This holiday weekend, I decided to visit my grandparents. I haven't seen them since Christmas and felt a visit was long overdue. As I now live in Little Rock and they still in Sheridan where I grew up, I found myself on highway 35 coming home.
It was at that moment that I realized I drove down this road ten years ago, almost to the day.
I was 19 at the time. Working at the mall. Dating a frat guy. And, as 19 year olds who date frat guys are prone to do, I was out late. Really, really late. It was technically the morning of July 4th -just barely. We had been at the frat house playing volleyball and goofing off (for the record, I was not drinking). I drove my loser boyfriend to his house in Bryant and then headed toward my bed in Sheridan, taking Hwy 35. But I was tired. Really tired. Mind you, I was supposed to be at work in Little Rock in a mere six hours. So I wasn't going to be able to sleep long.
Luckily, holidays at the mall can be hit or miss. On the big holidays like Christmas Eve and July 4th, most people are off with their families, enjoying the day. So it's usually slow. I was hoping to be able to leave work early.
As I drove, the high of the party behind me, I began to get sleepy. My eyelids fluttered. I jerked them open quickly and cranked up the radio. I tried to force myself to sing along. I rolled down the windows and let the cool morning air kiss my cheeks.
It didn't help.
What could have been seconds, moments or minutes later, I was awoken by the sound of gravel hitting the bottom of my little honda civic. My right tires were well off the road, the left were holding on to the white line for dear life. I grabbed the wheel and pulled hard to my left. I was in the middle of a turn, the majority of the road was off to my left. I fishtailed. Hard.
I hit the breaks, my back wheels spun out of control, whipping around. Where they were once facing south, they were now facing north. My car finally came to a stop, in the ditch on the other side of the road, facing the direction I had just come from.
The ditch was deep and at an angle, the road had been carved out, leaving gagged rocks jutting from the weeds. I had heard those rocks scraping down the length of my car as I bounced around.
I sit stunned for a moment. I am not hurt. Not even a scratch. The ditch is so deep, that my little car is practically on it's side. I unbuckle myself and reach for the door handle and push with all my might. The door is so heavy I can barely keep it open, gravity on its side. I crawl out of the car and out of the ditch.
It's 3 a.m. and I am in the middle of nowhere.
The only light I can see are the tiny headlights of my car, buried in the ditch.
There are no houses. There are no businesses.
My cell phone was useless. It had been turned off a few days before and I hadn't taken care of it. Because, that's what irresponsible 19 year old girls do.
I hadn't seen another car on the road the entire night. I sat down in the middle of the road to wait. For what, I wasn't sure. But I waited.
That fit of exhaustion I had previously been fighting was all but gone, replaced with adrenaline, frustration and fear.
Fear of my mother. I had wrecked this same care a mere six months before. And, at the time, I didn't know this, but I would wreck it again a month after getting it back.
A small red car approached me. I stood up, waving my arms over my head, yelling.
They drove past.
I began to cry. Tears of frustration and anger. Of feeling lost. Of feeling scared. Of feeling as if I would never get home.
Hours passed and a van approached from Sheridan. The family was on their way to Florida for vacation. They stopped. They let me use their phone. And stayed with me until an officer and a tow truck arrived. I should have wished them a happy vacation, but I'm sure I forgot.
The tow truck pulled my car out of the ditch as the sun slowly began to peek its head out. The officer retraced the tire marks left hours earlier. He told me I was lucky to be alive. He pointed to the spot where my tires went from gravel to asphalt, indicating some percentage of cars that flip over when they make that kind of transition. He talked about the speed at which my car was going. He asked about the hour of trip. I mumbled excuses.
I pulled a few items from my car and piled them into the back of the cop car. We watched as the tow truck drove away with my battered and bruised civic. The passenger side mangled from front to back. We drove to my house in silence. It was only fifteen minutes away. It was 6 a.m. as I slowly opened the front door, and crept to my bed.
I was supposed to be leaving for work in an hour. Obviously, I wasn't going to be able to make it. I set my alarm for 8:05. It would give the rest of the team enough time to get in the door and I would call and tell them what happened.
I fell asleep.
I was awoken with a start to the sound of the phone ringing. Running across the room to grab it, I look at the clock, it was 8:03.
"Hello?" I say.
"Hey! It's Tommy."
"Hello?" My mom says, picking up the phone in her room.
I hadn't bothered to wake anyone when I got home. There was no reason.
"Hello? Kelli? You were supposed to be at work. I was just calling to see what happened." Tommy said, his voice much more chipper than mine.
"Yes, I know." I said slowly. It was one thing to tell a coworker I wrecked my car over the phone, it was another to tell my mom. I was interrupted by the sound of my alarm clock going off. "See, I set my alarm clock to wake me up to call you. I can't come to work today."
Twin voices echo in my ear, "Why not?" My mom's voice much angrier than Tommy's.
"I wrecked my car." It came out in a whisper.
Tommy was immediately concerned, "Are you OK?"
My mom became more enraged. Her voice no longer just coming through the phone, she burst through her bedroom door across the hallway, phone still in hand. "You did WHAT?!"
"I wrecked my car." I repeat, still holding the phone to my face, but directing it toward the seething pile that was my mother in front of me. "I fell asleep."
She jerked the curtains back from my window, searching the driveway for the green civic. "Where is your car?"
I quickly get Tommy off the phone, telling him I will call later and sort out the rest of the week.
"They towed it away. I have the card in my jean's pocket."
I was suddenly exhausted. I just wanted to sleep. My mom just wanted to yell.
So I fell asleep to the sound of my mom yelling at me. Things about insurance and transportation and getting fired. None of that mattered. Because I was only 19. And though I fell asleep, I don't remember ever hearing the words, 'Thank God you're all right.'
But what does that matter?