Creative Nonfiction

It could have been so much worse

Snowy streets

I heard a horrible thud. Then a crash. I glanced at my rearview mirror and saw a car flipped on its side. Throwing my car into park, I dashed out onto the snowy road toward the upended car. Other drivers who’d seen the accident joined me.

“Are you OK?” we clamored.

“Yes, I’m fine,” said the woman inside. She was standing upright on the driver’s side door.

“Are there any children with you?” someone asked.

“Oh no, she’s got a little girl in there,” someone else said.

A blur of activity followed as we worked to help the woman and her daughter get out.

“Hold the car so it doesn’t tip over.”

“OK, I got it.”

“Can you open the passenger door?”

“I think so…can you hold it open?”

“Got it.”

“Be careful as you’re climbing out.”

“Help me hold the door! The wind caught it!”

“Oh! OK, we’ve got it now.”

The woman slid down the roof of her car to the ground. She turned to her daughter, still inside.

“OK, honey—climb out just like I did.”

“Good girl.”

“That’s it. You got it.”

“Just slide down to the ground.”

“Does anything hurt?”

“Are you OK?”

Miraculously, neither mother nor daughter were harmed. But the shock was wearing off. The car, a familiar object on all four wheels, became ominous in its new orientation on two wheels.

The girl began to cry. A stranger’s hand reached out to pat her sleeve. “It’s OK, sweetie.”

My hand went out to rub her shoulder. “You’re safe. Your mommy’s safe.”

Another bystander gave the child a hug and ushered her off to wait in a warm car.

Someone handed the mother a cell phone. Soon a siren blared. A police officer appeared.

“Is everyone OK?” he asked.

“Yes,” the woman said.

“No injuries?”

“No.”

“What happened?”

“I don’t know—I started to slip—”

“Did you hit that tree branch in the road?”

“I don’t know—”

“There are skid marks in the snow that we can look at to try to find out what happened.”

More sirens. Workers appeared and helped direct traffic around the scene.

More phone calls. “We’re fine…can you come pick us up?…And I just got my car out of the shop…I was just going to Anthony’s to get pizza for dinner…”

The blur of activity slowed and cleared. Snow continued falling thickly, forming a coating on the car, still perched bizarrely on its side.

Suddenly the woman bowed her head and put her hand to her face.

“It could have been so much worse,” she sobbed.

“I’m sorry,” I said. My hand went instinctively to rest on her upper arm. There was nothing else to do.

I drove home thinking about her words. If the car had crashed at a slightly different angle…if it had been going slightly faster…I could have witnessed a very different, very bloody scene. My own tears fell as I thought of what so easily might have been, and as I felt relief for what was.

At home, I found my roommate in the dining room. “How was your day, Allison?”

“Fine…but I saw an accident on the way home.” I told her the story. “It could have been so much worse.”

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” she said, moving toward me. I stepped aside, thinking she was trying to get to the doorway.

“No, no, I’m trying to give you a hug,” she said, smiling and spreading out her arms.

I laughed and opened my arms to hug her back.

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