I killed a dog once, with my car. I didn't know it at the time. When it happened, the car bumped slightly, and I heard a sound that I likened to hitting a small bag of dry concrete with the tire. Ka-thump. That was it.
The sound and bump was enough that I stopped the car within a block and pulled over to the curb to check it out. I opened the door, took a quick look and got back inside. I would have had no idea that anything else had happened, except I saw a frantic girl back down the street, running toward her house. Ahead of her, the black flash of a big dog headed toward the open front door, disappearing soundlessly before I could really process what had happened. I wondered if something was wrong...
Rewind two days.
I was driving from Denver to Maryland to visit my best friend. I visit her every year or two, and when I do I try to give her some help with household projects if she needs it. This particular visit, she needed to rebuild a railing along the stairway in her house. I had her send me some pictures, and I drew up a plan. So in the truck with me, alongside my bag of clothes and toiletries, was my miter saw. I had placed it in the passenger seat, wedged up against the dashboard of my truck.
I left in the middle of the afternoon, January 11, 2005. My friend and I planned to attend the inaugural parade of Bush's second term, furtively talking of throwing eggs but more realistically thinking of just taking in the view and being disgusted. I had plans to stop first in Chicago to stay with two friends in Ravenswood before moving on to Indianapolis for a day to see another friend.
The weather was clear as I entered Nebraska, but the night grew dark and cold and the snow began to fall. One driver had been following me for miles, and I could see his headlights in my rear view like a constant. Just before Grand Island I began to see more regular flakes in the freeway lights and decided to get a room for the night. The drive had been smooth till then, but at least once I thought I felt something of a skid and slowed my speed to around sixty.
Coming off an overpass, the rear end fishtailed a bit. I corrected and slowed, expecting to come back to true and take it slow until the next exit, but the correction took me past center again. I corrected once more but could feel the heat of adrenaline surging through me. The fishtail swung back a second time -- farther than before -- and I knew it was past my ability to save. As I swung around and pointed the wrong direction I just hoped that the freeway shoulder would hold me.
My skid took me backward over the white line onto the shoulder. There wasn't enough friction between my tires and the road to so much as slow me. The back side of a large highway sign flashed past the driver's window on my left as I heard the whack of a mile marker obliterated by the truck's door. I knew at that point I wouldn't be stopping on the asphalt, and I told myself to hold on.
When my tires left the blacktop, all the sound stopped. At first the tires just glided over the snow, but as the slope dropped off and the weight of the truck shifted, the outside tires bit hard. The first roll was jarring but silent. I couldn't really understand what was happening except for feeling the shock of ice cold against my head on the window side. The scenery rolled in my windshield until I came to a rest.
The truck was still. I was alive. But things were somewhat upside down.
I could move my arms and turn my head and, except for my body hanging awkwardly in the seatbelt, things seemed OK. I turned off the key (though the engine had stopped anyway) and tried to get my wits about me. I had no idea where my cell phone was, having laid it loose in the console before the crash. And my driver's window was pushed pretty deeply into about two feet of snow. I realized that I wouldn't be getting myself out of the wreck alone.
And then there was the issue of the saw. The miter saw, about seventy-five pounds of cast aluminum and motor, had somehow stayed in its seat during the rolls and was essentially suspended directly overhead, held up by... what? It had been sitting in the seat next to me, kept in place only by a bit of friction against the dashboard. Concern number one: Was it going to hang there much longer? Concern number two: If I needed to get out the passenger door, that saw was in my way.
Something in the back of my mind recalled the driver who had been following me along I-80 most of the way into Nebraska. He had been maybe a half mile behind -- surely he saw me, especially when I yawed backward, my headlights shining directly at him at least for a moment. But I didn't know how far off the highway I had slid and rolled. Was I right near the shoulder or tucked into a ravine somewhere beyond the sight line of the lanes up on the road? I switched on my hazard lights just to be sure... and waited.
It took about three minutes or so until I heard the sound of a vehicle slowing to a stop somewhere back on the interstate, wherever that was. Then a shout and the sound of someone bounding through the snow. He crouched down as near to the driver's window as he could get. (I imagine he was nearly lying on the ground to do it.)
"Are you OK?"
"Yes, I'm fine. But I'm stuck."
"Let me get up on top and pull you out. Do you need a cell phone?"
"No. No one to call -- but, wait! You'll need my keys."
I found my keys and wondered if I'd be able to roll down my window to extend them to the guy. I was surprised but kind of relieved to find the window gone, shattered somewhere along the way. I pushed the keys through the missing driver's window, down into the snow and back up again so he could see them outside of the truck. I heard him climb up along what had been the bottom side to the opposite door, clambering up on top. But he was unable to open the door, which was probably a lucky thing, since I had forgotten to tell him about the saw -- and that opening the door might release it from whatever held it in place.
He climbed back down and told me he had already called for help. I caught him before he left the window and asked if he could hear me well. I told him about the saw, and how whoever opened that door needed to be concerned first with grabbing it, in case it wanted to fall on me.
Sirens sounded up on the highway, coming to a stop where I first heard that guy's truck. Again, I heard footfalls in the snow heading down the hill, but this time a lot more of them. And as I listened to the murmur of the guy giving a quick overview of my situation to them, I braced my arm against the miter saw's frame, hoping I'd be able to hold its weight with my elbow, should it start to drop when they opened the door.
(part one ends here, because it's long enough already...)
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