On Adrenalin, Freedom and the Kindness of Strangers

A few days ago, I wrote off my car. It was a strange thing and it’s made me want to write a post here for the first time in quite a while. I was driving down the freeway in the dark. I know the road well, am quite a fan of it really, with its sculptures and its many lanes and its not-too-bad traffic. The cars in front were slowing down. I noticed. I was slowing down too. But I wasn’t. I hit a stationary car in front of me at about 80 kms per hour. The noise was amazing. The force of the seatbelt was amazing. A yellow engine light began flashing at me from the dashboard. I started to fret about fire and explosion. My headlights seemed somehow to be almost coming through the windscreen. It took forever to find the button to turn on the hazard lights. My CD was still playing. It took forever to find the button to turn off the music. I was sitting in the middle lane, all crumpled and flashing, as cars sped past on either side. Somehow, I got to the edge of the freeway. The noise driving that small distance was very loud and very grating. I couldn’t open my door, which made me start to shake because I was still fretting about fire and explosion. I shoved the door. I got out. A woman got out of the car I’d driven into. She was frowning and walking towards me. She was wearing a very cool leopard print coat. Are you okay?, she said. Yes, I said, I’m out. Are you okay? Yes. We were both okay. This was good news.

The transit cops arrived, three of them, all sandy haired and bulky. They were reassuring, efficient, a bit macho. The woman I’d driven into was kind; she kept telling me it was fine. I kept apologising and saying I had no idea what had happened, that I thought I was stopping but maybe my foot slipped on the brake or something. I was concentrating. I was watching the traffic. I’m sorry. I was stone cold sober. No one asked me that, but I was. One of the policemen started to take photos of my car and asked for my licence. I asked him why, and he ignored me. I asked him again, and he looked confused. It was as though people never asked him what he was doing and he’d only just registered that a question could do with an answer. He told me I wasn’t going to be charged with anything, of course I wasn’t. The details were just for the insurance company if they wanted a report. He smiled. It’s a write off, you know. I know, I said, and then I started crying a bit. Because that crumpled old car was my freedom car, the car I drive when I don’t have to drive anyone, the car I drive when I want to go somewhere on my own, with my music blaring and no one telling me to put the same track on repeat for an hour, or play eye spy, or count to 199 seventeen times.

The cops organised the tow truck. It arrived quickly. The driver was another kind stranger who gently suggested I needed to get all my stuff out and, you know, say goodbye to the car. While we were all standing there – three cops, the kind other driver, the kind tow truck driver, the stupid driver who couldn’t brake – traffic kept hooning past, and about four or five people leaned out of their cars and abused me. Learn to fucking drive!! You bloody idiot! Can’t you fucking handle a car?!! I was surprised by them. Each one of the abusers was a man. Each one of them thought it’d be a good idea to yell at someone who’d just had a car accident on the freeway in the dark. The cop said it happened all the time; every time he attended an accident scene, there’d be the bozos who’d shout that shit out. The things some people do to make themselves feel superior. I told the cop I’d never had a car accident before, that I did feel like an idiot, and that I probably deserved to be yelled at. No, he said, kindly. And then he told me that it was a bloody good thing I’d had an accident, this accident, because now I knew what it was like, how quickly and easily it could happen, but I’d learnt all that without losing a leg or killing someone. He had a point, the kind cop.

I felt fine for a few hours. But then the adrenalin wore off and I was grey and nauseous and all over the place. And my body began to hurt. It started with my wrist – they’ve always been weak, my wrists; I can hardly hold a full saucepan of water in one hand. And then the pain crept up my right side. Arm. Shoulder. Back. Neck. Mostly neck. For a few days, it hurt, and my fingers were tingling every now and then. I needed to spend hours and hours marking thousands of words of undergraduate writing. I did it on all kinds of strange angles, lying down, holding essays up in the air like flags.

I eventually went to see a physio. She inspected me and told me I was strong. And lucky. She said I had no injuries from the accident but that I had a worrying amount of tension in my neck from being at a desk so much and using a computer all the time. That was my real problem. I laughed. Writing was more hazardous to my ongoing health than a high-speed collision. Now that was a metaphor I could run with. As she tended to my neck, we talked about refugees. She told me how she’d come to Australia from Iran 30 years ago, when things were kinder here. We talked about all the things that decent people seem to feel about Australia’s immigration policy today. We particularly talked about the ridiculous, spurious notion of queues, or order. And then she wanted to talk about books, how much she loved reading, how much the movie version of a novel invariably disappointed her because she always preferred the way she’d imagined it in her head. She told me she’d download my book that night onto her e-reader, and how excited she was to read it. And then she told me to go home, keep writing, and do my neck stretches. I actually hugged her goodbye, told her I’d do all that. And just as I had with the transit police and the other driver and the tow truck man, I thanked her for being so kind.


3 responses

  1. Thank goodness you are safe darling. Thank goodness for the kindness of those strangers. And thank you for this beautifully written, powerful, poignant post. X

  2. Great post. Thanks for so vividly sharing one of those moments that reminds us how quickly life can change. Sorry to hear about the loss of a good car, especially one whose last act in this world, it seems, was to keep you safe.

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