today eva and i were in a car accident on the highway. we're fine, but i'm still fairly shaken. i've never been in an accident like that before, and while i'm sure would have been scary under any circumstance, all i could think about was eva, and i found the experience far more unsettling than i would have expected.
we were returning home from playgroup during early rush hour on I-35, and were in the inside lane at 51st st when traffic started to slow down. i stopped with no problem, the guy behind me stopped as well, but the guy behind him was apparently not paying attention. i heard the squeal of his breaks and looked up into my rearview mirror, but before i could register seeing anything, i heard the crash and my head was thrown back as the car lurched quite dramatically forward. eva was asleep before this happened, and before my body even came to a stop, i heard her scream. i don't know if babies technically scream, but it was the sharpest, loudest sound i've ever heard her make. as that sound reached my brain, as far as i know everything else in the world just stopped. she cried for all of about three seconds and fell immediately back asleep, so apparently she was just really startled but not injured. seeing her fall back asleep made me instinctively know that she was okay, which is the only way i was able to deal with all the rest of it.
when faced with such things, i repeatedly discover that i am surprisingly level-headed in a crisis. i pulled onto the shoulder, checked on eva, turned off NPR, and called 911 and was rattling off location info and vehicle descriptions before i even thought about it. i was calm at first, but of course totally lost it before long. both the other drivers, as it turns out, had suspended licenses. the middle car driver had warrants out for his arrest, which is why as he held his headlight in his hand he persisted in telling me we didn't need to call the cops because there wasn't any damage. the rear driver, clearly at fault, refused to give me his his name and info and started to get belligerent when i went to the back of his car to get the make and model. that's approximately when i started to freak out, looking back at my own car and suddenly realizing that i had a baby in a stopped car in the middle of a six-lane highway during rush hour, and i was at least 15 feet away from her. getting out of the car at all quickly felt like the stupidest decision i'd ever made in my life, and all i wanted to do was get the hell out of there.
i met up with an officer at the nearby wendy's parking lot (thereby avoiding the "leaving the scene of an accident" rap the other guys get), and of course there's not much we can do from an insurance/legal standpoint. the car of the guy at fault was registered to his 90-year-old father (who was in the passenger seat of the vehicle), so it will be a mess to chase him down. really, since all it did (as far as i can tell) was mess up the bumper of our otherwise not-exactly-pristine automobile, i really don't care. all i care about is that eva seems totally fine, and i'm fine minus a headache and a fairly stiff neck.
isn't it strange which things we fear and don't fear? driving is probably the most dangerous thing most of us ever do with a child, but we can't think about that or we'd never leave the house. well, here i am, forced to think about it for the moment, and it's not a happy place to be. i drove the remaining 12 miles home on interior roads, because with one glance back at the highway i knew i couldn't do it. soon enough, though, i'll go back into a convenient and functional denial about the dangers of cars, and hop back onto the highway. we can allow ourselves to fear bird flu and terrorism, because we have no measure of control over those things, and we don't have to leave the house and directly face them on a daily basis. not surprisingly, it's far easier for all of us to be afraid of these distant threats instead of the things (like cars) that are actually far more likely to harm us.
what might have happened today (but didn't) is too much for me to even contemplate. i need to go kiss that sleeping girl and remind myself that she's okay.