Friday, February 26, 2010

What I could possibly have in common with Stephen King

Besides the fact that I like to write (obviously not as well as he does in any shape or form), there wouldn't seem to be much that I have in common with Stephen King. Or so I thought.

I had been meaning to read "On Writing" for quite some time. I kept putting it in my shopping cart on, then forgetting about the shopping cart as I forget about everything in life except for feeding, clothing, driving, and being a circus act for my kids. I had almost given up reading until recently, and I've read 8 books this past month. One of them was "On Writing", which I finally got due to a request I put in at the library then promptly forgot about until they sent me an email that said it was there. I was surprised. So surprised that I actually paid the $17 I owed them for overdue fines (things go missing in my house all.the.time. I can't find my bank card or my camera, but I know they are here somewhere).

I took that book home and began to read it. Normally I read on my blackberry while feeding my baby, which seems to take endless amounts of time because he just really likes to eat. I had to dig out my head lamp so I could still read in the dark, because I got really, really, into this book. I can see why so many people recommend it. He talks about rejection and sucking at writing until you just gradually get better, and this is a mindset I can get behind.

Yet I never found any reason in that book to think I had something in common with Mr.King until I read the part at the end about his accident. Hit by a van while he was walking on the side of the road in Maine, he was thrown into the ditch and broken in many parts of his body.  When he described how the van hurled over him, how he was sure that it was going to land on him, how he lay in the ditch and all that he felt when that was going on?  Sitting there, in the dark, with my geeky headlamp on and my baby sleeping, I got a shiver that went up my back and made my hair stand on end.

Why you may ask? I was in an accident like that myself. No, I wasn't hit by a van. I wasn't really hit with anything.

What happened to me was this:

On a very hot, very windy day in Saskatchewan, I rode my bike over to my cousin's house. I'm not kidding when I say hot and windy. It was about 35 degrees and sunny. The wind was literally blowing so hard I found it difficult to pedal against it. She wanted to go 'learn to drive' with my Uncle in his brand new truck. I wanted to go along for the ride, so I kept pedaling.

Once I got there, we departed right away. The roads behind their house were all field, mostly unpaved. We drove around for about half hour, then turned on to a long stretch of road that was by the jail. Driving down that road for awhile, my Uncle turned up the music. Nazareth was playing. To this day, I will turn off the radio if a Nazareth song comes on.

Half way down that road, we passed a few small farms.  There was something 'washboard' on the road, which meant it had huge ruts from the grater dug into it. My cousin, who was 14 at the time and without even a learners license (this was common in Saskatchewan. We all learned to drive on dirt roads and fields long before we were legal), hit the gas a little more than necessary. Unfortunately, she hit it right when we hit a huge amount of washboard.

What happens next is very sketchy in my memory. I looked over at her, looked at my Uncle, he grabbed the wheel. At that point we were flying. Literally. I remember hitting the red roof of the truck, then putting my hand on the door. After that, I was out of the truck and then bouncing on the ground. I came to a stop on my side, curled up in a ball. Opening my eyes, I felt a shadow pass over me, but I couldn't see anything because it was a cloud of dirt and dust. I thought I might have died, I wasn't sure, so I just lay there with my eyes closed and waited for whatever came next. I don't remember being scared or that anything even hurt, I just remember the dust and how I was sure that the sun has disappeared.

It could have been 5 minutes, maybe 10. The cloud disappeared and I opened my eyes. I was lying in the ditch, about 15 feet away from the truck. The truck was on it's roof, the flat bed sort of angling away from it. My side of the truck was completely crushed. I heard my Uncle calling my cousin's name, and I tried to sit up and go over there. At this point I started to feel pain, and I crawled over to where they were. I think it took a long time. I remember noting that if I had been in the truck, I most certainly would be dead. There was nothing left of my side.

My Uncle had pulled my cousin out of the truck. I think about it now, 21 years later, and I still tear up at the image of this. He had found her half in and half out of it, her upper body was partially through the back windows, her head lay in the dirt of the ditch and covered by the bed of the truck. I'm not sure how we managed to completely pull her out of the wreck, but we got her beside the truck and tried to wake her up. She was breathing.

