something happened tonight that is one of the dumbest and most embarrassing things i have ever done.
I could very easily bury it. Pride and saving face and looking perfect would love for me to bury it.
But I'm not feeling perfect; I'm feeling flawed and raw and outside of myself, completely.
Maybe a month ago I might have been floating from the new energy of a budding romance; right now, I am floating because the ethereal nature of man is tethered to this earth but oh so gently.
Other humans have near-death experiences.
Tales of life flashing before their eyes.
Momentary glimpses of divinity on the other side.
I am lucky not to have reached so distant a constellation tonight.
Something was watching me; some luck had befallen me.
I turned 35 last night, and today is a full moon winter solstice. Some whirlwind of factors have, in the past week, led me to nervously swirling outside of my own confidences and into my neuroses. Into mental states of distraction.
With that... tonight, on an evening drive to Portland, stacked atop an already underslept and underrested state, was the multi-tasking temptation to use my phone while barreling down the highway. Nevermind the exhaustion. Nevermind the 2-ton-or-whatever car. I'd somehow gotten it into my mind that karaoke to Beyoncé and Justin Bieber were no longer enough; I needed to take this straight-shot driving opportunity to research something dumb I really did NOT need to be thinking about right then and there. When we speak of fodder for heightened neuroses, what I was researching falls right under that category. Absolutely pointless and unnecessary, and I knew it—and I still did it regardless.
What happened in those splittest of seconds I can hardly detail;
slow-motion and fast-motion as they were, simultaneously.
I am in the far left lane, going probably 70 or more, distracted. My gaze veers from the road for I don't know how long—it feels brief—but when I look up, my car is a half lane over to my right, and the tail-end of a white truck appears like a phantom apparition.
Is it slamming on its brakes, or is it simply I, overreacting, shaken by its sudden presence?
Whatever the situation, the brakes have me twisting, and my Honda CR-V fishtails while I am marveling at the fact that this sensation is what it feels like to truly fishtail. Never have I experienced it beyond a brief moment, but here it was, upon me—for the lengthy duration that it takes a car to clumsily swirl and slide across 4 lanes of a freeway, across its wide shoulder, into the great beyond. Down a ditch, full of thorny shrubs, surrounded by trees.
I'm hardly down there for any time at all.
Only enough time to make a mental note of how my Christmas presents have gone flying throughout the cab, and how others might judge the disorderliness. It'll only be far later that I realize the impressive distance unseatbelted objects can truly fly; the Carebear action figure on my dashboard is somehow in the backseat, and its friend, a colorful carved wooden snail crafted in Oaxaca... it still remains nowhere to be found, as of the time of this publication.
As for me, taking that quick self-conscious and self-critical look is pause enough; I barrel out my door soon thereafter, leg falling a fair distance beneath the door ledge and into the tall wet grass. Deceptively soft, considering it is intertwined with thorny barbs that will later snag upon my clothes and keep me fumbling forwards awkwardly as I make my way out of the ditch and into the backseat of a cop car.
Yes, a cop car!
Certainly I am well-aware that during the course of this ordeal, I'd very much lost any lucid grasp upon the workings of time—but even so, I couldn't have been in the ditch for more than 5 minutes; 10 minutes TOPS, before I see blue and red lights above the blackness of highway from which I'd come barreling. And boy, does the highway seem high, from down here in this ditch.
It isn't until later, when I am in the cop's backseat, that I think to ask:
"You were already right there?"
And I learn that he had only just recently crossed this section of highway, headed north. He'd seen nothing then, but when he rounded back south on that 1-mile stretch of highway, he'd spotted a car on the side of the road. His original plan was to check on whoever was in that car... but then he saw me.
The original car belonged to a kind man who'd stopped to make sure that I was alright. As the officer takes down his information, I learn his birthday is sometime in September 1983—and I very nearly comment on this exciting coincidence that is our shared birth year... yet I quickly stop myself, as it hardly seems the appropriate time and place to celebrate such things.
"People" don't "do that" in "times like these."
"How long were you down there before I came?" the officer later asks me in the car.
"Like two minutes," I reply—or something like that—and for probably the fifth time of the night, we marvel at my luck.
