I thought about building it up, explaining how it was raining and how this particular stretch of highway often gets backed up in a way that seems to catch people unawares. Really, though, none of that is important to the story. What gets the story started is that I had to come to a pretty sudden stop at the interchange between the two biggest highways in Oregon during the morning rush hour. I managed to make that stop, but the FedEx delivery truck behind me was unable to do the same without some help from the back of my car.
I've never been in a real car accident before. I got rear-ended once in downtown Boston, by a car that might have been going 2 miles/hour. I was driving a 1975 Volvo wagon and it was one of those days on which a dozen other worse things had already gone wrong. The driver of the other car and I didn't even exchange information. A couple of weeks after that, my front bumper got clipped by someone who misjudged the distance he needed to make a turn.
Looking into my rear-view mirror and seeing a FedEx truck hurtling towards me was a different matter. I can't begin to imagine what it's like to be in a serious, full-speed, multi-car wreck given that by comparison this was inconsequential. I was stopped, he was trying to stop and going perhaps 15 miles/hour, I don't know, I'm just guessing. There was no place for me to go, or for him to go. That's all.
One car crashing into another makes quite a sound. Finding a way to get over to the shoulder (as it were; it was nothing more than a narrow space about half the width of my car) was challenging in the volume of morning traffic. Then I was scared to get out of my car since there was nowhere for me to stand that was not in the path of the traffic that continued to flow by. I managed to have an Al-Anon moment and remember that doing nothing is a choice; I figured the FedEx driver or a highway emergency vehicle or someone or something else would be by at some point. And that's exactly what happened. The FedEx driver appeared at my door and we we found a place to stand on the protected side of his truck to exchange our information in the rain.
It was all very civil. No other cars were involved, thankfully. Everyone cooperated, with the exception of the other drivers in a rush to get to work, many of whom honked and shook their fists, as though we were deliberately blocking their way.
In the grand scheme of things, it was scary and inconvenient, but nothing more. A week and a half later, I'm still dealing with paperwork and the arrangements to have my car fixed and such. But no one was hurt, no other cars were involved, and the damage was minimal.
Why, then, was it so destabilizing? Once all of our information had been exchanged and I was on my way to work, I took the first possible exit, wended my way down a side street, found somewhere to park, and burst into tears. I proceeded to cry for most of the day, off and on, about everything. People asked me if I was OK, and I cried. People talked about work, and I cried. I got home to a party for our au pair, and I cried. I cried a lot. I even cried some the next day, and the next.
Last week, a coworker told me that her spouse has been diagnosed with metastatic cancer, a terminal diagnosis. Then I got rear-ended. We're in a major transition at our house, with one beloved au pair departing and a new one arriving. Work is full of uncertainty. I don't see as much of Maddie and Riley as I'd like to.
In the most sentimental of ways, what the accident is forcing me to do is come face to face with the fragility of life and the precariousness of being invested. In the wake of John's death, my grief has often been about not getting too attached to things. If you're not attached, you can't have your heart broken. It took John and I a while to find each other, and then once we did, and once I took that plunge into caring so much that I needed someone, that person was taken from me. Since then, I've cultivated an attitude of not caring too terribly much. Sometimes my lack of investment is genuine, sometimes it's full-on Al-Anon fake it 'til you make it. But real or pretend, my life has in many ways been an exercise in not being fully invested. I don't give as much of myself as I could at work; I spent quite a while dating casually but not wanting to be overly involved; I don't get as passionate as I used to get about hobbies or books or movies or other fun stuff; even in parenting, I tend to be less emotionally invested than my peers, or so it seems.
But then that truck hit me. And no, my life didn't flash before my eyes. In the aftermath, though, as I think about how much worse it could have been, and what my coworker is headed into with her spouse, and the number of things we do every day that could go wrong in a heartbeat, I keep coming back to how very much I have to lose. Despite my best efforts, holding back on being overly invested has been a failure.
To realize that there are in fact many things in my life about which I care deeply puts me in a place that feels extremely vulnerable, but also very alive. I believe that being invested is better than not. It's better to have loved and lost, right? Yes. It's been easy and comforting to hum along with the sense that I'm immune to the loss part, and it's silly that a FedEx delivery truck was part of my realization that I'm not. Part of what I want to explore in a more regular writing practice is what I'm invested in and why it's worth it. More on that tomorrow.