December 03, 2006

Black Ice

In early December in Snowstorm Region, car accidents happen pretty often. The beginning of winter creates black ice on roads that haven't yet been heavily salted. You can't see black ice, especially at night. It happens to every driver sooner or later: you hit a patch of ice, and your car spins out of control. It's a frightening, helpless feeling because there is nothing you can do once the car starts spinning. It's scariest when you have passengers in the car and can do nothing to protect them.

It's been fifteen years, exactly fifteen years today, since the car accident that changed my life, but I can remember the details vividly. It began as a lovely winter night, full of anticipation. My sister-in-law was in labor, and we were driving to the hospital so she could give birth. She and my brother had not been married very long, but she had four kids from a previous marriage, and she had asked me to come along to be a support person for the four kids. We were all excited to watch the baby being born. It was late at night and just beginning to snow as we left their driveway in two vehicles, and we all thought that was a good omen: the first snow of the year is special snow.

Things were fine until we were on the highway. Then my brother, just ahead of me, hit a patch of black ice and his van went into the median, sliding to a stop in the snow. He and his wife, who was in active labor, got into my station wagon along with the four kids. We didn’t have enough seatbelts for everyone, but we crammed everyone in. We came to the next bridge, and then my car hit another patch of black ice. The car spun out of control and crashed into the guard rail.

It was a nightmare. My niece, sitting behind me, was screaming so loud that I thought her legs had been cut off. My sister-in-law, in the seat next to me, was silent. The horn kept blaring. I’d broken something in the steering column when my face smashed against the steering wheel. Cars zoomed by us as I gathered the children, pulling them away from the dangerous traffic, checking them to see if they were okay. My brother yanked my sister-in-law from the front seat, and a passing car took them on to the hospital.

When the ambulance arrived, I was angry at the driver because he barely glanced at the children, who were standing around me in a circle, and instead focused on me. He kept telling me that the only way he would transport me to the hospital would be if I let him strap me to a board. I kept trying to explain to him that I was supposed to be taking care of the children. "I’m fine," I kept saying, "I didn’t get hurt."

He put his hands to my face and then pulled them away. He held them out to show me that they were filled with blood.

It was a long night in the hospital, all of us huddled in the emergency room, the kids dazed but okay, me bleeding profusely all over everything, leaving bloodstains on the kids when I hugged them, and trailing drops of blood when I would make the trek up to the other floor where my sister-in-law was laboring, with packs of ice on her injuries. My right hand was broken but I didn't know it yet because I had refused X-rays, and I was still in some kind of shock that made everything seem unreal.

When morning came, my niece, Drama Niece, was born, healthy and beautiful.

The injuries healed over the next few months. Well, at least the physical ones did. The only physical reminder I have from that night is the throbbing I get in my right hand just before it rains. But that night somehow stirred up a stew of emotional issues for my sister-in-law and brother, leading to all kinds of crazy behavior: a lawsuit, angry words, and eight years of silence from both her and my brother. My right hand healed after six weeks in a cast; the emotional healing from the pain that began that night took considerable longer.

Every year, I dread this anniversary. It's a scab that gets ripped off, smaller each year but still present. I have to remind myself that the car accident is in the past: the children with me that night have grown to adulthood, the lawsuit settled out of court because they had no case, my sister-in-law died of breast cancer a few years ago, and my brother, after his wife's funeral, began speaking to the family again.

Over the last year, I've come to see the role thanksgiving plays in healing. As some of my readers know, I have been participating in a year-long dialogue between native and white people in this area. During the year of discussions, lectures, performances, and talking circles, one of the things that has impressed me the most is the way that the native elders, the People of the Longhouse, have kept stressing this need for thanksgiving. The words that come before all else.

So this year on this anniversary, I am going to try to be thankful. Not for the car accident that happened fifteen years ago, but for all the people in my life who helped me deal with everything that happened after that. That painful period of my life led to all kinds of awareness and realizations: I learned to take better care of myself, I began dealing with emotional issues I had avoided, I began to understand the need to confide in close friends. I began writing poetry as a way to heal. I learned reiki. I grew up.

Yes, it still seems unfair that I hit black ice that night. I don't believe in the stupid cliche that "things happen for a reason." I think sometimes weather patterns leave black ice on the highway, and the average station wagon is not designed to deal with it.

But growth and richness can come from painful situations, and I have come to think that one role pain can play in our lives is to emphasize the ways in which humans need each other. I have shared the painful details of that period with close friends, and my pain has deepened those friendships. The car accident was a catalyst that led to growth, to healing. I am thankful for patient friends and a supportive husband who helped me deal with the emotional chaos that began on a dark highway fifteen years ago.

43 comments:

cloudscome said...

I knew there was something about your brother but I didn't know why. Thanks for sharing this. Family hurts are the hardest to heal. I know how it is on black ice and how you can not know your own injuries when you are worried about the kids... Glad to see you have found so much to be thankful for in all this.

net said...

You write so beautifully, jo(e)!

Anonymous said...

(o)

Anonymous said...

Thinking of you today, jo(e). And being thankful for your writing.

mc said...

(o)

listmaker said...

