What they don’t tell you about car crashes are the silent moments: before, during, and after.

It’s those initial moments. The ones they show on screen in slow motion. The driver’s head turning, with a questioning look on their face. The car coming straight towards them. The radio playing their favorite band which now seems noiseless in the background. Disbelief, lasting for half a second before the sound is turned back on.

No one knows the feeling. The sound. My family has never lived through it. Never heard it.

That blue metal beast rolling on the ground of man towards me, at a speed I could only describe as too fast. I saw him, and yet I didn’t. My foot was on the pedal, but I didn’t press down. I could have counted the seconds, except it seemed to last minutes. He was too close…I closed my eyes.

The impact was quick. The spinning lasted seconds. And then it stopped.

Opening my eyes from the depths of darkness gave me more fear than the disbelief I had felt moments before. I thought I was going to be broken, bleeding, or worse. The first thing I saw was the place I just was moments before, then white fabric and a cracked piece of glass. I looked down to glass strewn on my thighs. I saw his face… I said I was fine… she said she was dialing 9-1-1. I clicked MOM, and it rang.

In those next moments, minutes, and hours the sound and feeling lived on in the depths of my body. Shaking my core until I felt ridiculous sitting in the seventy-four degree hospital trembling as if it was forty-two. The moments of silence I had experienced loudly replayed in my head as if I were watching a movie in surround sound. My family was there wrapping me in embraces, yet I felt a million miles away. Hours later I was home, a place I was overly happy to be. My dog, kissing me and silently knowing.

Knowing. You can never know when something is about to happen. Something that is ultimately not your fault but you feel like there is something you could have done. Something that once it does happen, you feel like it could have been avoided.  Avoided. This is a thought which rolls through your mind, for the days to follow. If I had left school a few minutes from the time I did. If I had pressed the pedal down to the floor. If I had left via a different route.

If.

All of these thoughts and instances, all of these ifs. Yet, I wouldn’t want to change it. Then it would have been an innocent. Another unsuspecting driver, with a lower model car; and it could have been worse.

The hushed quiet of the bedroom, a dim green night light glowing in the corner. The shadows that danced on the ceiling from the fish tank aglow with LED lights. These are the things I saw that night. Not darkness, not peace. I closed my eyes and a second later they were open again. Dreaming was impossible. A dashing prince riding his horse through the woods… the crash. A family vacation memory hidden in the depths of my neurons… the crash. It was relentless. It was silent. It was fear.  8 hours of this battle. But tomorrow came.

What they don’t tell you about car crashes is the disbelief and PTSD. It was textbook. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): a disorder in which a person has difficulty recovering after experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event. You hear about soldiers. You learn about it in health class. It’s a disorder, a physiological reaction to something you experienced. To be honest, I never really thought about it. I guess you wouldn’t, until you experience it.

I still have it. Still struggle with it. As if it is an entity, like the little green monster, that I am just trying to get off my back. You think he’s gone, but something else brings him back. A constant reminder of what happened. The feeling… the sound.

The toaster popped. I was cooking toast the morning after and I like to eat it brown. It popped and I cried. I felt absurd crying over a toaster popping, but it had made me jump out of my skin and I didn’t know why. Every intersection, there are annoyed cars honking angrily behind you. No one is coming, but there could be. That could is what locks me up, makes me have tears stream down my face. The first day was the worst; I cried in the school parking lot after the commute. No matter how many weeks pass the disbelief and fear is still there.

Every time a car is coming at the driver’s side door, a sensation of butterflies and tightening muscles takes over. Tears are constantly on the ready to flow from their sacs onto the skin of my pain. The worst part is constantly reliving it, silently and verbally. I am fine, becomes the top three words of your vocabulary with the occasional I’m ok in between. The insurance, the medical, your family, friends and teachers all ask the same questions. I feel like I could go on and on about the dramatics of it all, but at this point I just want it to be a part of my past that I survived. Something that will be a locked away memory, but one I can share with my kids about the dangers of texting and driving.

A cliché. Don’t text and drive! Yet everyday you see it, driving down the road beside you. PTSD. I used to want to teach people a lesson, hit my brakes when they are behind me typing away to make them realize the danger they are putting others and themselves in. Now, it just pains me to see. “I only looked down for one second,” was what he said to the police. One second and I lost my car, my 16th birthday present. One second, and the silent moments will now affect my life for the months to come. One second. Could it have been worse? Of course. Am I grateful we are both ok? Yes. Yet, there is this piece of me that is permanently affected, permanently damaged from that one second.

What they don’t tell you about car crashes is the way it changes you. Changes the way you watch the road when you’re driving. Changes the way you feel when you see a car crash in the movies. Makes you feel sad or anguished when you hear about an accident in the news. The Canadian hockey team that has lost so many lives already and likely more in the days to come. The bus of kids from a local high school that went off an overpass on the way home from performing at Walt Disney World. The red lines on the map with backed up traffic from an accident, that you now want to avoid because of the reminders it will bring you.

The silent moments.

The disbelief.

The PTSD.

What they don’t tell you about car crashes is the tomorrows. Tomorrow: a place with more suns in the sky than you can count, a place not like today or yesterday. A place where things are better.  A place and time that contains a new you and new life, while filled with the memories of the past.

 

Ariel Gardner is a junior biology major, “pursuing my dreams of becoming a veterinarian. I am from Hershey and currently work at ZooAmerica. I have a dog named Shanti and a cow named Squirt.”