You do not, ever, recall the impact of the accident. Later you remember screaming in utter fury at the black pickup truck on your left, you remember jamming on the brake to try to avoid it. But when the loop of your memory starts again you are sitting in the car, off the road.
Your first concern is for the dog, who is still on her feet and likely to bolt if someone opens the door. You feel around the passenger seat, the floor, for her leash, aware that if you have broken your neck you are consigning yourself to a lifetime of paralysis. But what seems absolutely crucial is not the future but the now, which is leashing the dog, who is jumping back and forth, without stopping, between the back and front seats. You catch her in the front, click the lead onto her collar. You try to speak softly to her; your voice is raspy, your throat raw from the scream.
A woman with a cell phone appears at your left, at the driver’s side window. She has called 911, she says; do you want her to call anyone? You ask her to call your coworker, the one you phoned earlier, and ask him to pick up the dog. This sounds pitiful to your ear, but there is no husband anymore, no lover at any level; your capable siblings live hours away, and you are afraid that a stranger will take dog somewhere, and you won’t be able to find her.
A man asks how you feel and when you look left to respond to him, he says don’t do that, just look straight ahead, so after that you never see anyone you’re talking to. People come and go, men and women; a man’s arm—broader, hairier than a woman’s would be—reaches in the open window on the passenger side and removes the folder containing the car registration from the glove box, and later, you think, he returns it.
Someone else—or the same person—takes your wallet from your purse for your driver’s license, and you’re aware again of how much trust is going on here. Your coworker arrives and takes the dog without your seeing him; you have to trust that it’s actually he who takes her, but you hear his voice, and one tiny bit of your brain feels safe. He’s a cat person, not a dog person, but your dog is cat-like, and you have overheard him sometimes in the office, speaking gently to her.
Another woman comes by whom you know slightly, who says she is terribly sorry about the accident, here are a couple of her business cards, call her if you need anything. You put the cards away in your daybook— no one has told you not to move your arms—and you become aware of an odd piece of cloth on the steering wheel, ugly tan, cheap-looking, a piece of cloth you would never be associated with. Your airbag went, says a male voice.
All of this seems to take a long time, during which you realize your car is sitting in what serves as the front yard of the house on the southwest corner of this intersection. The car is headed in the direction you were driving, but it’s facing the door of the house. You wonder how it got here, and you feel bad for the people who live here. This close to the intersection, they have nothing but a dirt yard, and damaged cars wash up in front of their porch.
Finally the EMTs are sliding you out of the car onto a board, because you have asked them to be careful of your back, All of your caution, about the dog, your back, stems from accidents you’ve witnessed—a dog put into a windowless room because no one knew what to do with it—or stories you’ve heard—a college friend saved from paraplegia by a cautious EMT. Getting onto the board hurts—ow—but finally you’re lying on a cot in an ambulance. You have the presence of mind to ask them to take you not to the nearest hospital, which would put you an hour south of home, but back north to the hospital in your new city, where your doctors are associated.
And you never remember this, but maybe you asked them not to scissor your new T-shirt, because while the pale green hoodie is cut in strips, transformed into something for tying tomato plants to stakes, the T-shirt remains intact and you wear it the whole time you’re in the hospital.
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