On June 12, 1998 my life changed in an instant. I’d heard that statement in an instant many times – on the news, in the papers. I didn’t know it could reach me. In an instant is something that happens to someone else. One second found me. Calculated by engineers, they read the marks on the road, assessed the damage to the cars and the curb, determining how my life changed. This speed, the percentage, my life summed up or reduced by a number.
I looked both ways before crossing the street like I’d been taught. A lifetime of looking both ways and checking for danger and it didn’t matter this time. I crossed the street, the sun setting, not seeing anyone as I left the safety of the stop sign. And then. There it was. That instant. It slammed into Betty and I, pushed us off the road and into a ravine. On impact Betty died. I was trapped upside down as my car burned and I waited and waited, pleading for someone to rescue me.
As one life left this earth another began. One I didn’t see coming. We hear that, too. I didn’t see this coming. Nothing could prepare me for what I didn’t see coming and what came later. The after. The unraveling, the pain, the loss. My life ripped apart. That night, with a signature and the heartache of my family, a surgeon took my body apart to save me.
When the first anniversary loomed near, I dreaded it, hating a date which reminded me of that instant. Anniversaries were supposed to be special, celebratory. My best friend gone, 20 surgeries and 2 prosthetic legs later, how was I still here undone by one day, by one second?
The second year I went for bigger, bolder. Let’s make this better! I decided to go hang-gliding. I wanted to be off the ground, in the blue sky. This will make it different. I was after a moment, an exhilarating moment. June 12 is the day I went hang-gliding! Except that I got sick. It was exciting climbing toward the sky until we reached it and my stomach began to turn. I shouted in the wind, to the instructor I was strapped to just inches below me, “I’m air-sick. I forget I get air-sick.” He said, “What? Why didn’t you take anything? Are you going to be okay?” “Um, no, I’m going to throw up if we don’t get back down.” I concentrated on not vomiting all over this guy until we landed and I could plant my feet on the ground. I threw up into a bush.
The first 2 anniversaries family and friends called, remembering with me. As every summer drew near, heat and invincibility making everyone drive faster, my heart raced. You don’t know how your lives can change. Careful, careful. As another and then another June 12th arrived, there were fewer calls and fuller lives. Distance grew between that day and I, too. There was less pull, less gravity as the day approached. Because I am here. Because I fought hard. Because I am living.
Today, June 12 is closer, somehow. I’ve been re-living my story as I write it over and over again. This is the year I swallowed my fear and pitched my story out loud. This is the year I signed a contract to have my story published, a signature marking a new beginning rather than an ending. It will be another kind of anniversary. The anniversary that something beautiful, something epic happened.