car blankets and a ten inch cross

Today I was headed towards a community two zip codes away from mine, I’d been on this road so many times I could have done it with my eyes closed.  Seeing the farms, the shops, and the gas station brought me back to a different point in time.

About fifteen years ago my friend and I were the second car to arrive at the scene of a fatal accident. We were in white-out blizzard conditions during an unexpected snow storm. I slowed down before the accident scene, tapping the brakes hoping the person behind me would notice. The deceased person was behind the wheel and my driver’s side window was parallel to his. I’ve seen dead people before, but never with my kids in the back seat.

The first person at the scene had already called 911. I don’t even remember if that was a man or a woman, but I rolled down my window and they approached. The person nodded their head in the direction of the deceased and said they were gone and now there were two goals; one keep the other driver of the offending vehicle from learning that fact right now and two, prevent any more accidents.

And as I looked at the guy slumped over the wheel, his bloody head arched at a sharp unexpected angle, his vehicle was suddenly rear-ended. I saw the body lunge forward, fling backwards towards the seat, and jut forward again over the steering wheel. It happened in real time speed, yet in my mind it keeps occurring in slow motion. I can’t eliminate the memory and I can’t make it speed up so I can hurry through it. The sound plays out in slow motion, too. There was no squealing of tires because there was zero visibility, just the crashing crinkling crunchy sound of metal collapsing.

I’m probably the last person anyone would call in case of an emergency. Sure, I am the emergency contact on school forms for several kids but by then the emergency has already been resolved and I would be nothing more than a simple Plan B that would hang on to said kid until a parent could step up to stake their claim.

As I craned my neck to check if it was safe to pull to the side of the road, I saw the young man. This was the first time I saw the driver of the other vehicle, the one from the original crash. I’m guessing he was about 25 years old, medium build, wearing blue coveralls and driving a company truck. His image is burnt into my mind, too. Only his scene plays out in real time.

He was pacing, mumbling to himself, very animated and drenched. The snow was falling fast and heavy. I quickly parked on what I was hoping was the shoulder of the road. I told my friend I’d be right back. I think my afterthought words might have been, “Keep the kids busy.”

I popped open the trunk and grabbed my blankets. I’ve always got blankets in my car. Not extra boots, not a flashlight, not a gallon of drinking water or a first aid kit, just blankets. These were heavy wool “car” blankets all of them plaid and none of them very big. The purpose of a car blanket is to cover yourself while you are in your car, I don’t know the exact dimensions, but they are significantly smaller than regular sized blankets.

I remember running across the highway to the young man. I dried him off with one of the blankets. He bent towards me so I could wipe off  his hair.  I  “dried” him until he straightened up. I think he just wanted to be touched. I convinced him to get back in his vehicle which was in the ditch. I carefully tucked him in under the thick blankets. I did an “exaggerated tuck,” the kind where you scoot the blanket just a little bit underneath the person so they feel tightly tucked in.

I told him to stay in his truck where it was safe. I asked him to sit tight and wait the emergency crew come to him. It was then that he first spoke, “I didn’t see the car,” my eyes were locked into his as I told him everything was going to be alright. I knew right away it was a lie. Almond shaped, cocoa brown, heavily lidded, black specked eyes. And I lied right into them.

I ran back to my vehicle. My friend suggested we start driving forward with our flashers going and blaring our horn, hopefully, we’d alert other drivers.

The fatal accident never made it into our newspaper. I didn’t know the names of the victim, the survivor or the first person on the scene, but I’ve never forgotten about the crash. The slow motion movie and sounds effects run through my head less often than they used to but not seldom enough for me to be comfortable. I now keep more blankets than before in the back of my vehicle, but now they are full sized. If I ever have to tuck someone back in their vehicle I’ll be able to do a better job.

My lie to the young man still haunts me. I didn’t know what else I could say so I told him everything was going to be alright. Those were intentional words, carefully chosen. I didn’t say, “It wasn’t your fault,” because that wasn’t up to me to decide, but I should have said, “It could have happened to anyone,” that would have been closer to the truth.

If I can be transported fifteen years backwards with virtually total recall after a glimpse of a ten-inch plastic cross on the side of the road, how can everything be alright for the man in the blue coveralls driving on Highway 23 West during an unexpected blizzard.



8 Comments on car blankets and a ten inch cross

  1. Michelle Longo
    October 13, 2015 at 9:38 am (9 years ago)

    You were kind to him in a difficult moment. You did what you could.

  2. Daniel
    October 14, 2015 at 8:48 am (9 years ago)

    A gripping story, well told.

  3. Stacie
    October 14, 2015 at 9:03 am (9 years ago)

    Wow what an awful thing. It was sweet of you to wrap him in blankets. I am sorry this still haunts you. It would haunt anyone, I think.

  4. Jasbir @jasbeeray
    October 14, 2015 at 11:12 am (9 years ago)

    That’s very brave and kind of you

  5. Ellen
    October 15, 2015 at 11:32 am (9 years ago)

    I could not look away from your story. Your act of kindness is a testament to humanity. I would like to believe that he remembers you and your blanket, and that it comforts him when he is troubled.

  6. Kathy
    October 15, 2015 at 3:14 pm (9 years ago)

    Wow, that accident will haunt you forever. You did do everything you could do, and probably more than most would. As far as the lie you told, think of it this way…you comforted him, when he needed comforted. You were a guardian angel in a snow storm that was there for him. There is a reason for everything, and your reason for him was that you were there for him. I am sure he hasn’t forgotten you and probably still thanks God you came along that day. I enjoyed reading your story, it had great flow. I felt I was right there experiencing it with you. ♥

  7. Michael
    October 15, 2015 at 5:26 pm (9 years ago)

    This was an ncredibly moving story. It sounds like you were able to provide some comfort at a very bad moment in that guy’s life. Well done.

  8. Kayleigh
    October 17, 2015 at 11:01 am (9 years ago)

    Powerfully written. It’s moving to think about how many people’s lives each of those crosses represents – not just the life lost and the family, but every individual who may have tried to help, to comfort, to tuck someone into a blanket.

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