There’s a thing that happens to your senses during a traumatic event. I’m sure it has a fancy scientific name but I don’t know what it is. I can only describe it to you:
I’ve always day dreamed in the car. As tree after tree whooshes past the passenger side window and my alternative rock rattles my mirror, I live a thousand different lives. I dream up scene ideas for the characters I write. I work out plot holes in my head. I relive memories of the past, both good and bad. I explore the ridiculous, the impossible. I think I’ve found the solution to world peace a time or two.
I wish I could tell you which one of these universes I was exploring in my head when I heard my husband scream out “OH SHIT!” but I simply do not remember. I do remember the flashing image of what I thought was a tractor trailer, the split second realization that it hadn’t stopped at its stop sign, my husband’s futile attempt to cut the wheel… BANG!
Here’s the first thing your brain does, it tries to protect you from the worst of it. I do remember the first impact. I remember the air bag hitting my chest. I remember the force of the impact snapping my jaw shut and my teeth sinking through my tongue. I remember my mouth instantly filling with warm metallic liquid.
I don’t remember the cracking of my bones in my chest, or the shattered remains of the glove box tearing into my leg. I don’t remember the second impact either, or my glasses flying off my face, or the back window shattering out. I didn’t even know we had spun and hit twice until my husband showed me pictures of the remains of my car.
I think my brain decided I’d had enough and blocked all that out because my next memory is of me batting the deflating air bag out of my face and my husband screaming to know if I was okay. I couldn’t answer him. I made a gurgling noise and tried to breath in. That was the first time I felt the pain. Holy shit… the pain. I tried to breath and couldn’t, I tried to cough and couldn’t. I saw puffs of the air bag powder in the air and thought that was why I couldn’t breath. I managed to open my door and flop out into the grass.
Here’s the second thing your brain does… Even though I never hit my head and never went unconscious, everything distant looked like it was in a fog. I couldn’t see anything far away, the trees, the houses, everything was gray and shapeless. I heard voices of people in the distance but couldn’t understand them or answer them.
But… up close, was a world of vivid imagery far greater than what my eyes normally experience. The standard blue paint on my crumpled Toyota Camry stood out like royal blue flowers against a natural green and brown background. Even though it was January in the northeast, the grass I landed in was soft like a blanket and each blade sprouted a distinctly different natural hue. I remember very clearly noticing that the blood that poured from my mouth wasn’t dark or thick, but a bright cherry red like expensive lipstick. Everything, and I mean everything, was enhanced. I hate to even use the word surreal, because I’m sure it’s cliché, but it’s the only one that fits.
Even time. I’ve heard people say that time slows down in moments like this but I didn’t experience that. I dug my my fingernails into the ground and braced for each gasping attempt to breath. Within seconds it seemed, my husband was out of the car wiping my blood stained hair from my face and calling 911. A warm grey blanket was tossed over me by one of the nameless faceless voices from the distance. A pillow was shoved under my head. A moment later there were sirens and I was surrounded by police and EMTs.
A familiar voice came through the ensuing commotion, “Why did it have to be you guys?” I managed to look up through the towers of people standing over me and caught the glimpse of a familiar face. One of the EMTs was a friend of mine and I was so glad she was there. Reality was setting, I was staring to feel the bones in my chest move. My breathing wasn’t getting better. I started hearing words like “helicopter.”
I locked eyes with my husband. He mouthed, “I love you,” to me and I was carted away.