A young girl leaving for school.
"I have to drive carefully this morning, be aware, I saw over a dozen deer feeding in the field yesterday. I don't need to run into any this morning."
She drove much more conservatively than usual, at the second stop sign, she decided to test the brakes, test the road, to see how slippery it was. As she pressed the brake pedal down, the van slid a few inches before coming to a complete stop.
"Yep, I'm going to have to drive carefully. Gotta take the curves slower."
She turned right and proceeded on her way. Nerves on edge, this being the first time she had driven alone in hazardous conditions. Anticipating the hill with the two S curves coming up, she attempted to slow the van down, pressing on the brake at the top of the hill. "The pedal won't go down! Something's blocking it! What is it? She tried to sweep the tip of her shoe under the pedal to dislodge whatever it was, but it wouldn't move! OH God! The van's picking up speed! I'm losing control of the steering!" She didn't know what to do next. The van continued to pick up speed as as it descended the hill, it went out of control. Bouncing off of the guard railing, she tried pressing down harder, and harder on the brake pedal, but it just wouldn't go down. She had no way to control what was going to happen next.
Crossing her arms up over her face, she shouted, "Fuck, Fuck, Fuck!"
" Dad is going to kill me!"
The Van veered sideways into the opposite hillside, slamming into it, before tipping over, the driver's side smashing, bouncing, and finally coming to rest against the roadway.
Her mind racing... she combed her hands through her hair, redid her pony tail three times as she attempted to gather her wits, she sat there endless seconds, the windshield wipers flipping back and forth, back and forth. She turned them off, turned off the lights, turned off the engine.
Another moment flew by, "Oh God! Another car coming down the hill might not see me! They might slam into me, then I would really be in trouble!"
She turned the engine back on, flipped the headlights back on.
Pulling her cell phone from her jean's pocket she dialed 911. "Nothing, no signal!" She dialed Mom's number, Dad's number, Brother's number. "Nothing! No signal! Fuck!"
She decided to take stock. Doing a mental check of her body, she seemed to be OK, her neck stung a little, so did her left hand, but otherwise, she was OK. Taking a breath she released the seat belt, and in one swift motion slid her body to a standing position. She could feel dirt under her feet, the drivers side window had broken out. Her hand was still stinging, she looked at it, pulled a piece of broken glass from her pinkie, and reached up above her head to try to open the passenger side door. It opened. Grunting, she attempted to push it all the way open so she could climb out, but she wasn't strong enough, the door slammed shut again and again. She felt panic begin to rise within her. "I've got to get out of here!"
She saw headlights sweep past her, and a car stop up ahead. A woman came to the side of the van. The woman asked, "Are you hurt?"
"No, I'm alright. Can you open the door up there, so I can get out of here?"
"Honey, are you sure you are OK? Turn off the engine, this car could explode, you don't know what could be leaking out!"
"Can you please, open the door? I need to get out of here!"
"No, I can't do that! The car could explode anytime!"
"Call 911! Please!"
"I can't there isn't a cell phone signal down here!"
At that same moment the young driver saw the bobbing of a flashlight through the trees on the opposite side of the road. A man came running up, yelling, "Are you OK?"
"Yes, can you get me out of here?"
"Sure, hold on, I'll get the door open while you climb out."
As the man climbed up the hill, and leaned over the side, she watched the woman return to her car, and drive away.
The man had the door open, "Here, grab my hand and I'll help you out!"
She tried to climb up over the passenger seat, but one foot was caught on something. She felt panic rise again, "I'm trapped! My foot is stuck!" Finally pulling it free, she pulled herself up and over the side of the door opening. The man helped her down. He looked for the woman to tell her to stay with the young girl.
"What the hell? Where did she go?"
"I'm going to run back into the house and call the police. You stay here, I'll be right back!"
More headlights, a school bus, the bus came to a stop. The driver came running over. The young driver knew her, it was her bus driver!
"Sally, Oh thank God!"
Sally ran toward the young girl, she had recognized her too. She asked the young driver if was OK, before bursting into tears, and sweeping her up in a huge hug. The younger driver allowed herself to let go for a brief moment, letting her tears fall, then she gathered her wits, "No more crying, Sally, I have to keep my cool."
"Sally, will you try to call my parents?"
"Sure thing, Baby. Come into the bus with me. What're their numbers?"
She quickly rattled off the three phone numbers of her family members.
"Slow down honey, I didn't catch all those.'
She repeated them, more slowly.
"Got it, I'll radio them in, and have the Superintendent call your Mom."
She spent a few minutes anxiously talking, reliving the accident, with the other kids on the bus.
Traffic was getting heavier, the man from the house, noticing the young driver was in the capable hands of the bus driver, said, "The police're on the way, I'm going to direct traffic so there isn't another accident."
