a real-life adventure
Read Part XI here.
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I had been singing with the kids, a routine performance for us whenever we traveled. My Fleetwood Mac CD had finished, and I had just changed to Styx. The kids had been playing their GameBoys because they don't share my adoration of Stevie Nicks.
Styx was more to their liking, but they had become so engrossed in their games, they were trying to sing "The Best of Times" while dodging race track hazards and hatchet-bearing turtles. They messed up a couple of lines of the song, which brought out the giggles in me. They in turn began giggling, and that brought back memories of the week's comedic mishaps, another routine performance with my class clown munchkins.
In tandem Taz and Raz began recounting their highlights, and I turned off the stereo to listen.
I'd had one eye glued to the rear view mirror for the last hour. I didn't feel as comfortable with the posted speed as other motorists did, especially since the road was so wet. The speed limit was due to increase to 75 mph on Tuesday, but some drivers were driving as if the higher limit was already in place.
Before we passed the last metro exit, we hit bumper-to-bumper gridlock. It took us more than an hour to crawl through the next 17 miles. The slow speed didn't bother me, but it spurred irritability in motorists less patient than I.
I knew once we were embedded in the makeshift parking lot that I would be late getting to the Springs. But my best friend knew me well enough to know I wouldn't be breaking any speed limits to make a deadline in bad weather. We had planned to spend the day together before the game, and the game wouldn't start for another eight hours, so we had plenty of time.
The highway opened back up at the Happy Canyon exit. Speed began breaking out all over as we passed a fire truck, an ambulance, three police cars and an overturned olive green station wagon. I had been stuck in the passing lane throughout the backup, and I was anxious to get back into the outside lane.
I kept signaling to change lanes, but annoyed drivers displayed their aggravation with the day's traffic by zipping by me. I wanted to get off the interstate altogether and find an alternate route, and I was becoming increasingly nervous about the lack of space between me and the yellow car directly behind me.
I knew the drivers stuck behind me were not impressed with the three car lengths I was intently trying to maintain ahead of me. Drivers in the right lane couldn't be more thrilled; they merged into my lane so excitedly they sometimes didn't wait for their rear tires to clear my bumper. I had to keep letting off the gas to give them room, as well as to keep my distance until they whizzed ahead on an improv Autobahn.
We were just north of the first Castle Rock exit when the rear end of my white Toyota Corolla unexpectedly veered to the right and without warning aimed me and my kids directly at the concrete barrier separating the southbound lanes from northbound I-25. I froze. I didn't know what else to do. I was afraid to steer, knowing well what the car's reaction would have been on ice. I didn't know what to expect on water.
Suddenly the car was upside down. I didn't know if I had been clipped by a car in the right lane when I spun out of control, or if the car behind me had smashed into me when I unexpectedly changed direction. I wasn't sure I'd been hit at all. At least when I rolled.
I told the investigating officer I had hydroplaned and had not attempted to steer into the slide. I told him I firmly held the steering wheel in place, pointing straight ahead, mainly due to adrenaline.
I didn't know where my car had landed in respect to the highway. For all I knew, it might have been right in the path of oncoming traffic. My instinct was to get my children immediately out of the car, and that's what I was trying to do when we got hit. I had no clue what had hit me. Or where.
"How long was it between the time you rolled and the time you got hit?"
"Long enough for me to get my head back on straight, undo my seat belt, fall, try to open one window and then try to open a window on the other side of the car."
"And how fast were you going before you lost control?"
"I'm not sure. I was going slower than everyone else wanted to. Sixty is straight up on my speedometer, and I wasn't straight up. Maybe 50?"
The officer made a few notes, then studied a drawing before speaking again.
"Okay, now let me tell you what really happened," he said, displaying his official diagram of the scene. He pointed to the appropriate vehicles and road locations as he spoke.
"You were southbound when you lost control, then you over-corrected. The forward momentum flipped your car when the tires regained traction. Your car came to rest upside down in the median, facing northbound. A southbound tractor trailer rig lost control and left the roadway three times before hitting your vehicle. Your vehicle spun around again, hitting the jersey barrier and coming to a stop facing southbound."
He never came up for air the entire time he talked. But he should have. I needed warning before the next chunk of detail.
"A third vehicle had pulled over in the median south of your vehicle, and a gentleman exited the car to attempt to help you and your family. He was pinned when your vehicle was hit by the tanker."
Pause of shock.
Tears of terror.
(Welling in my eyes, not his.)
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Copyright 2013 by Deborah and Brett Atkinson