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“I was only one point above the legal limit,” is how I used to begin this story. But when you’ve rolled your car, totaled it and almost crashed into a few others, that really doesn’t seem to matter.
I was 19 and stupid. Reckless and confused.
Driving home, I was reflecting on how much fun I’d had at that night’s Fourth of July party. I was frustrated at how badly my navigating was going, and I thought something similar to “I’ll be damned if I miss another exit that I think will take me home.”
So when I saw an exit that seemed appropriate, I did what any drunk asshole would do and swerved across three lanes to make it.
As I was making this idiotic choice, it didn't occur to me that there could be other cars in those lanes. I panicked when I realized how fast they were coming and dramatically swerved out of the way.
In doing so, I managed to completely flip my car in the air, land right side up and hit a tree -- seemingly all at the same time. Flipping mid-air, my shoulder slammed against the car door the same time as the windshield smashed from the blow of the tree. At that exact second I thought “This is it,” I’ll be dead in 3– 2-
And then I opened my eyes.
As I looked around me at the now condensed car interior, my eyes barely caught the glimmering smashed glass, choosing instead to focus on my way out. I thought “Holy shit, I’m alive!” and then “Holy shit, I have all my limbs!” I shoved the car door open through the brush it was sitting on, and climbed out.
Walking toward the road, I looked around to see if –- God forbid -- I had hit another car.
Seeing two parked along the street, I turned to face them and saw that they were completely untouched. As I surveyed the damage, a woman with an African accent ran up to me and took me into her arms. I sobbed onto her shoulders, thinking all the while that this woman and her husband could have died because of me.
Standing there in shock, I didn’t have time to consider the police until I heard their sirens from behind.
As this gentle soul hugged me, her husband gave a statement to the police officer, who led me into the fire truck that had pulled up. The EMTs interviewed me about what had happened and left when I denied any sort of need for medical attention.
I saw the man in the other parked car get back inside after glaring at me.
“I almost killed him, too,” I thought to myself, deserving every bit of his reaction.
He drove away and the cop walked over to me. The first thing she did was to ask me to recount the events. I explained “swerving crazily” to avoid a collision, and how I hit a tree.
“You rolled your car, also,” she added.
“Yes, ma’am. It spun out of control before hitting a tree.”
“No, I mean it rolled. It flipped in the air. Were you aware of that?”
“No,” I admitted.
In my drunken state of mind I thought something like “Cool, so can I go home now?” But most obviously she had other plans for me.
She asked if I’d been drinking and I said I had had “maybe two shots,” which if you multiply by three, was the honest truth.
Of course this all prompted a sobriety test, which began with the flashlight "game." As she shined a light at my pupils, I was to shift my eyes from side to side. Everybody thinks this is designed to test how well your eyes can keep focus or something, but it’s actually to illuminate your sclera (white part of your eyes) as they watch for an involuntary twitching muscle that coincides with alcohol consumption.
I was then told to walk a straight line. Because every television show or movie I’ve seen with this test involves a person with arms spread out, I immediately flapped mine out for balance. Looking back, I’m pretty sure this is an automatic fail. I later asked my dad why this was and he looked at me contemptuously as he said “Do you normally walk around like this?” and stretched his arms out like an airplane as he waddled across the floor.
There was a verbal alphabet test (not backward, thankfully) and possibly one more that I can’t remember at all. Obviously whatever that was earned me a failing grade.
The only funny thing out of any of this was that my dumb ass honestly believed I had passed all of her tests with flying colors. Instead of the “Let’s get you home” I was expecting, she firmly said “Put your hands behind your back and interlace your fingers.”
She led me to the car and I moved toward the back. She opened the door and I sat in silence. During the ride, she told me matter-of-factly about her friend that had died from driving drunk on Fourth of July, of all days. I didn’t know what to say, so I think I only nodded in response. Finally we arrived at the station and she led me inside.
She sat me down at a desk with a giant metal hook attached to the side, which she cuffed one of my hands to after freeing the other. We sat there and went over paperwork as I signed random things I didn’t bother reading.
She unlocked the remaining cuff and brought me over to the breathalyzer machine. I had to blow into it a few times to give a good reading, and finally got the verdict of a .09.
She dialed my home number as I held the phone, giving me the luxury of telling my parents myself that I needed to be picked up from the state police. Seeing this on the caller ID, my dad answered the phone “Uh-oh,” and man was he right.
I was led into the waiting area and sat on a bench awaiting my parents. They were understandably livid, and the car ride home was mostly full of silence.
In the end, I was sentenced to 18 months of supervised probation. At first they recommended two weekends in jail and my lawyer tried to instead compromise on one night of lock-up. The judge told me convince her that I shouldn’t be locked up and somehow I did. Truthfully, I think she spared me because I take three psychiatric medications that she knew I’d be deprived of in jail.
I got my license back after it had been suspended for a few months and life slowly returned back to normal. I went to court-ordered AA meetings, completed a DUI class and attended a MADD lecture. The lecture was led by parents and siblings of drunk driving casualties. It left me in tears.
Every single punishment that I got I wholeheartedly deserved. I’m not asking for pity when I tell you I spent the entire day after the accident sobbing over what I could have caused. I’m just admitting that I made a terrible mistake and am truly lucky that it didn’t end someone’s life, especially that wonderful woman who held me while I cried.
I think about her a lot, and I hope she knows how humbled I was and am by her compassion that I did not deserve. Thank you for forgiving me before I forgave myself.