• Robison Wells

On the Rolling of a Car

Saturday, I was driving from Salt Lake City, Utah, to Pocatello, Idaho. Some friends of mine in graduate school--the three of us were inseparable for those two years--now live in different cities and states, and Pocatello was the most central location for us to get together. We were going to have wings, because that is what we have always done. Wings. We haven't seen each other in three years and we had determined that once all three of us were fully vaccinated, we would take the plunge and go to a restaurant.

It was a normal morning. For some reason, my wife repeated to me more than once that I needed to be incredibly careful. I'm normally careful, but she was insistent this time.

At 9:30am, I put on an audiobook--a memoir, because I'm starting to write a memoir. This was The Anthropocene Reviewed, by John Green, and it is funny and smart and sad, and everything that a memoir should be.

I stopped in Willard, Utah, to get gas and a Danish. I bought a Monster Energy drink, which will come into the story later.

I drove north again, listening to my book and enjoying the quiet ride. I like driving. It's peaceful and relaxing. When my mental illness was at its worst I would take long road trips, driving 500 miles a day before returning home. It's therapeutic.

The sun was in my eyes, and I drove past a gas station in the little town of Malad, Idaho, and I thought I should have stopped there to buy a cheap pair of sunglasses. I started actively looking for a place to buy sunglasses.

And then, nine miles north of Malad, something happened, and the hard thing is that I don't know what it was. I was in the left lane of the two-lane freeway, going 80mph (which is the legal speed limit in that part of Idaho) and suddenly my left wheels had crossed the rumble strip, and then they caught the grass. This all happened incredibly fast, but I knew I was being pulled off the road and into the median, so I yanked the wheel--overcorrecting--and swung back across the freeway to the right.

And then I flipped the car.

I don't remember flipping. There was no life-flashing-before-my-eyes moment where everything went still. I was just suddenly upside down in my car, hanging in my seatbelt. I tried to get my wits about me. The windshield was flat against the ground, broken and pressing down the weeds and dirt of the side of the road.

I heard voices outside, and then someone opened my door (I'm surprised that it opened). I don't remember if anyone asked if I was okay, but they probably did. Someone said they were going to cut off my seatbelt, but then I was able to unclip it, and came thumping down upside onto the roof of my car.

I don't remember what any of my rescuers looked like, but there were about six of them. Someone found something in the trunk of my car--it had opened in the rollover--and brought it over for me to lay on. It may have been a blanket or it may have been a floormat. I don't know. But I laid down.

Someone took my phone and called my wife, and then I talked to my wife, and she said she was on her way. She was calm. I was calm. I don't know why both of us were so calm.

The police arrived next. For a very brief period he asked me if I was driving drowsy, and I said I wasn't, and he pointed to that Monster Energy drink can that was now lying on the ceiling of my car, and I said that I wasn't using it because I was sleepy. He asked me if I was taking any medications, and I said I took a lot because I have schizophrenia, and he asked if I was on Seroquel, which I understand some people use as a street drug under the name Suzy-Q. But I wasn't. In fact, I told him that I had taken medicine that morning that is supposed to wake me up: Modafinil.

That line of questioning ended as the paramedics got there in the ambulance. They assessed me to be pretty okay, but asked if I wanted to go to the hospital. At first I said no, but then when I stood up I was pretty dizzy so I said yes.

And then I left the scene, and not only did I never get a picture of the car, but I realize now that I never even looked at the car. I have no idea what condition it was in, except that it was upside down. And now it's in some salvage yard in Idaho, so I likely will never see it again.

The paramedics were volunteers, I learned. One of them was in dirty jeans and a t-shirt and said he got the call to come while he was working on his farm. Little towns, I guess. (It'll probably still be crazy expensive.)

The Malad Idaho hospital was tiny. The ER had one room, and the whole place looked like it had been built in 1972. The doctor checked me out, told me what everyone else said: that I had a bump on my head, a bruise on my chest (from the seatbelt), and that I would probably feel a lot worse the next morning.

My friends arrived first, coming down from Pocatello. Along the way they say they passed the tow truck pulling my car out of the dirt and said that, considering it rolled, it didn't look all that bad.

(I should point out that while I was lying in the dirt and talking to the cop I mentioned that the car had rolled over and he waved his hand dismissivley: "It didn't rollover--it just landed on its roof." So, there's that.)

My wife arrived next, and was surprisingly calm for a woman who has an anxiety disorder. We were both calm. All four of us were very calm. We sat in the hospital waiting room for about half an hour talking, said that we were going to have to schedule another lunch, and that was that.

I went back home. Things were normal here. We have a second car, so we're not totally hoofin' it.

That night the shakes set in. The calm that had been postponed hit in the afternoon and I really start to feel the whole "I could have died" thing. We said some prayers. I got a blessing from the Elders in my church.

The next day I really did feel it--aches and pains everywhere. It was Sunday, and I stayed home from my meetings to lie down. And the anxiety was everywhere.

Here's the deal: an enormous thing happened and I could have died. I seriously could have died in fifteen different ways. But the sun still came up and they still had church and we still had to make breakfast and we still had to give my mother-in-law her insulin.

To me, the world should have stopped. To take a line from Death of a Salesman: "Attention must be paid." But there was no attention that was paid. I mean, of course I was babied by my wife and my family offered condolences, but I just couldn't understand how the world kept turning. How things that should have paused didn't pause.

I'm not saying I needed a national moment of silence or a group of mourners at the door, but the cognitive dissonance between "you very nearly died" and "still have deadlines to meet tomorrow" was--and still is--a little tough to handle.

It doesn't help that this took place at the very beginning of a holiday weekend, so it would be three days before they even started processing my insurance claim, and the rental car we get free from our insurance was also unvailable till after the break. So all I could do was sit and stew.

There is no great moral to this story. I'm writing this two days after the accident, so there's still a lot that I haven't processed and still a lot that I don't know.

I should have something to say about the fragility of life and to drive safe, and yes, those things are important, but for now I'm just feeling this: the night of the accident, one of those Elders in my church is a doctor and I told him I was kind of experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, and he corrected me: "The accident happened this morning. This isn't post-traumatic stress. This is just trauma."

When people are going through trauma, cut them a little slack. To them, the world has stopped. Take some time to stop with them.

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