A mean shove from an invisible source forces my lower body towards the passenger seat. My left shoulder bumps hard into the driver’s side window. My knee hits the steering wheel. All nerve endings scream. My heart has switched into sprint mode. Thoughts whirl through my mind, too fast to grasp even one. I break into a cold sweat, start shaking. Sticky hands clutch the steering wheel, a pointless act to gain control. Wheels chafe along the curb, which shakes the car and breaks its forward motion. A reflex makes me hit the brakes. I turn the engine off and the emergency blinker on. I lean back in my seat, overwhelmed.
I don’t believe this! Was I just rear ended by this guy? And what is he doing now? In slow motion, I watch the other car approach the stop light 300 meters in front of me.
Will he just take off? No. The driver pulls to the curbside and stops.
What is he waiting for? Why doesn’t he get out of the car? A twister is forming in my stomach. Its pressure pushes up my throat. I feel the urge to run to the other car, and yell at the driver. Yet I am glued to my seat, unable to move. I clinch my teeth, make fists until my fingernails hurt the insides of my hands.
Deep breaths, I remind myself. I do my best to control the internal tornado in search of a target.
What is he doing now? Texting? That the other driver might be in shock as well, didn’t even occur to me. I still try to figure out what to do next when the driver door opens and a long-maned youngster gets out. It’s about time! He doesn’t even glance at me. Dressed in an unzipped hoodie he leisurely walks around his own vehicle and checks for damage. Wind catches his brown strands and blows them in all directions. The guy’s hand twists them into a ponytail. He bends down for further inspection. He certainly is thorough.
I cannot believe this! Hello? Where are your manners, dude! You hit me! Shouldn’t you check on me first? The tornado keeps stirring, aching to be released. I strangle the wheel until my knuckles turn white.
Deliberate deep breaths. I open the side window. Wind gusts with the first promise of winter rip my hair wherever they want. The young man strolls towards me. Both hands pushed into tiny jeans pockets, shoulders pulled up, he is in no hurry to face me. The epitome of a guilty school boy expecting punishment. He barely looks up through his disheveled hair when he mumbles: “I don’t know how this happened, lady!” His voice slightly shakes. So do his lips.
“I guess you took the curve too wide”, I offer as explanation. My tornado twirls.
“I was on my way from the clinic over there where my girlfriend had a procedure. I followed her Mom’s car home. Oh”, he interrupts himself in distress: “I need to let them know where I am. They might be worried”. He pulls a cell phone out of his jeans pocket, then he stops himself. His brown eyes look up, straight into mine: “I am so sorry, lady, are you alright?” he inquires at last.
“I believe so”, I respond. Left knee and shoulder feel bruised, but the rest seems intact. The guy’s genuine concern about his girlfriend has weakened the twister.
“But my new car is not!” I am quick to add. “Let’s look at it before you make the call!” I step out of the car. The wind gusts feel like sobering slaps across the face. I hurry to close the zipper of my leather jacket and tighten the scarf around my neck. Together we inspect my car. A huge dent decorates its left rear end. The bumper is partially split lengthwise and droops. Wide streaks of scraped off paint further disfigure the car’s pristine blue. I swallow. We then take a look at the youngster’s car. The only visible damage to his is a shattered head light.
I take a couple deep breaths. “I will call the police now!” I inform him. While I follow through, the young man is on phone to check on his girlfriend.
When we both have finished our calls, I ask about her well-being. He gives me a puzzled look and says that his girlfriend was resting and glad to hear from him.
“Why don’t we both wait in my car for the police to arrive?” I propose. His thin hoodie and both our exposed nerves are no match for this wind chill. Baffled, he accepts. He chooses the back seat on the passenger side. We exchange insurance information. I am relieved for both of us, that he provides a valid one. With the official stuff out of the way, we chat for a while to kill time.
“My Dad will be so mad with me!” The young man’s confession takes me by surprise: “Dad just finished paying for previous car damage caused by my older brother. Oh, Dad will be angry!” The guy continues to wonder how he will be able to earn the money for the car repairs since he is unemployed at the moment. His honesty touches something deep inside of me. Under different circumstances, I could have been in his shoes many years ago. I feel a shift. There is no trace of the tornado left. I look straight into his eyes before I respond. I want him to see my sincerity as well as hear it in my voice: “I bet your parents will be so thankful that you are safe and no one got hurt that they will not dwell on the money issue!” He falls quiet.
Half an hour later, a policeman has assessed the damage and interviewed us. We both are free to go. The police leaves. We face each other. There is an awkward pause. I resist the impulse to hug this young man for encouragement. I silently pray that his parents will recognize the gifts received today. Our good-byes feel like farewells of friends, not strangers.
About the author
Anja Kerstin Kuentzel,
Advanced Grief Recovery Method specialist, nature lover, photographer, and bilingual wordsmith combines her passions to offer a different perspective on life that might inspire, raise awareness or even heal.