Sweet baby, where are you?
I need to tell you something.
All three of us are ok but I wrecked the car trying not to hit a fox.
We are totally fine and safe.
A man stopped to help. No one else was involved. I was not speeding or texting.
I don’t need you to do anything. I just wanted you to know.
These text messages are how I told my wife about the accident. We were still sitting in the car halfway down a very steep hill, waiting for help to arrive. I needed her to know. And it wasn’t for her, I needed her to know for me. I needed my rock. Although she’s 900 miles away, I knew I couldn’t be who I needed to be–mother to the children I just drove off a cliff, patient to the medics, and driver to the police officer–without having her to lean on.
The emergency crews arrived and surfed down the crunchy hillside to the car. The firefighter that came to my door had the most gentle and understanding eyes. I poured my uncertainty into them, hoping he could read between the words I was so carefully choosing to forever imprint on the minds of my children. As I write this, I’m struck by how much of a mother I became in the seconds, minutes, and hours after the fox stepped onto the road.
Yes, that’s what happened. The tree-hugging, vegetarian hippy made a huge mess of her almost-getting-it-together life because a wee red fox stepped into the road. I know, I know… next time hit the fox. I’ve heard it again and again but do you know what? I am thrilled the fox lived… a luxury, of course, that I can afford because my 15-year-old son, 13-year-old daughter, and I are safe and sound. If that was not the case, I’m certain it would be harder.
Someone said, “Foxes can be replaced,” and I strongly disagree. It’s not my place to say that my beloved Volkswagon Jetta was more important than that fox. Even with that, to say I decided to not hit the fox would be a lie. My reaction was primal, as if my son’s toddler self had stepped into my path. I did not decide. It all just happened. I hit the brakes and the car slid left into oncoming traffic, then right to the shoulder, back into traffic, and then back across my lane and the shoulder and flew off into the darkness.
The darkness. After the firefighters helped us climb out of the darkness, I realized I’d left my phone behind. She wrote back…
Thank you sweet baby. I’ll call in a minute.
Are you home?
Can you please call me as soon as you can?
I’m in the library. I don’t know if you’ll get your phone or not, but I’ll be really glad to hear from you. Will someone come for you? I can send people…
When they helped us back up the hill and into the ambulance, I realized I’d left the phone behind. “I… my wife… I need to call…” Without pause, the man assessing our injuries handed me his phone. “Borrowed phone… we’re okay… in ambulance… I’ll call when they get the car out and I can get the phone… I promise, we’re okay… I love you.”
We were okay, shockingly okay. No one hit their head. Not a drop of blood was shed. His neck was sore. She was covered in slivers of glass, like I’d thrown a handful of glitter at her. My knee was terribly sore and swelling fast but I could walk and stand. With assistance we climbed out of the darkness. We were okay. There was utter disbelief, I found out later, from everyone involved. Yes, everyone. The first responders have seen it all. They were stunned we were okay. The tow truck driver said, “I’ve seen a lot of dead people pulled out of cars like yours.” My mother, the insurance inspector, pure disbelief from everyone who’s seen the pictures… my wife.
We are done with everything and are in mom’s car. She came to get us and is driving us to the house.
You have your phone and you’re ok?
Yes to both.
My knee is sore. Mom and kids went and got ice for it. Car is totaled.
I got worried and scared.
I’m sorry about your car, Sweet Baby.
Really sorry. I know you love it.
I know. It was so scary. I will tell you all about it. We are lucky to be alive.
I am so sad about my car too. I do love it so much.
It sounds like lucky. I’m glad the car protected you, and I’m sorry about it. I know.
Do you want to see a picture? Or do you think it’s too scary? Maybe want to wait until I can talk to you about it? You tell me.
I want to see it. I feel so far away like I know nothing and can do nothing but I wish I was there for more.
I know. If there was anything you could do I promise I would tell you and ask you to come.
Sweet baby, you sure you’re ok? Are those children sure they’re okay?
Did it roll around? It’s really bad. I might not should’ve looked at it yet.
Yes. Stunning. But yes. We are okay.
It’s so bad. I don’t know how you can be okay.
I don’t either.
Seat belts and angels are the only explanation.
