Last Thursday morning, Terry and I had some errands to run. We set out early, and it was a bit of a stressful morning, for one reason or another, so by the time we got back into the car and headed for home, I was just looking forward to putting the kettle on, pouring myself a giant mug of coffee, and relaxing a bit.
Terry was driving, and I’d picked up a leaflet in one of the places we’d visited, so I started flipping through it to pass the time. I was so engrossed in this, that I didn’t even see the other car. In fact, I didn’t see anything at all. One minute I was sitting there, reading my leaflet and half-listening to the music on the car stereo, the next I was being flung forward in my seat, and then snapped back by the safety belt. There was no time to think, and yet somehow there was all the time in the world to register the look of shock on Terry’s face, hear him shout out something – I don’t remember what – and feel the sickening moment of impact as the bonnet crumpled in front of us and the thought this is it, this is how we’ll die flashed through my head.
The car came to a halt. The music played on, inappropriately loud.
Then I started screaming.
“Oh my God!” I shouted. “Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!” And I think I would probably have kept on shouting it – in fact, I think there’s a small part of my head which has been just repeating that phrase, over and over ever since it happened – if Terry, having established that there was nothing physically wrong with me, hadn’t interrupted my hysteria by getting out of the car.
By the time I’d calmed down enough to take a look around, the two people from the other car had, thankfully, also gotten out to inspect the damage, so I could see right away that no one was hurt. Even without looking, though, I could tell that our poor car wasn’t going to be so lucky, and as I sat there and looked at the buckled bonnet, I was all of a sudden completely blindsided by the horror of it all.
First came the ‘what ifs’. What if we’d been going faster? What if the seatbelts had failed? What if Rubin had been in the car, and had been thrown forward with the impact? And, of course, the biggie: what if we’d been hurt, or worse? What if someone else had?
The ‘what ifs’ were quickly followed by the ‘if onlies’. If only we hadn’t gone out that morning, or at that time. If only I hadn’t decided that THAT day was the only possible day to run those errands. If only I’d actually stopped and bought those flowers I’d seen in the supermarket, rather than just stopping to admire them: then we’d have been a few minutes later than we were, and we’d have driven home, drank our coffee and got on with our day, just as we always do.
But I didn’t. And so instead of that blissfully normal day, I found myself sitting by the side of the road, in our once-beautiful car, which was now completely destroyed. And as I sat there, I discovered that my mind could just not compute this. I couldn’t fathom how something could be so perfect one second, and so utterly ruined the next. And I thought that this could have been me, or Terry, or one of the two people in the other vehicle, and I started to sob. It was a long time before I stopped.
* * *
The other car had just one small scratch on the bumper.
Ours is a write off.
* * *
Because of the holiday weekend, we had to spend the next four days waiting to find out whether it was repairable or not. In fact, we still don’t have the official verdict from the insurance company, but the garage have told us the cost of the repairs, and it’s more than the car’s worth, so it doesn’t take a genius to work out what will happen there.
Of course, it’s just a car. The main thing is that no one was hurt: I’ve been being told this all weekend, and it’s one of those things that really goes without saying (Although, seriously, if one more person tells me that “worrying won’t help!” I will scream. I don’t think anyone worries or feels bad about things because they think it will help: you just can’t help but feel bad sometimes, when something bad has happened.) It could have been worse. Cars can be replaced. No one was hurt. But honestly? I still feel absolutely wretched about it. I loved that car. I wrote before, back when we bought it, about how I tend to get emotionally attached to inanimate objects, especially cars, and although I told myself I wouldn’t do it this time, I seem to have failed in that endeavour, because I can’t even think about it without wanting to cry.
One second, everything was normal, and fine. The next second, everything was ruined.
And as bad as it was, it could have been so much worse.