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Every time I ride in a car I admire the expertise of the person behind the wheel. I watch the road wind away behind us and reach its lengthy arm to the ends of the world in front of us and wonder how anybody can keep the giant steel beast on the pavement. However, there are sometimes unfortunate moments when the steel beast veers off the path, or refuses to stop. People are often harmed when this happens. Sometimes it is fatal, or merely a scratch. But whatever the injury the guilt will haunt the driver and warn them to be more careful in the future. It curls into their mind and reminds them of the importance to drive carefully. As I sit here, I remember a day when I was only ten years old. One silly mistake caused trauma for a little girl. Even though my injury healed quickly and was extremely minor, I was terrified. I don’t think that I will ever forget the day…
I sighed and sent a pleading look to my mom. She herded my two little brothers into the blue van that was calling for a carwash. When the brood was seat buckled into their car seats she turned to me and gave me a smile that consisted of sympathy laced with a sweetheart-we-talked-to-you-before-about-being-kind-to-others-and-this-is-a-chance-for-you-to-put-it-into-play expression. I knew that I needed to be kind, but riding home with Grandma in my aunt’s little red car was not my idea of a fun trip home.
“Bye!” I turned and saw my cousin waving from her car in a parking space a few cars down, “I’ll see you at Thanksgiving.” I waved back contemplating her words. It was true, family vacation was over and I wouldn’t be seeing her until November.
“Are you ready to go?” Grandma asked a smile playing with the corners of her red lips. I gave her a halfhearted nod. Her smile faded but she opened the door for me anyway. I climbed in and felt the corse fabric of the seat under my fingers as they trailed along the back of the seat to find the seat belt that would seal my fate for the car ride.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my grandma and would do practically anything for her. But, I would prefer my brother’s loud company compared to the isolation of the back seat. Grandma would most likely keep her eyes glued to the road while I endured silence. I don’t even know why my grandma asked my mom if one of her children could ride home with her, since they like close to our house. I had nominated my brothers, but my brothers would be loud and obnoxious. And, as the oldest and the quietist, I was chosen for the task of sitting in the car.
I pulled the door shut behind me and watched Grandma slide into the front seat and start the grunting engine.
“Here we go,” Grandma said with a glance in the rearview mirror. I stared out the window. The cold glass pressed against my face and made my nose turn a rosy shade of pink.
After a few minutes I remembered that my dad had put a computer in the car for my pleasure. I dug around under the seat and found the leather bag. The electronic was awoken by my clammy fingers. When the computer reminded me that “Virus Database Has Been Updated” I inserted a DVD that I had found in the bag.
I watched the images float across the screen with gleeful expressions. As every character found happiness, my own happiness sunk deeper into the fabric of the seat. As the minutes ticked by I began to forget my melancholy state. I began to enjoy the movie. A smile spread across my face.
Suddenly the screen froze and the people stopped. I tried to bring the characters to life again but they would not budge from their frozen stance. I sighed and slipped my lips into a pout. My movie would have to be finished another day. Packing up the computer and tucking it safely under the seat I folded my arms and stared out the window again. Nothing looked familiar in the world outside the glass. I hunched farther down in my seat and asked Grandma to turn the heat up.
With my skin tingling with warmth and my eyes getting heavy I rested my tongue between my two rows of teeth to sleep. A few minutes passed with no sleep entering my system, until finally sleep’s gentle fingers slid under my skin and lulled me to sleep. I was about to cross the boarder of “real world” and “dreamland” when I heard a THUD and felt my body fling forward.
My head rammed into the rough seat in front of me with incredible speed. The force of the hit forced my teeth to close upon my unsuspecting tongue. In a split-second I opened my mouth to let out a gentle scream when I felt something small fall out of my mouth.
My mouth burned. It stung with pain. Warm ooze seeped between my teeth and ran down my head. A prick with the tip of my finger confirmed that I had successfully bitten off the end of my tongue. I reached my hand up to stop the flow of the metallic blood when the car lurched forward again. My head was up and I saw the impact on my grandma.
