feet and actively engaged or doing something, I would feel overwhelmingly tired. It got to the point where I was sleeping soundly for 9+ hours at night but when I would be driving to school first thing in the morning, I would already be tired again. I was falling asleep in all of my classes, (and I do, literally mean ALL of them), as well as taking naps in my car between classes. It wasn’t a sudden, overnight change. My sleepiness had progressively gotten worse and by this point, I started realizing something was really not right. I told my doctor about my struggles to stay awake. She then referred me to a specialist at a local sleep center (North Bay Sleep Medicine Institute). I made an appointment for a consultation but at the time, there was a three-month waiting list. It was during these three months when the following incident took place.
At the time, I was driving a 1990 Nissan sedan. His name was Sammy the Stanza. And yes, if you are wondering, all the cars I have owned have names, each one matching their own distinct personalities. I have already published the ripe banana story of how I came to acquire my most recent car, Alden, the Altima, which you can read: here and Heidi the Honda is the star of part 2 of this epic ripe banana story so be sure to stay tuned but for now, back to Sammy.
(If you are wondering, here is how Sammy’s name came to be: when my dad first passed him down to me, I had a hard time trying to discern which gender he was (a typical first-step to choosing a name, right?). He had some mixed qualities: he handled well, had a punch, was clean, had a boxy look especially from the rear, and was practical and efficient. His shape and shade were not particularly stereotypical of either gender. After a week or two, I realized Sammy needed a gender-neutral name and I needed to stop trying to label him as one or the other and just enjoy and appreciate him. And so I did!)
It was a sunny afternoon in late April or early May (2002), and I was on my way home to camp from the SRJC. It was about a 25 minute drive from school to camp depending on traffic and the time of day. I could feel I was getting sleepy, but I was almost home. I thought I could hang on just a little longer…
*Excuse me as I interrupt this program to share a brief but important message:
Don’t drive tired!! It is never worth it! I have learned my lesson. Even if I am blocks away from my destination, if I am too tired to drive, I am too tired, regardless of the time and distance between me and where I am going. No matter the consequences, if I am going to miss an appointment or interview, let down a friend or lose my job, it doesn’t matter! It is always better to arrive alive, days late and a million dollars short, than not at all! Don’t drive tired! Find a safe, well-lit place where you can pull over, crack a window or two and lock your doors. Then sleep until you are rested enough to continue driving. While there are many times in life it is good to push ourselves, driving when sleepy isn’t one of them! Don’t do it! If not for you, remember there is so much more than your own life at risk.
Okay. I’m down off my soap box. Back to our regularly scheduled program:
I was just about a mile from camp. Had I been less than half way back to camp, I know I would have pulled over. But I didn’t. I was so close. Just one more mile. And then it happened. I was on Green Valley Road winding my way down a hill and had just passed my favorite, royal blue mailbox when I took a sharp turn way too wide. I overcorrected, crossed the opposite lane and after hitting the ditch and hillside on the inside of the road, I overcorrected again causing Sammy and I to cross back over both lanes only to find ourselves nose down, in a ditch. The horses on the far side of the pasture we were then facing glanced our direction with only a momentary and mild look of amusement before returning their attention to more important matters, like the bright green grass they were munching on. If only grazing on green grass was the biggest of my worries in that moment!
I am not the kind of girl to outwardly panic or freak out very easily but the instant Sammy came to a stop, everything inside of me began to race. It is really amazing how quickly and precisely our bodies react and adjust in such situations to do all it can to optimize the operating systems needed most. After checking to see if I had been hurt and while my mind was trying to process what had just happened, I stumbled out of the car to survey the damage and to see if or how much the back of the car was sticking out into the road. Just as I was starting to say a prayer the next car behind me wouldn’t come flying around the corner, the car and driver came just far enough around the bend to see me before coming to a complete stop a good 15-20 feet away. The driver immediately jumped out of their car to offer assistance. As he did so, the first car approaching from the opposite direction also pulled up to the scene. Without hesitating, he too, also jumped out to help. The two men first made sure I was physically okay (which I was aside from being a bit shaky from shock) and while one pulled out his cell phone to call the police, the other took the flares I told him were in the trunk and placed them just up the hill around the sharp corner I had taken too wide. Note: these were before the days when everyone had a cell phone; it was a godsend the first person on the scene was able to call to report the accident for me!
At first glance, Sammy didn’t look too bad. He had some big scrapes from the hill along the driver’s side and his front right wheel was badly smashed. The two men thought Sammy might be drivable once they put the spare tire on but it soon became apparent the front axle was too badly damaged for the spare to be enough to get Sammy to a repair shop unaided. By this point the two men who had first arrived on the scene had moved their cars and were taking turns directing traffic and helping me figure out what to do. Shortly after the police arrived, these two angels wished me luck, said goodbye and drove off.
The policeman asked me all those typical questions they like to ask in such circumstances. You know, those really simple ones like: What’s your name? What happened? Can I see your license? Who is your insurance company? Even the simplest were a bit of a challenge to answer since my mind, heart and adrenaline had yet to slow their break-neck pace. Eventually, in what was probably much less time than it felt like, the interrogation was over and the police were on the phone with a local tow-truck driver who was headed our way.
About this time, a jeep drove by coming from camp. In it were the camp director and his wife and my supervisor and his wife. They stopped as soon as they saw me. Kitty, the director’s wife (and author of this ripe banana story), hopped out and gave me a much-needed hug while the others made plans to return to camp so Kitty’s husband, Norm, could grab his truck to come pick me up.
The rest of the days events were as you might expect… going to the repair shop to clean out Sammy, calling my dad… but instead of calling my mother to tell her what happened, my roommate at camp happened to be heading up to Ukiah later that afternoon. I seized the opportunity to tell my mom in person. I had a strong feeling the words, “I’m okay, mom. Really!” weren’t going to be enough to convince her. 🙂 When we arrived in town, we went straight to my house and after a few short minutes of chit-chat, I broke the news: “Mom, I got in a car accident today… and Sammy’s dead!”
Now if you are confused about why the damage I described (and there was a bit more than what I could see at first glance) was enough to cause Sammy to be totaled, keep in mind he was 12 years old. Not particularly old for a Nissan sedan but old enough to make the cost of repairs add up to be a lot more than what he was worth on paper.
You may also be confused as to why this is a ripe banana story and I certainly don’t blame you. There are a LOT of things about this accident I am very grateful for, such as: I didn’t hit or cause any damage to anyone or anything else, I myself was not injured, I had two extremely helpful men who were at the scene immediately after– one of whom had a cell phone, I was on a country road (as opposed to the middle of busy intersection)… and the list goes on… but these blessings aside, the accident itself wasn’t (at the time), something to get excited about. Six months later I was in a very different car accident. Only after the second car accident did I start to realize how both accidents were two of best things to have happen to me in 2002 and have been primary influences on the course of my life ever since.
Check back in about two weeks for the riveting continuation of: “Car Accidents & Road Kill”