November 15 was World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims.
I am surprised to find a remembrance day set aside for such an event so close to a date when I experienced the tragedy of a car accident.
Late on November 19, 2014 my husband and I were driving to our new home in North Lawndale when we came upon a single car accident. While we had experienced car accidents before, this one was different. This was the first time we were there to witness someone trapped in a burning vehicle and saw them pass away.
I wrote the words below two years ago. It was my attempt to process what had happened. I was too raw to publish it back then, but today it isn’t as hard. But I must admit, the memory lingers every time we pass by the scene.
I cried today. With four strangers.
We were driving home when we came upon a car on fire. A man was trapped inside. We joined three men and two women who were trying to figure out what to do.
I cried today. And now I’m numb.
I tried to talk to him, letting him know we were there. I told him that he was going to be okay. That we were there to help. I knew that we needed the fire department and their powerful tools. Yet, I wished for someone to have super strength equivalent to the jaws of life.
I cried today. I saw someone die.
A cop came. He told us to get back. “I CAN’T” I yelled. “It’s a human-being stuck.” Another officer brought a fire extinguisher. While they tried to douse the flames, we pulled back. We huddled together. Not because of the 18 degree temperature. The warmth of the fire kept us comfortable. It was because we knew something horrible was happening and we were helpless.
I cried today. And held strangers in my arms.
I think it was at that point, when we saw that the flames kept growing. It was at that point, I think, that he passed. I didn’t see the life leave him, yet I knew there was a moment when I couldn’t easily make out a person in the car. It was then that I knew.
An infant’s car seat was in the back. No child was in it, but it was there. He was a father.
We cried today. And held each other.
We said “God bless.” We said little things to each other like “we did all we could.” “The fire department took too long.” “He knew someone was there.” “We tried.”
The police officers didn’t seem fazed. I guess they are use to death. Perhaps, someday, I will be too.
I sobbed today. And I think I may tomorrow.
A reached out to a dear friend who took a moment to listen. She told me that I would probably grapple with the memories for days and weeks, even months. And she was right. Even to this day we think about the accident each time we drive by that exit.
Please wear your seatbelts. Don’t drive impaired. Don’t text and drive. Just don’t. Be alert, because in an instant, life could be gone.
My heart cries out in memory of those lost, and those whose lives have been broken.