Today is my birthday, so I’m more inclined to focus on still being alive rather than near-death experiences. I've had some near misses, mainly of the automotive kind, but never been in a physical state of very nearly being extinguished.
I have, however, been very close to the deaths of several other people, family members, and will be again, all too soon. And then again, unless I go first. I thought, with great reluctance, of writing about that kind of experience, until I was rescued by a memory of the most dramatic of my automotive adventures. Who knew I’d ever feel so glad of what happened, besides just being happy that I’d survived?
It was at least ten years ago. I was driving in the far left lane of the New Hampshire Turnpike in heavy traffic, with two family members along in the car. To my left was a high concrete barrier. A big tanker truck was on my right, and clearly the driver didn’t bother to look before he began to move into my lane. I honked, and he kept right on coming. Traffic was moving fast. I slowed as much as possible without being hit from behind, which wasn’t much, held on tight, resisted being pushed into the barrier when the truck smashed my rear-view mirror and gouged a crease all along the side of my car, and then he was more or less safely past. We got his license number and the company name on the truck, and eventually pulled up beside him motioning at him to pull over to the breakdown lane, but he ignored us and dropped back so far we couldn’t keep track of him.
I was shaking with anger instead of with panic. Just as well. We survived, and the car was still running. The crisis was over. But what happened next was almost amusing. Okay, it was amusing, in its way. About fifteen miles down the road we pulled over into a big rest area at a tollbooth, complete with State of New Hampshire liquor store, and called the police to report the incident. By the time the police arrived that same truck had pulled in there, too, and parked well away from anybody else, without noticing us. The cop was brusquely skeptical at first—how could we be sure it was that truck when it happened so far back? And then he went to see the truck driver, who denied everything, but had obviously been trying to scrub the paint from our car off of the wheel that had hit us. At that point another cop arrived, and they called the company that owned the truck, where they immediately fired the driver, who had had some other serious complaints made against him and was on probabation. Then the cops inspected the driver and the truck thoroughly and came up with more than enough reasons even without out report to keep him off the road, and in custody overnight. By then they were entirely sympathetic to us, and amazed that we’d got through it alive.
It did seem amazing. One of those things that turns out all right just by a hair. So here I am years later, taking a train to NYC for the Lambda Literary Awards ceremony tonight (my anthology Wild Girls, Wild Nights is a finalist,) grateful to be alive and to have an anecdote to write about on a topic that at first seemed beyond me to manage.
(Full disclosure—I’m writing this just before midnight on June 1, so it isn’t quite my birthday yet, and I’m not yet on the train, but close enough. And now to schedule the post, and make sure I’m packed for the trip, and see if I can get some sleep. But I can always sleep on the train.)