Edited to add, check out the bottom of the post! I found the pictures!
Yes, today is Halloween, but I always think of something else on this day. It always pops into my head before anything else.
On Thursday, October 31st, 1996, I was involved in a pretty serious car accident.
Eleven years ago today, I was living in an apartment in a Midwestern “big city.” I was working at my first “real job” after graduating from college. It wasn’t my career choice or long term goal, but it was enough to pay the bills. Plus, it was super-close to my apartment. I had just purchased a brand new Chevy Cavalier, and I hadn’t even made a payment on it yet.
I was a Collections Associate, which is a fancy way of saying I was a bill collector for a major retail credit card company. I worked in a ‘pod’ and I was attached to a ‘dialer.’ It wasn’t glamorous, but I made the best of it. It was good to be gainfully employed.
This company is very strict about dress code. The length of our skirts, sleeves, and types of appropriate footwear were all dictated from the top. No customers ever saw us, but it didn’t matter. Images needed to be maintained.
A few weeks before Halloween rolled around, some of us got together and approached management about the possibility of allowing us to dress up for Halloween. Some of us voiced an interest in wearing contraband attire, such as fishnet hose, or a shirt that exposed a shoulder, or a hat. Our supervisor actually wrote a memo to the big wigs pleading our case, and they relented! On this one day, we could be totally unprofessional. Apparently, they realized that if your job consists of being called every name in the book for eight hours a day, a little costume fun could do wonders for morale.
So, I knew what I was going to wear. That morning I got all decked out in my fishnets, tall boots, and short black dress. It was always chilly in the office, so I wore one of my cute black jackets. The pointy black hat made the outfit complete.
Even after getting ready, I was going to be early for my shift. Another strict policy was you couldn’t clock in more than two minutes before your shift, and you only had one minute to get clocked in. I worked the second shift (11:30am to 9:00pm), because there was a shift differential and I was used to staying up late at night. At that time, old college habits died hard, and I’d just graduated five months prior. Getting paid extra to work such a great shift seemed perfect for me!
I glanced at the clock on my dashboard of my brand new car, and it said 11:23. Sweet! It only takes me three minutes to drive there, another minute to park and walk in. I was two minutes away from the parking lot. You could tell the day was going to be a bit overcast, but nice. It was the perfect late October day. Because I worked every other Saturday, I got to have this Friday off. This is going to be such a good early-start to the weekend!
The sound at the instant of impact is one I will never forget. It was a cross between a loud bang and a huge popping noise.
It took a split second for me to realize that I’d been hit. I remember feeling my car careen out of control toward a sign, and my defensive driving training took over. I swerved to avoid the sign and ended up in the median, not realizing that one side of my car was already destroyed, so hitting the sign really wouldn’t have mattered.
My driver’s side door was smashed, and I couldn’t get out. I remember starting to panic, as I forced the door open with all my might. Within seconds, five cars had stopped. People were calling on their cell phones. (Keep in mind this was 1996, so phones weren’t so commonplace!) People were asking if I was okay.
In the middle of the intersection was the bumper of the little red Sunbird that had t-boned my car. A tall woman in a long skirt was pacing back and forth, obviously agitated. As long as I live, I will never forget the sing-songy words that came out of her mouth. “Dammit. I’m gonna be late for my luncheon!”
“Excuse me?” I gasped. “Your luncheon?? Have you seen what you did to my car??” I’m not even sure if what I said was audible. I was still in shock.
Oh, I don’t know…maybe stopping at stop signs and looking both ways would have actually saved you time!? Of course, I said that in my head.
About this time, the police and ambulance arrive. I’m standing on the street shaking, partly from the cold and partly because looking at my car made me wonder how I was able to stand at all.
The police officer comes up to me and says, “Miss, maybe you’d better wait in my car.” At first I thought he was being nice, but then I noticed a hint of sarcasm in his voice. Then I remembered my outfit! “Oh my gosh! I don’t always dress this way! We got permission at work! It’s Halloween! My pointy hat is in the car!” To this day, I’m still not sure he believed me, and I’m very leery of wearing black lipstick in public.
To make what’s turning into a rather long story shorter, when asked if I was “okay” I said “no.” I could hear all of my lawyer friends’ voices in my head. “Admit to nothing at the scene! You’re not okay until a doctor says you’re okay!” But, in reality, my neck and back really were screaming in pain, and my knees were bloody from slamming into the center console by the gearshift. I was young and naive, and refused to ride in the ambulance, because I wanted to get to work (looking back, how silly!). They told me where my car was being towed, which hospital to go to, and offered me a ride to work.
Showing up to work in a police car made my
hooker witch costume complete.
I explained to my supervisor what had happened, and she let me call my mom. (Since we were on a dialer system, it was impossible to make personal outbound calls. She had a phone in her office that she let me use.) That’s when I lost it and started crying. My mom, of course, dropped everything and came to get me. This was a huge deal, because she does not live close to the city, and I can only imagine how stressful this whole thing was for her.
She took me to the hospital, and the coolest part about the visit was having the doctor look at my injuries and have him tell me exactly what had happened. (I hadn’t told him the details of the crash.) “Let me guess,” he said calmly. “You were driving, and a car slammed into your driver’s side door. The force of the impact snapped your neck this way and then back, and your knees slammed into something…probably the center console. You’re lucky the airbags didn’t deploy, and how your face didn’t get cut by any flying glass is beyond me.” Hearing a third party describe it made it even more real. It wasn’t a horrible nightmare; it had really happened.
After the hospital, we went to see what was left of my car and take pictures. (Pictures, by the way, that are in such a good, safe place that even I can’t find them. I’ve looked everywhere. They aren’t in my file, so I’ve put them somewhere super-secret and special. If I ever find them, I’ll figure out a way to post them. They’re impressive. ***Edited to add: I found my pictures!! See below!) Miraculously, my driver’s side window stayed intact, which was how I’d avoided facial cuts. The scariest thing was seeing the glass from the other car’s headlights and turn signals inside my car. The Sunbird ran that stop sign at a pretty fast clip to have hit my car with such force.
I was so lucky. Granted, not lucky enough to avoid being the target of an insanely impatient driver in the first place, but lucky nonetheless.
Years later, the city added a stoplight at that intersection. Of course, I’d already moved on to bigger and better things. That route was, unfortunately, the only way to get to work, and I never quite got over driving through that intersection.
I spent months in physical therapy for my back, and months battling the insurance company, both of which were excruciating but all worked out in the end. Luckily, I had awesome insurance, and the accident had been deemed 100% Crazy Sunbird Lady’s fault. I finally got everything worked out, got another new car, and tried to get on with my life.
So, yes, today is Halloween, but it’s also the 11th anniversary of a different kind of frightful experience for me. Scary, indeed.
***Edited to add: Here they are! The pictures were where they were supposed to be, so I’m not sure why I didn’t see them when I looked the first time. Here are a couple of them, anyway. As always, you can click on the picture a couple of times to see bigger and bigger versions: