by Andrea Puckett

What words do you say to a woman who has just lost her son? This was the dilemma that I found myself in when I was 15 years old and was a survivor of a serious car accident when another person in the car didn’t live.

It was a beautiful August day, and I had just gone to the movies with my cousin. She was 17 and I was 15. We were hanging out because we knew that within the next year she would go off to college and we wouldn’t get a chance to see each other very often.

Also, I was there because she wanted someone to come with her because she like a guy who was going and she needed someone to be there with his friend. We ate pizza and watched a movie.

Looking Up Sideways
On the way home we stopped off at a gas station and got candy and my cousin and I exchanged hugs and told each other that we were glad to have time to spend with each other. We were having a great day and then it started to rain. The car began to hydroplane and the next thing that I remember is that I looked up and saw the car that I was in sideways in the middle of the road. Immediately, I checked to see if I had anything broken and realized that I didn’t. I could smell the gas and burnt rubber in the air.

The glass of the car was broken and the rain tickled inside. I saw the driver of the car. His seat was broken and moved back and he was turning grey and blood trickled out of his head. His friend’s seat went forward and he had hurt his ear. My cousin was bleeding from the mouth and was disoriented…

Turning Internal
We were going to have hamburgers that night and I really wanted to get back home. I thought I was okay and because I showed no visible signs of being hurt. It took maybe 20 minutes for rescue teams to come get us out of the car but it seemed like an eternity. I walked out of the car and into the ambulance but I didn’t know that I was hurt. Later, I was told that I was in shock and that I had internal bleeding. I was taken to the hospital where I learned that the doctors had 15 minutes to do surgery or I was going to die of internal injuries. I was rushed into surgery. There they repaired a torn spleen and checked for other signs of bleeding. After surgery, I work up in ICU where I began to heal both mentally and physically.

In one afternoon, my whole world had changed. I was angry because I wouldn’t be able to go to band camp and be a normal person. I learned that the driver died, that my cousin would have to have surgery and reconstructive surgery on her face and that the driver’s friend had to have surgery to fix his ear. I was in the hospital for two weeks. During my stay in the hospital, the driver’s mother came to visit me. I didn’t know what to say to her. Part of me wanted to be nice but part of me just wanted to just put it behind me and move on. She came into the room and she just looked at me and I at her. We didn’t know what to say to each other. Part of her felt bad that I was there but part of her was wishing that it was her son in the hospital instead of being at the funeral home. In the end, I just said that he had a good day. In my 15 year old mind, that is all that I knew how to say to comfort her in any way.

A Memorial Moment
At the end of that year, my cousin graduated high school. I went to videotape her graduation and to be a supporter of hers cheering as she walked across the stage to receive her diploma. However, it really was hard for me to be there because they had a memorial dedicated to the driver of the car that died. He was supposed to have graduated that night and everyone wore yellow ribbons on their cap and gowns in memory of their lost friend. Watching that ceremony and the speeches that they made about their lost friend really got to me. It made me wonder why I was here and he wasn’t and for a moment I cried. I got through that night but it was hard.

The smell of burnt rubber brings me back to that day when my world changed. Being a survivor of this car accident changed me forever. It made me look at the world not through the eyes of a child anymore but through the eyes of a wiser person. The accident taught me that you can’t take a day for granted and that you have to take risks and be only who you are. It opened a whole world of being spiritual and made me ask more questions about the world. Overall, I feel that it made me a stronger person who knew that they could weather the storm.

After the accident, my cousin and I didn’t really hang out together. Our lives took different paths and we chose not to make an effort to talk with one another. There are days that I wish I could go back to a time before the accident when my only care was how I would wear my hair for my cheerleading photo but I know that I am stronger for what I have been through. My badge of honor is a surgery scar on my stomach that reminds me that you have to live every day like it is your last.