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When I left the Ford dealership where I worked nearly 20 years ago, night had already fallen around me. It wasn’t an unusual circumstance given it was fall and night came sooner and sooner each day. The air was crisp and cool, and I had the driver’s side window of my ‘91 Plymouth Acclaim rolled down. On any other night, I’d have been home in 15 minutes, but this trip had a different result.
During this point in my life, when I wasn’t at school, working, or at home devouring whole turkeys (you can verify this with my mom), I was fishing. Every hour I could, I was out on a river or a lake, even wandering to water after work when possible. All my fishing gear resided in my trunk, along with one other common accouterment that stayed on my hip: a knife. It was useful for cutting line, fixing lures, work stuff, and popping off bottle caps. It rarely left my pocket, and I’ll be forever grateful it remained there that night.
As I cranked my bass-heavy speaker-rattling tunes—it was the early aughts, ok—I settled into the driver’s seat and tried to relax as best I could before school the next day. But in a stroke of recognition, I realized I hadn’t clocked out. Looking back now, it wouldn’t have made a lick of difference to my bosses, but being only 10 minutes from work and nervous I’d get into trouble, I pulled into the next subdivision and flipped a U-ey.
The “T” intersection was dark both ways, absent of streetlamps and wooded on both sides. The only light piercing the darkness was from my headlights.
At this point in the story, my memory goes fuzzy, so I’m forced to rely mostly on what the police, EMTs, and my parent told me once I woke up in the hospital.
According to those folks, as I entered the intersection, a BMW X5 was driving down the same stretch of road without its lights on. I never got a good answer as to why the driver didn’t have lights on, but at the time of impact, the lights were off, and the German SUV was doing 55 mph, 10 mph faster than the posted 45-mph limit. The impact struck my driver’s side door, caving in the metal and instantly breaking both bones in my forearm.
My head whipped toward the passenger side but snapped back, and I hit the B-pillar, which resulted in a few cuts and a nasty concussion. The police report said that the impact spun my car, and it ended up in the ditch on the opposite side of the road. I do remember some of what occurred next, including the smell of smoke and the acrid taste of vaporized coolant that hangs in the air after an accident. I also remember the sensation of me trying to free myself from the wreckage.
The driver’s-side door was never going to open back up, as the metal had practically deformed around me, encasing me like a sarcophagus. What was far more worrying, however, was that I couldn’t release my seatbelt. I remember the frantic sensation of trying to engage the release and not being able to. It only intensified with all those telltale fire smells.
I wish I could say I remembered the knife in my pocket in some heroic action movie-type of way. In reality, my adrenaline was coursing and my concussion made it so I likely did it out of pure instinct. The next thing I remember is pushing my way out of the passenger side door, falling onto the grass and gravel, and then blackness.
My parents met me at the hospital where, for about three hours, I fell into a pattern of falling asleep, waking up, and repeating the same exact sentence. They swear they thought I had permanent brain damage—maybe I do, it’d explain a lot. What I remember next is being told how I cut myself out of the car and how seriously sideways things could’ve gone had the oil smoke and burnt coolant actually erupted into flames. My pocket knife might have saved my life, and at least a part of me will always know it did..
Since then, I’ve rarely entered a car without a pocket knife. And my latest, a Smith & Wesson, has all the bells and whistles, including a separate seatbelt cutter and glass break. I’ve yet to need it again—thankfully—but it’s one thing I’ve repeatedly advocated for all to carry whenever they get behind the wheel.
It’s a damn good tool to have when your night goes from bumpin’ some bass to matted hair full of blood and shattered glass.
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