Grandma’s head flung forward with such force that I was half afraid that it would pop off her neck. Grandma gasped for breath when she hit the steering wheel in front of her. I wanted to reach out and help her but my bottom seemed glued to the seat. I noticed that my grandma had recovered quickly.
I willed her not to turn around. I wondered how strong her stomach was. I wondered how much of the warm red liquid was running down my neck.
“Are you okay…” Grandma stopped in mid-sentence. She had turned around. A look of what seemed like horror flitted across her face for a moment before she started rummaging through the front seat. She produced a box of tissues, which she handed over.
I pressed the tissues to my tongue. The taste of blood and paper mixed and produced and unpleasant tang in my mouth. I could feel more blood rushing up to my tongue and a terrible headache that throbbed.
Grandma opened her door and called to someone. I didn’t know whom she was talking to. I didn’t really care.
The door next to my arm flew open and my moms face, riddled with concern, popped in. Her hands moved swiftly to unbuckle me and take me to her van. I could see my dad running behind her with towels in each hand.
Traffic had stopped to let a police car, fire truck, and ambulance through to the scene. A paramedic ran up and asked my dad if he wanted me to be taken to the nearest hospital. My dad said no. He would take me to the hospital in Oneonta where my grandpa was a surgeon. I agreed. I would feel much safer with someone I knew poking around in my mouth.
My mom gently set me down in the van. Her smile was soft and comforting. She was telling me that everything would be all right, while assuring Grandma that it was okay. As soon as the traffic had parted for us we sped down the road toward the hospital.
I rested my head against the back of the seat and watched the car my mother was driving cruse along in front of us. My eldest, Miriam, had put up a little fight, but she had to be kind to her aging grandmother. The car was stale and hot, so I turned up the air-conditioning and heard wails of protest from my two sons. I ignored them and focused on the road ahead.
I was glad that I wasn’t driving. There was too much traffic. The cars in front began to slow down and I sighed. It would take even longer to reach Oneonta.
“Honey,” I said, turning to my husband, “Why isn’t Mom slowing down?” I knew that my voice had a panicked edge to it, but my daughter was in the little car that was defying traffic.
Come on Mom, slow down! I willed Mom to slow down and not hurt herself or Miriam. My thoughts did not reach her, for I heard the telltale sounds of a car hitting a car- metal bending, plastic breaking, and a definite CRASH! I saw the outline of my daughter fling forward and hit the seat in front of her through the glass.
I bit my lip to keep from crying out. The car crashed into the one in front again. This time I opened the door and jumped out. I ran to the red car that encased my mother and daughter. I could hear my husband running behind me. The sirens blared in the background. I didn’t care.
My mother’s quiet voice reached my ears. Miriam was hurt. I flung open the door and saw my daughter’s face covered in blood. The red liquid was pooling on her clothes. I quickly assessed that she had injured her tongue. A painful injury to be sure, but it would heal quickly and leave little more than a scar. I picked her up and ran her over to our van. I set her down on familiar turf and tried to calm her down.
Her eyes held the look of terror and I knew that she would most likely not forget what had happened.
My mother came up behind us. I looked her up and down and noted that she was all right. She was shaken, and wanted to know if Miriam was okay. I nodded.
I felt torn. I wanted Miriam to know that this was a terrible thing that had happened to her and that I was there to comfort and coddle her. But, I also didn’t want my mom to feel guilty.
I settled for middle ground and assured Mom that everything was all right. But, on the way to the hospital I made sure that Miriam knew that I loved her and would help her through it.
As I sit here, I realize that it is extremely important to drive safely. Most car accidents arise from simple carelessness. When driving, it is important to be careful and alert. I was healed quickly and have nothing to show for it but a memory and a faint scar. Some people have more than that. Some people have a lost limb, a wheelchair, or even a tombstone as a reminder to themselves, friends, and family of the carelessness that takes place on the road. Next time you take a drive, put the safely of others and yourself first. It is extremely important to be careful on the road.