Another car pulled up, a volunteer fireman from the nearby town. Walking over to the bus, he gave the young driver a perfunctory examination to make sure she was OK, turning to the School Bus driver, he told her he would take care of the young driver. "Sweetie, let's get you back out of this rain, we can sit in my car, until more help arrives."
"Tell me what happened?"
She sat in the car, her body trembling slightly as it finally hit her."I wrecked my van! Dad's going to be so angry!"
She related the events of the past 20 minutes to the fireman.
Eventually the police arrived, and three more paramedics. One she recognized, she had known him since kindergarten. He spoke quietly with her, as he too, gave her a brief physical examination. Her neck and hand were still stinging in spots, but otherwise she felt OK.
Each new arrival requested her story, "What happened?" "What happened?" "How did it happen?' She felt like she would go nuts if she had to repeat the entire story one more time.
Another set of headlights. "Mom"
She watched her mother's frightened face visibly relax as she saw her daughter standing safely beside their friend, on the side of the road.
She felt her mother's warm hands gently caressing the sides of her face, softly touch the seatbelt abrasion on the side of her neck, felt her lips press against her forehead. "Are you sure you're OK? Thank God you're safe! I love you baby."
She felt her mother's arm surround her back, felt her hand take a firm grip on the back of her sweatshirt, as if to keep her from disappearing.
The rest happened in a surreal blur.
She listened as the paramedics and police officer spoke with her mother.
The fireman she knew, told her mother. "I've been on hundreds of teenage accident calls, I can honestly say...never have I encountered a young driver who could keep her cool, stay so calm through out it all like she has."
Mom just nodded her head.
"Why don't you two wait in your car, until the tow truck gets here? Is her dad on his way?"
"He should be here any minute, thanks Stan."
"We're going to leave now. Remember, anything changes, any pains, get her to the emergency room."
"Yes, immediately, thanks. Come on baby, let's get you warm."
They waited for her father to arrive. When he arrived fear coursed through her again, "He's going to be so mad!"
But, he wasn't. He pulled her close, hugging her tightly against him, she hugged him back, leaning into his shoulder, breathing in the safe smell of her Daddy.
"Are you really OK?"
Upon hearing her affirmative answer, he said," What did I tell you about driving on wet roads?"
"I was driving carefully. There was stuff left in the van from the weekend. A can or something rolled under the brake pedal, I couldn't push it down."
"At least you're not hurt."
The tow truck finally arrived, a few more questions to be answered, and Mom took her home.
Mom stayed outside in the car to use her cell phone to call the school, to call in late to work.
The young driver walked into the house alone. "Home."
That did it. She could let down her guard. She cried, and cried. Hugging the dog to her, as she realized how frightening and surreal it all felt. Finally allowing the adrenalin to slowly leach out of her.
Her brother came rushing in, and she repeated her story one more time.
* * * * * * *
Every parent worries when our children start driving on their own. Many young people have car accidents, hopefully only minor fender benders. No matter how many times it happens though, it is no less frightening. To receive that phone call. To hear that voice over the phone, to hear the words, "Your child has been in an accident."
I have been lucky, Mr. Son has had three traffic accidents, Miss Daughter the one today. None of those times have my children been badly hurt.
Each time as I have seen the damage done to the vehicle they were driving, my heart would clutch. I would imagine the damage that could have been done to their bodies. I would imagine how it would feel to lose one of them. I have no idea how I would handle that. Those imaginings leave me feeling as if I wouldn't survive the loss of one of my children. I think I would, but it is not something I wish to contemplate.
As the day wore on, Miss Daughter went to school, I went to work. There wasn't a moment through out the day though, that I did think of her, wonder if she was experiencing any new injury from the earlier trauma. I had left her with strict orders that if anything felt wrong she was to immediately go to the School Nurse's office, and call me. She made it through the day. She is stiff, and sore. Still upset, but safe.
She is safe. This time.
I can remember each time one of my children left my protection for the first time. The first time I left them with a babysitter. The first time as infants, or toddlers, they each rode in a vehicle with someone other than myself or their father as the driver of the vehicle. The first time they spent the night away from home, under the care of some other adult besides myself. The first time they were dropped off at the mall, or some other venue, without adult supervision. The first time they rode as a passenger with one of their young friends in the possession of a new driver's license. The first time they pulled out of the driveway, in possession of their own little laminated plastic badge of freedom.
So many, so very many times we parents learn the lesson of letting them go. We learn to let go, to allow them to become more and more independent. As we let go, we learn to appreciate their growing maturity, we learn to take pride in each new thing they accomplish on their own. We learn to feel more secure with each new independent decision they make. We encourage, and we learn to let them go.
But we never learn to let the worry go.