The Roller Coaster

October 7, 2010 at 12:21 am | Posted in Family | 16 Comments
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The car looked brand new. Shiny and silver, it sparkled in the morning sun. The interior, too, looked pristine.

Except for the airbags, shriveled like day-old balloons. Except for the pebbles of glass from the shattered back window. Except for the metal ripples cutting through the back driver’s-side door.

The police had closed down two lanes of traffic and were working on a third. It took us two hours to drive the mile and a half through the accident.

When we were clear, we sped on our way, back on track for the busy day we had planned at a nearby amusement park.

At the park, my husband and father-in-law rode roller coasters and chaperoned Lollipop and Giggles on kiddie airplanes. My mother-in-law and I took turns coaxing Bun to sleep amid the din of carnival games, train whistles, and the plunging log ride. We all got free refills in our ridiculously large neon green souvenir cups.

We had a wonderful time.

But all day, in the dark rear corners of my mind, I knew. Someone had died back there. In that car. Just before we passed by.

When we got home, I checked the local paper online and confirmed my fears. It had been a four-car accident, including an 18-wheeler. Three people had been taken to the hospital with minor injuries. One person, a woman, had died on the scene.

She had been a passenger in the silver car. The article didn’t give her name or mention any specifics about her.

Was she a mother, a wife? Surely, she was a daughter, a friend. And in the three seconds it took a series of cars to slam on their breaks, she was gone. Just like that.

Had she been on her way to brunch at her favorite restaurant? To the farmer’s market downtown? To church? Or was she headed home after finishing her Sunday morning errands? Did she wake up with a funny feeling in her stomach, some kind of small warning sign about what was to come?

And did she live those final few hours to the fullest?

I hope so, desperately. Because of her, I am — or I’m trying, at least. I’m trying to enjoy, really enjoy, every moment on my own life’s roller coaster.

Every single moment.

She deserves that. So do I.

Has an event that only peripherally impacted you ever left an indelible mark? How do you remind yourself to enjoy each moment? And why is it so hard?



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  1. That was beautifully written. I would’ve taken it with me too.

  2. A very thoughtful piece. The way you wove in the idea of life as a roller coaster with the day at the amusement park and thoughts of the accident that morning really struck me as intricate writing. Excellent.

    There are incidents I read about/hear about/witness on a weekly if not daily basis that urge me to “Slow down. Enjoy it all.” But it’s the classic easier said than done. Maybe it’s just taking smaller bites. I don’t know.

    Thanks for this.

    Chase McFadden

  3. It’s so hard to always be ‘in the moment’ because we’re reaching for the next. Greedy. I had one of those days today. The kind that you just want to be over. Until you remember that you won’t get it back again. Thanks for the reminder.

  4. When you see an accident like that, it does stay with you. Especially if, deep down, you just “know” that someone died.

  5. I have lost too many friends to tragic accidents like this and sometimes it hits me, just like it did you, and I stop to thank whoever there is to thank for the day I was given. Because all we have is right now.

  6. Stacia: Very thoughtful piece. I’ve found myself pondering the same questions when passing by accidents on the road. I wonder about the life led and who was left behind. It definitely reminds me to be grateful for every moment in my life.

  7. Those experiences can be so jarring. I understand what you mean about wondering about those who didn’t survive…

    A couple of years ago we were in an auto accident ourselves. No one got hurt, but it was on the highway and it was one of those things that, had it been rush hour instead of 11 in the morning, things would have turned out very, very differently. I wince whenever I think about “what if…” That experience shook me up permanently but I took it as a reminder to always be vigilant and grateful.

  8. On a Friday night in May of 2005, a lady showed up in the emergency department at the hospital closest to my house. She was married, with a 2 year old son, and she was pregnant with a baby girl. The woman had been feeling really unwell, was vomitting and dehydrated. The doctor’s, thinking this was related to her pregnancy and perhaps a virus, went to work on rehydrating her. Her health deteriorated rapidly, her vital signs took a nose dive, her organs went into multi-system failure, and she died not long after arriving at the hospital. It was later determined that she died of septic shock and due to the unusual/horrifying circumstances, staff received some “refresher” training on septic shock.

    One week later on the first Friday night in June another lady arrived at the same hospital with the same symptoms. Without the experience one week earlier, the symptoms would most likely have been attributed to a typical virus. However, the doctors quickly determined that this lady also had septic shock and were able to save her life, though just barely.

    I was the second lady.

    • Wow, Lyndsay, this hit me right in the gut. And the heart. So, so scary and sad. What a reminder to savor each day.

  9. I struggle with scenes like those, with wondering what happened and worrying about who was hurt. Heck, I struggle with the fact that driving is dangerous – that in cars and everywhere else, applying the brakes doesn’t always work.

  10. I think about this more than I like, and I can’t remove myself from things that happen to others easily. That’s the main reason I don’t read/watch the news because each time I hear about a death, my mind begins to race, wondering the what ifs. And it’s hard for my heart to take.

    But even then I can’t avoid bad news altogether and I’m plagued by these questions to which I have no answer.

    Beautiful piece, Stacia.

  11. I’m not quite sure what I want to say. I am touched by the writing. I am touched that you had a fun day with your family.

    I have been thinking lately about living large. Even when others are living small or living their last moments.

    There was a time in my life that I dimmed myself because I felt badly living larger than others. I think your view is much better. Better to ride the heights of the rollercoaster because you never know when it is your last soar.

    Additionally, I think living large inspires others to step up. Or maybe even opens the door for them of possibility. I love how you said “yes” to both of your emotions in this piece. Thank you for that. It is just the rollercoaster I needed.

  12. Few things make me feel as good as dancing. I remember being home from the hospital for just a few days with my baby boy and dancing around the living room.

    Twirl. Twirling is the best. I love this scene in You’ve Got Mail.

  13. This is really thought provoking and a great reminder that we need to embrace our lives at every moment, not only the enjoyable ones. Thanks.

  14. I saw a car flip once and the driver didn’t survive. I still think about it and wonder what that person would do given the chance … and that reminds me to keep pressing forward. So sad.

  15. Maybe 15 years ago, my parents, four siblings, and I were driving south on I-75 toward our vacation destination. A large white van in front of us spun and flipped. We saw it happen, but I don’t really know now (nor did I then) how it happened. My mom is a nurse so we stopped, but it was very confusing and there was little to be done. A woman kept asking, “Where’s ________?” I still remember the name of the boy she was seeking. We had a stack of towels in our van that were offered around. I remember that one of them was one of my dorm-room towels. The ambulances made it there quickly. There was nothing for us to do but drive on to the next exit. We stopped at McDonalds and tried to stop shaking. I worried that someone at the restaurant had been caravan-ing with the white van but didn’t know about the accident. It made me sick to my stomach thinking about those whom the accident had affected who did not yet know they had been affected. We checked USA Today the next day and discovered it was an equestrian team. Four people died. I thought of the passengers in that van every day of that vacation and definitely for the rest of that road trip and at moments in future trips.

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