One clear night on a winding mountain highway I was in a rollover accident. My older brother, the driver, called out “Seat belts! Seat belts!” as we started to veer. I wasn’t wearing mine because I had taken it off to escape my puffy coat and forgotten to fasten it again.
I grabbed the seat in front of me as the SUV lost traction. A patch of black ice sent us sliding sideways. I held on for dear life as we pitched back and forth on the narrow highway.
The most horrendous sound came from the tires catching on gravel and being ground down to metal in an instant. The noise stopped when we hit a “60mph” signpost. Suddenly gravity was inverting. I lost grip on the seat in front of me as I tumbled into the headliner.
Time slowed and I remembered this reoccurring dream I’d been having for years; The details of which matched my current scenario perfectly. It was a strange sense of calm and clarity that washed over me as I made the connection. In that moment, it seemed like I’d been dreaming of my own death for years.
As the vehicle completed it’s roll and righted itself again I smashed through the rear passenger window to my right. I was suddenly midair, surrounded by the glass I had just shattered. The side view mirror was dangling by a wire and shining like a spotlight, illuminating the shrapnel around me.
The bits of glass looked like stars fallen from the milky night sky. I thought the universe was giving me one last spectacular show; Dazzling my senses to remind me of the heartbreaking beauty of my short journey.
So I let go.
I heard my brother’s voice as he called to each passenger. First his wife, she was ok. Then the couple that I had been sitting with in the backseat. The husband answered with “I’m fine” and the wife answered with “Where’s Jenée?!”
I had no idea if it were true but I horsely called from the gravel “I’m OK!” I didn’t want anyone to worry. My brother came to sit with me until a first responder showed up about half an hour after the crash.
“You’re lucky!” her voice boomed down to me, “most times when a vehicle rolls it smashes the person that gets ejected.” I went from mild whimpering to full out bawling at this point.
Something about the causal way a stranger told me I should be dead set me off.
What seemed to me like 15 minutes was over an hour. But I didn’t feel the cold as I sat on the snowy ground waiting for the ambulances to arrive. Once they did, it was another hour to the nearest trauma center.
At the hospital I was repeatedly told I was “lucky” since I didn’t have any broken bones or need any stitches. The only lasting physical evidence was a tiny scar on my wrist where a chip of safety glass had been lodged. The doctor handed it to me after he irrigated it out of my right hand. I have treasured it since and keep it as a powerful reminder:
I wasn’t lucky, I was brave. At fifteen years old I was ready and willing to accept the lesson that we are only granted so much time and we have no idea when it’s going to end. That there is no such thing as fair or unfair, but there is beauty even in brokenness.
Sometimes I hold the piece of glass in my palm or gaze at the shiny little scar on my wrist and think about how mortal and small I am; How bravery is sometimes letting go.