This was long before cell phones, so the only option was for one of us to go for help. He wouldn't leave her, and it was up to me to go. I struggled out of the ditch. I remember grabbing at tufts of grass to pull myself up and out, even though I found out after that it wasn't that steep. I walked down the road, in shock and crying, until I came to a long driveway. As I was walking, a car pulled up beside me with what seemed to be a lot of people inside. They asked me if I was from that truck back there, I said yes, could you please go for help. They took off, and I continued to go down the driveway.

Halfway down the driveway, a dog came running out of the bushes. He was a German Shepard, big and mean, and he bore down on me, barking, snarling.  I remember yelling at him, yelling at the top of my lungs for help. I was terrified, but the farm seemed to be empty. No one was home, or they didn't hear me anyway. I turned around before I even got to the house and walked back up the road. The dog snipped at my heels, and he kept barking, snarling, trying to head me off and bite me, until I got to the end of the driveway. I think he might have actually took a swipe at my leg, but I really can't remember.

I walked back to the truck at this point, and found my Uncle holding my cousin in his arms. She was bleeding down her back. I actually thought she might have cut herself somewhere, but I had no idea. We didn't know what to do, so we grabbed some water from a canteen and dropped a little on her, trying to get her to wake up. She didn't react. I can remember other things from the ditch, but I can't make myself write them down.

Obviously the car full of people had called the ambulance, because they showed up. I don't know how long it was between the time they came and the accident. I remember someone covering me with a blanket and sitting me down on the side of the ditch. The police were there, talking to my Uncle. They took my cousin away, but after a general check over of my Uncle and I, put us in the back of the squad car. They drove us to the hospital, and I held onto him for dear life. The ambulance had pulled over twice to allow other paramedics into the back of it, but I had no idea as to why that was happening.

At the hospital, they let me out but kept my Uncle in the back. I found out later that they suspected him of lying about the accident, because he had said he was driving. They wouldn't let him into the hospital, wouldn't let him see her. They took me inside and down to an assessment room. Someone called my parents, my aunt.

I remember going for Xrays, remember them pulling glass out of my legs, my hands, my face. I remember my hair being covered in blood for some reason, and being covered in dirt.  I was covered in a white sheet and talking to one of my brothers when my mom and dad came in together. It was at this point that they told me that my cousin was not going to make it, that she was essentially on life support and wouldn't survive for much longer. After that, I don't remember much.

Back to Stephen King. The circumstances of the accidents were different, but the way he vividly described lying in the ditch, the dust, the air, brought me right back to where I was 21 years ago. He thought he felt the van pass over him, and I can't say I've ever read a description that ever rang so true. It completely described how I felt, how it felt.Yet another similarity? He bought the van that hit him and beat the crap out of it.  I had to have the truck where she died sit in my driveway for 2 months, covered with a tarp, until they could haul it out to the farm because my Uncle couldn't bear for it to end up in a wrecker's yard. Clearly my parents had no idea how to deal with Psychological trauma, or they wouldn't have done that. It haunted my dreams.

At the age of 17, I slept on my parents floor for months. I refused to go into my bedroom, refused to go to school, quit my job, and basically just tried to wash it all from my head. The only thing that saved me, I can honestly say, was writing it all down. Which I did, about 100 times over. I would stop and start, stop and start, and keep on writing. I wrote poetry about it, short stories, memoirs (although at that age I had no idea what a memoir was). It took years to move on.  I never wanted to be a writer at this point, never thought I could ever be good enough, but I certainly knew what would ease the pain slightly and I took to that with all I had.

I have been tempted to email Mr.King and thank him for so vividly putting into words what he went through, because it helped me to put into words what I went through. It wasn't exactly the same, but it was closest I've ever come.  What I wrote today is probably the most detailed account of what happened to me that day, and I never even set out to write it.  Writing is good that way, what comes just comes.

A note on my cousin. Her name was Stacey. She liked music videos, Bon Jovi, and Archie comics. She and I were very similar, bookish and introverted. To say that her dying has changed my perspective, my entire life, would be an understatement. I am sure anyone going through something like that would say the same.

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