I can remember it like yesterday. At least I can remember parts of it like yesterday. My dad and I were driving the familiar stretch of roadway that connected Jenkintown to South Plainfield. We were en route to a midyear kibitz with a client. It was April and expected to rain later in the day so I had on my nylon, charcoal gray, DKNY, jacket. My dad pulled into a Citgo on Route 202 to refuel. The gas tank was on my side so I put down the passenger window and handed the attendant my corporate AmEx. I sipped my Horizon’s Chocolate Milk as we swapped random chitchat before pulling back onto the roadway. We passed through the Flemington Circle and pulled onto Route 287 heading south. With twenty miles to go, the journey was heading into the final stretch.
This is where I start to go blank. I remember only pieces. I remember watching a car one lane over to the left drifting onto the grassy median. I remember the car was an ugly metallic that sorta looked purplish under the sunless sky. The kind of color you only get stuck with if it's a company car or the last rental on the lot. It pulled off the median, kicking up some dirt, and worked it's way back onto the highway. Then it began to fishtail. In what felt like slow motion, the car went out of control. The front turned, facing the nose perpendicular to traffic. I know I screamed the word “dad” and he simultaneously tightened his grip on the wheel.
The front of the other car collided with the front left corner of ours, thereby setting into motion what felt like a choreographed ballet of automobiles careening at 70MPH across morning traffic. I remember pressing my palms flat against the ceiling and I remember feeling like the car was gliding on ice as it spun around. I remember the window automatically retreating into the doorframe and dirt flying into the car. I thought we were rolling. I didn’t know what was happening, even well after the car finally came to a stop on a hill slammed up against a tree.
“Are you okay?” my dad asked.
I looked over at him, the deflated airbag resting in his lap. There was blood on his nose and his glasses were some place other than on his face. I started coughing from the smell of what I thought was smoke. It was just powder from the airbag.
“Yeah, are you?”
“I can’t see shit without my glasses but otherwise I'm good. You were screaming.”
I pushed the door open and stumbled onto the unsteady ground beneath me. I looked out at where we’d been and tried to figure out how we ended up here. Alive, no less. The other car had knocked us across four lanes of traffic, a median, and an on-ramp before we finally made a dead stop against a tree. We now faced traffic head on and my dad’s side of the car was crumpled shut. I turned around and saw the vehicle that hit us pulled off on the side of the road. It was around fifty feet ahead of ours and facing the right way. The driver stood next to his car and remained frozen.
A pick-up truck pulled over.
“Are you okay?”
“I can’t get my dad out. He’s handicapped and there’s no way he’ll be able to crawl across the front seat,” I confessed.
“Don’t you worry, sweetheart. You’re dad’ll be just fine. Believe it or not, it's your lucky day 'cause I'm an EMT. Bob, help me get this guy out.”
I stood off to the side while two strangers kindly and patiently worked to release a crippled man from a crumpled car. They reclined his seat as far as it would go and pulled him through the back. I would have never thought to do that. I would have just tried to manipulate his inflexible legs over the gear shift and out the passenger doorway.
Once my dad was free and standing upright against the car, I went back to locate his glasses. The frames were bent and one lens was cracked. As my dad put on the spare pare he kept in his glove box, a cop took down our version of the accident. Then he offered us a ride to the next exit. Somewhere in Northern Jersey. My dad convinced him to take us the last ten miles to the client, figuring we might as well have the appointment and at least there we could wash up and call for a car rental. The client couldn’t believe he still wanted to conduct the meeting. I couldn’t believe it either.
With the appointment over, we called for a rental and waited outside under the overhang of the building for the automobile. It started to rain. As the car pulled into the parking lot, my dad adjusted his spare pair of glasses and asked me to do the driving. He felt shaky. I did too but I didn’t want to admit it. And so we hopped into the Ford Explorer courtesy of Enterprise. I took a few minutes to get comfortable, adjusting the seat and the mirror and then the seat again. Then I pulled us onto the road and began our journey home. The usual 90 minute drive took a little longer this time around. I had both hands grasping the wheel and I never once strayed from the far right lane.