The first time is when the officer finds me. I'd already been standing outside my car for a hot second, idly wondering what I ought to do next—(what the hell does one do next?!)—but not even for long enough that I had come up with a single next step. Not even long enough to think of searching for my also-had-gone-flying phone, that stupid CULPRIT and bearer of DOOM.
In some haze of his introducing myself, the cop tells me that he is recording our interaction via bodycam, and asks what happened. I say I was tired, I dunno—not untrue—and he says something to the effect of, "I do collision reconstruction. You're lucky. There's a lot of trees around here."
I'd somehow managed to miss them all. Didn't even graze a one, though they were surrounding me on all sides.
"On clear nights like this," he continues, "people are usually on their phones. Were you on your phone?"
Alright, you got me. This girl can't lie.
"I was changing a song," I say.
Though in retrospect, I don't think that's what I was doing at the moment; it'd felt like the truth, though. How fascinating.
The witness in the other car has already left us at this point, by the way, since he'd asked me if I was okay, and I'd responded, chipper as a spring fucking morning, with some kind of godamn pep in my step, that I was just fine! I feel like I was almost joyous. What the hell is wrong with me.
Life shouldn't be taken so seriously.
A lot more happens that might be worthy of note, but what I will end with is the highlight of the evening for me: the backseat of the cop car.
He has given me the choice to stay outside in the cold or inside in the warmth, and in my initial tick-tock shock, I'd decline his offer, until the sociologist in me gets wind of the opportunity-at-hand and animates my limbs—despite those barbs clumsily catching my clothes, as you'll remember—up up up from the ditch, onto the side of the road, and into the backseat of the police car.
Cue internal first thought of: "Godamn, that blue flashlight light is fucking bright"—
Followed by second verbalized thought of, "These seats are hella hard"—
Which the cop responds to with the knowingness of one who's probably heard this statement 1,000 times despite his young age and what I spot as a wedding-ringed-hand—not like that matters. And then he moves onto a lot of explanations of details and facts and paperwork he needs to give me.
He is a good explainer. Says a tow truck is coming. That I might be able to avoid an insurance claim if my car is unscathed, but that I'd probably need to pay the tow truck, which is locally approved by the sheriff and has to adhere to strict rates. They begin at $150 for the call, the officer thinks but are regulated by the hour, so that I'd never have a thousand-dollar bill on my hands or anything. No sweatin' the little stuff, here.
Tow truck winches are quite magical, though. I'd previously learned that in less arduous circumstances—most recently getting towed out of soft sand after a rainfall in Joshua Tree—but tonight, as the winch works its magic on my vehicle, backwards-sloped-down in the muddy ditch, I will say, I find myself truly impressed by both its pull power and the car-fishin' skills of its elderly driver, who also arrives with a pep in his step.
Back to the highlight of the entire trip, though, which is:
Sitting for at least a half hour in the backseat of the cop car, listening to a Portland radio station which plays a bizarrely eclectic mix of Christmas music, and progressively feeling all the nuanced emotions that one can in an instance such as this.
Of shame and idiocy; of confusion over who to notify; of gratefulness and disbelief at my luck... until finally, the moment...!
It's a well-timed, building crescendo of a warm and bell-heavy Christmas track—the audio equivalent of a hearth-fire burning—contrasting with the surreal beauty of my car being incredibly, incredibly, incredibly slowly fished out of a fucking ditch.
Just as a train, too, clatters along on a track nearby.
With blue and red lights, it's not quite Christmas... but it's all fucking brilliant, I think to myself.
So I photograph it, allthewhile wondering if I'm allowed to photograph it.
Well, it's only fair.
They are videotaping me in the back of the cab, after all.
He told me that, too.
Just so I know.
At the end of the ordeal, with my $250 or so worth of tickets in tow—because the officer has cut me some slack and spared me the $550 ticket he should have given me for being on my phone—I am left with some strong residual sentiments.
Life is a movie, and I am godamn lucky to be alive, and I'm going to tell everyone.
"You're never going to do this again now, right?" the officer had asked.
"No," I say.
Hopefully, I think.
And still, I must say:
Don't use your phone while driving.