(o)

Sara said...

What a terrifying experience, two car accidents in one night. Not to mention the family implications, which seem even more unfair than the black ice itself. The People of the Longhouse set a beautiful example for us all to follow. Thank you for sharing this.

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

I am thinking of you today, too. I cried reading this, remembering all your pain and confusion and frustration. I am sending some love and long distance Reiki healing your way!

I am thankful--thankful no one was seriously phyiscally hurt, thankful for you long loving friendship and support, for your beautiful children and mine, for poetry and Reiki and love. Mary XOX

raehan said...

Oh, this made me ache for all of the pain. Not the blood, but the rest of it.

I am so sorry, jo, that you had to go through that with your brother's family. It just sounds so hurtful.

Anonymous said...

Oh jo(e)! I'm so sorry, dear. I don't know the details, but it sounds awful and hurtful and I'm sorry you had to go through it all. I was disowned for a while by my parents, and it is an awfulk feeling to be cut out of someone's life., and I didn't have to deal with the added stress of lawsuits, ect.

While reading, I was struck by what a fierce mama bear you are...even though you were injured, your focus was the children, even though they were not your own. You are amazing.

joy said...

I had to read through it twice, to comprehend all of it. I'm glad your brother is closer now.

I'm estranged from my father and it is so complicated and so many years have gone by. I do think of the wasted time but don't know what to do about it. Sad, I know.

Thank you for sharing.

BrightStar said...

oh, jo(e)... I had forgotten about this story, but now I remember that you posted about it before -- a year ago? anyhow, thank you for sharing your memories and emotions with us and allowing us to be here for you on this anniversary.

Songbird said...

jo(e), I'm thankful for your gift of writing and your choice to share your stories with us.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

(o)

Rev Dr Mom said...

I'm thankful for your gift of sharing your stories with us.

Hugs.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

Double huggs -- for you and your family. They are lucky to have you, as are we.

Scrivener said...

(o)

Lina said...

I'm thinking of you, hon. xx

Marie said...

(o) And I echo the gratefulness to you for sharing your stories with the rest of us. Peace.

Anonymous said...

Hugs and kisses.

comebacknikki said...

(o)

jar said...

I've thought about you on and off today, hoping that by writing this post that this anniversary was more peaceful than others.

Anonymous said...

(o)

Anonymous said...

Thinking of you and your family. You have much to be thankful for, and we are thankful for you and your writing.

ppb said...

(o)

Manorama said...

Warm hugs to you, and wishes for peace and rest when you think of this.

Anonymous said...

What a dark and disturbing tale...on a chilly night, too. I wish you continued healing...

Sarah Sometimes said...

sending you love...

Mieke said...

I remember this powerful story from last year. It doesn't get any easier to read, so I can imagine how difficult it is when this day rolls around. We never stop carrying these things do we. But hopefully they get a little lighter as time passes.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

Amen.

kathy a said...

you loved and still love your brother and his family.

something awful happened, and your biggest instinct was to take care of the kids. that is important.

the accident was one of those things. black ice, what can you do? sometimes family breakdowns are like that, too.

a lawsuit, bad things, 8 years of silence. your SIL's death, later. somehow, there was renewal and a new growth of family connections.

this is a very moving post. you found so much that brings you peace, out of this awful night so long ago. because you found your way, or at least this part of the path, your family and friends also have enjoyed so much strength and happiness, gifts from you.

not to be selfish, but hearing a story like this brings much to all of us reading. sometimes the answer to unspeakable pain is, wait and see -- take care of what you can, and the rest will get better.

timna said...

grieving and giving thanks with you.

(0)

Mona Buonanotte said...

Sometimes in the morning, when I take a break from work, and ponder a little blog-surfing, I think of you and my heart jumps, because I always get something warm and wonderful reading your posts.

Today's was exceptional.

Thank you for this message.

Girl said...

(O)

Rana said...

(o)

halloweenlover said...

I remember this from last year and was wondering if we were getting close. Such a terrible memory and such an unfair story.

Hugs to you. I hope that this year brings further reconciliation with your brother.

Anonymous said...

To make the choice of turning this to an opportunity for growth and healing is the right choice. I hope that this can spread, and that as it spreads it amplifies. Here is how to find the way through woe.

jane dark said...

(o)

Anonymous said...

(o).

I'm thankful for your generous heart and eloquent words.

Liesl said...

(o)

Thank you for sharing this story, Jo(e). I am so sorry this happened to you and your family, and I am so glad that ultimately you were able to turn the situation into an opportunity for healing. That takes incredible strength.

Journey Mama said...

Black ice is terrible, we had a few encounters with it when I was a kid in Canada. I have a poem about one of them, it was so traumatic and out of control. You seem to have come through such intense trials with amazing graciousness. Even the way you write about the hurt you sustained is filled with kindness. I'm glad to know you. Thanks for sharing.

Amelie said...

Thanks for sharing this story. Your writing is beautiful even though the content may be terrible.

Anonymous said...

I too remember this haunting story from when you told it before. It's hard to forget even just having read it; I can't imagine how hard it is for you to revisit it and to have it linger in your consciousness.

Many hugs to you...