Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A crash in the night

A woman died in my creek last night, a sort of neighbor although I never knew her (and now I never will).

I don't know how the car flipped into our creek but the police were out there investigating all night long (in the cold, in the drizzle, in the snow) so I suppose we'll learn the rest of the story in the local newspaper just like everyone else. 

For us, it started with a loud noise in the night. I thought it was thunder but my husband thought a tree might have fallen on our neighbor's garage. "I'll just step out and take a look," he said, but immediately he came back in yelling, "Call 911!"

I called but I didn't have much to tell them--a loud noise, a voice calling for help from the creek--but then I threw a coat over my nightgown, grabbed a flashlight, and made my way down the hill to a scene growing more chaotic by the minute.

A car in the creek, wheels spinning in the air. A man stumbling around yelling frantically, a small child (his daughter?) strapped in a car seat sitting in cold water, my husband on the other side of the car, our neighbor too, turning off the car, pulling someone out of the window, the man screaming "She's dead! She's dead!", the little girl sitting in the car seat, in the water, in the cold.

I carried her up to the house, a shivering three-year-old unaware of how much her life had changed. "The car broke," she said. Indeed it did. I stripped off her wet clothes and wrapped her in a blanket and waited, watching out the window at the flashing lights. Soon my house was swarming with emergency personnel who checked over the little girl (hardly a bruise on her!) and took her to the ambulance, and then I thought to text my son and warn him not to come home.

But he had already arrived to find an ambulance blocking the driveway, a fire truck and police cars all over the road. When the ambulance finally pulled away and I could cross the bridge, I found my son on the other side with the neighbors, grateful that all were safe and well (except the dead woman in the creek). And then I tried to find my husband.

He'd been in the thick of things from the start. I don't know how long he crouched in the creek holding the woman's head above water (a futile gesture by that time but he couldn't bear to let her go), and after that he took the hysterical husband to our car and sat with him with the heat on to help him calm down and warm up. And then he had to talk to the police, give a rudimentary report, although he knew practically nothing. They couldn't find the marks where the car left the road (in the dark, in the cold, in the drizzle), and there were questions about who was driving and who smelled of alcohol and who got the little girl out of the car.

When I finally found my husband he was drenched and shivering so I took him to the house and helped him warm up. The lights were still flashing out there long into the night, the last one finally leaving at first light this morning. Sometime in the night they hauled the car up that steep, slippery bank and took it away, and then the snow fell and covered all signs of last night's events, the creek still flowing silently as if nothing had happened.

A woman's life ended right in front of us last night and even now, all these hours later, I don't even know her name.



Bardiac said...

I'm so sorry, Bev. Thanks for taking care of them as much as you (and your husband) could. We all depend on strangers at some point, and I hope when my need comes, there are kind people like you there.

penn said...

Sobering and scary. You are good for helping.

Laura said...

This made me cry.

Bev said...

Thanks, all. We've been a little wobbly today but we're getting through. No word yet on how the survivors are doing.

Kathy H. said...

You have great presence of mind, Bev, and so has Garry. I don't think I could have handled caring for that little girl and her father without breaking down in tears...and certainly not describing the night's happenings in such vivid and, yes, beautiful prose. Please consider submitting this essay for publication somewhere. Don't change a word.