A few years ago I took a Dale Carnegie course. One of my favorite lessons I learned from the instructor is: “if you lived it you have the right to tell the story.” So that is what I am doing now. I have waited exactly 1 year to the minute to share a story. I am sure that action in itself says something about me – and I leave it to you to draw your own conclusions.
The entry below was written on June 29, 2015 and I have chosen not to edit with the exception of grammar/punctuation.
I have waited for the day to share this story. I have drafted it dozens upon dozens of times in my head and on paper for the last 4 weeks. There are the rage filled versions. There are the slightly tamer, angry versions. There are the Dale Carnegie versions with silver linings. There are the Public Service Announcement versions. I am tired of all the versions and of trying to figure out which story to share.
I’m reminded the pen can be a sword. A sword I’ve never publicly wielded. Like the accident, I cannot undo words— whether spoken or written.
What this version will not have are specific details about any of the characters involved.
It was the perfect storm. I got a promotion that meant a monumental increase of work. The next day my dog died. Over the next two weeks I immersed myself in work to forget my dog and prove my value at work. Then there were unfortunate circumstances at work that translated to even more work.
Naively, I put my heart into my work. Staying late. Motivating others. Tons and tons of work. Then one Friday I left work late. It had been a long week. I was glad to go home— I was tired. I hoped eating dinner would re-energize me for the gym.
I left the office at 7:30pm. I got on 35N. Then 635 East. I got on the Tollway.
The next moment is etched in my memory. As I was driving, I looked up in my rear view mirror and it was too late.
I was violently struck from behind by a vehicle.
Try to imagine the terror. Try to imagine the complete and utter helplessness. I couldn’t make my car stop moving. Terror. Horror. Helplessness. This isn’t a movie or video game or fictional book. This is my life.
Even 4 weeks later I have no idea how I got the car to stop moving.
I remember the days following the accident. I was numb. I was terrified. The anger hadn’t yet come. But I knew it would. And I knew the anger would be unprecedented.
Looking back I have no idea how I found the strength to get up each day. Looking back I have no idea how anyone expected me to be productive and normal. But I also remember everyone left me alone. And those that didn’t— I let them know my circumstances so they’d have patience and compassion if my work output slowed down.
I drove a rental car to work in terror. Every day was a challenge. I dreaded the drive to work. I dreaded the drive home. I dreaded the 15 minute drive to church on Sundays.
I even dreaded the trip to Starbucks. Starbucks is 5 minutes away from my office— a trip I’ve happily taken every day for years— and now it was a horrible chore.
Every moment of driving drained me of energy. I would get headaches every drive home from work for the first few weeks.
I witnessed countless drivers committing what I felt, were thoughtless and selfish acts—not only lacking courtesy to other drivers but endangering my life and the lives of other drivers.
Why do they tailgate? What compelled that person to run a red light? Why did that driver cut that person off? Why is that driver speeding?
I remember sitting at a red light and looking in my driver’s side mirror as a car approached the lane next to me. Terror struck me. Dear God is the car going to stop?
I remember looking in my rear view mirror and regularly bursting in to tears. Constant prayers and cries for help— “please God, don’t let the car hit me.”
No one understood the extent of my fear. Some people got tired of hearing about it.
Looking back I have no idea how I got up each day. But I also retreated every evening to my home. I gave up on enjoying life. I watched television and fell asleep every night on the sofa— I’d wake up in the middle of the night to go to bed. Then I would repeat the routine each day.
A couple baristas had visible empathy for what I was going through. Somehow they seemed to genuinely ‘get’ it. I would thank them but even now I don’t know how to thank them enough.
My commute is 30+ miles one way to work on a good day. For a couple weeks I drove all the side streets to get to work (slower speed limits). I cruised at 35 mph – with the hope that even if I did get hit by a car, I could easily bring the car to safety. This all assumed the other car wasn’t speeding— a thought I’d block out for obvious reasons.
One evening disgust compelled me to revisit 35N and 635E. I say disgust because I was tired of the very long drive home. I got on. But it was mixed feelings. I’m terrified of dying on the road but I’m proud to prove I’m capable of driving again on 35N and 635E.
This concludes my essay. This will most likely be Part 1 of an ongoing series. To be absolutely clear, I was rear-ended by a speeding vehicle.
Photos taken June 9, 2015 at the graveyard where my totaled car was laid to rest. I asked the collision center if I could visit the car one last time to take photos. They agreed and I took my Canon EOS 5D Mark II to document the damage. It was not easy to visit the car and relive the memories but I was determined to get my photos. I wanted proof.