Darkness. We flew into it. Literally. We were off the ground. It felt like we were flying, like our car had wings. Later, as I stared down at my car, the officer explained to me how it got there. I was confused because my Jetta was sitting squarely on the opposite side of a good sized tree. We hadn’t gone over it, of course, nor through it, obviously, and my brain simply could not find an explanation that fit the sensations that continued to simmer in my body. He used his flashlight to show me how there were no tire marks going down the hill. His story mystified me.
I never stopped trying to drive the car, even after it left the ground and flew down the hill, perhaps because we were falling front end first. At first the headlights illuminated the open night air… and then I could see the ground coming. Our back end was rising toward the sky. I had no idea what was at the bottom of the long, steep incline. You can’t see it from the road. I was already calculating possible outcomes. If there was water at the bottom, I would need to work fast to get the children out, and also if there was a fire. I knew that they may or may not be able to help me get them out of the car. I knew what we were about to experience would be very, very serious but the reality that I might not be able to get them out of the car simply did not exist.
Suddenly, right in the middle of my rescue calculations, it was over. The free falling vehicle was suddenly, boldly, sitting right side up, parallel with the road which was now almost 20 feet above. The incline was intense, the angle of the car quite intimidating, but it didn’t slide even another inch. It felt as though we’d been received by a giant spider web and then laid down on the ground. In fact, it was a tree that caught us, or that the top of the car–from the front bumper up past the sunroof–crashed into. After the impact, the car just fell back to the earth and sat there, like it had been glued to the hillside. It was over.
I remember a feeling of certainty that the accident, the crisis part at least, didn’t happen. I felt we’d been spared, that whatever awful thing was about to happen wasn’t going to happen. I knew without looking around that we were okay. Outside, the car was crushed but inside we had… space. Daughter? Space. Son? Space. There was space around their bodies, around their heads, space enough for me to reach for them, to touch them both.
As we’d flown through the air, they both yelled, “Mama! Mama!” But he’d fallen silent but she was coming completely undone. You would have thought that some part of her was continuing to fall into the massive darkness that remained below. As if the worst was still coming.
I used my strongest, most loving mama voice to say her name. I laid my hands on her legs and shoulder and face, “Look, I have you. Look, you’re okay,” and then on her brother, “Look, I have him… he’s okay,” and then on me, “See? Look at me. I’m okay. The car is trashed but we are safe in here. We are okay. Someone is going to come and help us get out. We are okay. Do you see? I’ve got you… it’s okay now.”
There was a man yelling down to us about help coming. I opened the door to talk to him, at least in part because I couldn’t figure out how to roll down my window. It opened up the hill and was almost too heavy for my body which I seemed to have almost no control over. Somehow, I propped it open with my left leg, which I then left there because I was too weak to do anything else. The earth poured in around us–the smells and sounds and cool, damp air of the forest we’d fallen into.
Breathe and laugh. “Man, this is sort of sketchy, sitting in the dark like this,” my son joked and I added, “Yeah, and we know there’s at least one little red fox running around.” Our laughter echoed in the darkness and then my daughter added. “I think that if I hadn’t been wearing my seatbelt, I would be dead right now… way down there.” The humbling silence fell over us and we listened to the sirens in the distance. Here they come…
Climbing out of the darkness was hard, even with help. My body was still trembling and weak, or vibrating and strong. Or maybe it was both. I went first. The man with the eyes said so. He looked like he was ready for a fight but I thought that if he could get me up that hill, I’d be glad to be there. He told me to let him hold the door so I could put both feet on the ground. I had to concentrate to find my right leg. My knee was pounding, thickening with each passing moment, but the rest of my leg was busy. My eyes followed it to the brake pedal. So much time had past, maybe seven or eight minutes since the car landed, and I was still holding the brake to the floor with every ounce of my being.
The man with the eyes saw it too. He told me it was okay… he helped me get out and pushed me up the hill. Another man explained he was taking me to an ambulance. Yes, he assured me, it was the same ambulance my children would be coming to. She came first, then him–walking and talking and perfectly sound. When my mother arrived, they brought her into the ambulance too and she looked as though we were ghosts. That made sense because I sort of felt like a ghost.
This accident happened two weeks ago. The car is destroyed but the children and I walked away. While I am profoundly grateful that we are alive, the trauma of the experience continues to make its way out of our bodies. There are so many sides to this story–beauty, terror, synchronicity, transformation, bonding, surrender–and as it unfolds within me, I will continue to share it with the knowledge that storytelling, even the really hard ones, cultivate love and healing. This is the true climbing out of the darkness.