Our boys had football camp at the University of North Carolina. They were so excited when I picked them up, they could hardly see straight. As a parent, in an unfamiliar place, you know the dichotomy of wanting to hear every last detail from your child's adventures while still trying to determine where to drive.
I had no idea where I was, so I was focused on the road and the lanes of traffic. We were all trying to get home for the end of the day, but as I looked ahead, an SUV was stopped in the road in front of me. Just stopped.
Slamming my breaks, I screamed for the boys to hold on as I was hopeful to maneuver my way around.
When they say everything slows down, and happens so fast, it's true. It was as though I could see everything around me with pinpoint senses, but there wasn't enough time, or road, to make it all stop.
With cars behind us and to the left, the only option was to veer right. Realizing a huge pole was in the way, not to mention a steep rocky drop off, that option became less desirable. Suddenly, it didn't matter anymore as the impact of the hit stopped every thought altogether.
I'd managed to connect only on my side. Thankful we didn't hit head on which would've stopped us bluntly, I knew at least that was good. Unfortunately, it still allowed enough force and inertia to slide us forward with minimal control.
The drop off was my concern and I didn't want to think about what it would feel like to begin falling. There was no way of knowing where we were as we were encompassed by white and smoke. I'd never realized how powerfully explosive air bags were, taking away my sense of seeing, hearing, breathing. It was as though a gun was shot in the car and the ringing in our ears was deafening. My hands and arms burned and I struggled to control the wheel.
As quickly as it had begun, it ended. We sat stunned for a split second until I was haunted with the thought of being hit from behind. The boys were motionless, but a quick survey let me know they okay. I wanted them out of the car in fear of an oncoming impact.
To the right of us, was an area of woods far enough away from the highway. Growing up in the country, in my mind that was the safest place.
From the crash, my door wouldn't open even though I pushed to wedge it out. Their side was perfectly fine so I began yelling for them to get out and run. They wouldn't. Instead, they scrambled to unbuckle their seatbelts and began towards me.
I've never known a level of fear so deep as when the safety or lives of my children was at stake. Even though I couldn't get out, I screamed at them to go. Still, they wouldn't.
You can call it an adrenaline rush, or the hand of God. Something so powerful came through me and the last thing that would keep me from getting to them, was a car door.
Forcing it, I pushed myself though any space it would allow until I was free and could run around to the other side. Grabbing the boys, we ran to the woods as the driver from the car in front of us made his way as well.
He was by himself, strong and built and I wondered what his temperament would be as he approached.
Putting his arms out, he shook his head, "I'm sorry. Are you all okay?" I didn't know whether to hug him, knowing he was alright, or punch him in the face.
He explained that the two cars in front of him were fighting with road rage, until the lead car eventually slammed his brakes. This caused the car behind him to hit his brakes, then the car in front of us had to do the same. I was the lucky winner to approach this when it was all too late.
"Where are the two cars in front of you?" I asked, refocusing my rage.
Shaking his head, "Gone. They never looked back."
Before we knew it, the screaming of brakes of one, two then three and four more cars piled up. The crashing of their weight became overwhelming.
Running to check on the others, they seemed to go through the same phases we had just endured.
The initial guy we'd hit seemed to click into motion. As it turned out, he was from the Army. He's seen combat and was trained in intense situations. I on the other hand, struggled between being a flipped out mom wanting nothing more than to protect the physical and emotional state of her babies, and a decent human being wanting to do whatever possible with a level head to assist.
Eventually, everyone was safe and cell phones were busy calling countless numbers as we all waited for the authorities. Calling my husband, I tried to keep a level voice as he was out of state for work.
"WHAT?" His reaction matched my insides, but I wasn't allowed to act on it in front of the kids.
"Call Cristen. Get out of there with the kids as soon as you can. I'm in the car."
"Wait, what?" I didn't have time to stop him before he hung up, but it wouldn't have mattered. If you know my husband, hell would freeze over before keeping him.
Our dear friend, Cristen came, immediately putting the boys in her car while I stayed back to deal with police, tow trucks, etc. My parents headed our way and the phrase, "It takes a village" ran through my mind a number of times. Never before had I been so grateful for family and friends.
I was alone, and given enough time to clean the car out before it was towed away. I guess that's when the adrenaline and emotion came together, causing me to lose it. Our daughter's car seat was wedged in the back from the impact and I thanked God her little body wasn't in the car. Our son's dump truck was still covered in sand from the trip we'd just taken to the beach.
Bending over, I became nauseous and dizzy, trying to breathe while sobs of tears were finally permitted.
Everyone was okay. The kids were fine and everyone else involved walked away. It was over.
I worry about the kids as our 11 year old son hugs me now, asking me not to drive. Time will erase the details. The fear will fade and the unease of driving will soon disappear.
Why these things happen, I'll never know. I didn't need a reminder to be thankful. Our family and friends mean everything.
What I do know, though, is when they say, it can all happen so fast, never really applied to me. I always knew I could get out of a situation...until I couldn't. The accident could've gone a thousand different ways, but at the end of the day, the most important thing, is that loved ones were safe. My loved ones and the sons and daughters, moms and dads in the cars around us. were safe.
As cliché as it may seem, we all hug each other tighter now, going through what we did. Even though I've never been in a car wreck before, I know now, nothing is guaranteed.
It was more than enough to Thank God for each day I'm given, live every one of them to the fullest and Love with every ounce of heart.