Last Saturday night I had to go to work. It wasn't my idea of a good time, but it needed doing. I drive a tractor-trailer and had a load to deliver in Indianapolis, Indiana
on Sunday evening, which is a little over 500 miles from home. I could have done it by leaving Sunday morning early, but the earlier start would give me more time which equals less stress.
I got my required equipment together. The logbook, briefcase, mileage report form, trip sheet, and a myriad of other things I either would or might need. My wife drove me to where I park my rig, saw me off with the customary kiss and smile. I turned the key, listened to the big diesel grunt into life, saw the air pressure rise to 120 PSI, just where it should be. I fueled and started out, changing the gears so smoothly, the transmission almost sucking each shift into place like it was eager to be let loose to run the blacktop again.
I settled into my rhythm, watching the road before and behind, disliking the cool mist falling, not rain yet but not clear either. My rig has almost 800,000 miles on her. She ain't a kid anymore, not by a long shot. I drive like an old man, ease the fuel down, soft-foot the clutch when I let it out.
Only 40 miles into my trip, climbing the first hard grade into the Appalachian mountains heading into West Virginia, I saw a vehicle rolled over in the median. A woman was standing in the dead grass, frantically waving in the darkness. I hit the shoulder, popped the brakes, cut on the emergency flashers. Grabbing my flashlight, I bailed out of the cab. Cars were coming up from the rear, full bore. They didn't know they were getting ready to hit a debris field from that wreck. The sound of cars hitting that debris resounded, but they hardly slowed at all. The incongruous thought ran through my mind "Why the Hell hasn't anyone else stopped?"
I dodged debris and cars, made my way across to the woman. She is Hispanic, holding a toddler to her chest. She is breathlessly thanking me, thanking God for the light, for help. She speaks English, though accented. I ask her if anyone else is in the vehicle, a minivan. She says "No, no one else inside." Then she screams "My friend, my friend." I shine the light and see a form lying in the grass, face down. I go there and see a young woman, her face turned to the side. I can't see any movement, none at all. I tell the woman with the child that I have to go to my truck, get the cellphone, call for help. I run the gauntlet of cars and debris again, get to the phone, make the call. The 911 operator says it's already been called in. I wonder why whoever called didn't stay there, try to help. Did they see the accident, call 911 and just keep motoring?
I returned to the woman who was still screaming for her friend, sobbing her shock and fear into the misty darkness. The girl who had been lying face down was now on her back. The other woman must have turned her over, but I didn't see it happen. She was a very large girl, lying there, unmoving. From this new perspective I could see why. She had an abdominal laceration and the contents were not where they were supposed to be.
A car parked behind my rig, and a woman ran across to the scene. She was an EMT, and she wasted no time, checked for a pulse. She didn't find one.
That poor girl was lying there, broken in the night. Her face was completely at rest, no frown lines, no expression, not even a tear or any dirt marred her. She was one of those people who you can look at and see them when they were a baby. I saw a small olive-skinned girl, round and happy, just learning to toddle. Her face had that unencumbered baby look to it. I knew she was no longer encumbered with the cares of this world. She had business to attend elsewhere.
I heard the wail of a siren, saw the lights flashing as the first rescue unit arrived. God, I felt such relief. I wasn't alone any more, somebody who knew what the devil they were doing had arrived. After checking the situation, they went immediately to that broken girl. Checked for pulse, respiration, pupil response. Nothing, not a flicker. What needed doing was putting a clean white blanket over that still form, protecting her from the elements, giving her a last tiny bit of consideration until the Coroner arrived. Several other rescue units arrived, a fire truck, the State Police.
I stayed there, helped kick debris off the highway, answered questions. I heard one of the EMT's tell the still frantic lady "Please calm down now, you're frightening the baby." Her reply was "Not my baby." The realization hit me that the form under the blanket was the child's mother. That poor child had just lost her mother, so quickly, so finally.
What had began as an accident in the darkness had now become a circus, complete with costumed characters and flashing colored lights. I saw the lady who had flagged me down in an ambulance, the attendant installing a neck brace.
The State Trooper asked me what I knew, which wasn't a lot. I didn't see what happened. He thanked me and told me I could go. From the tracks it looked like the vehicle left the roadway, entered the median, rolled over, and came to a rest on it's side in the median again. That vehicle wasn't wrecked, it was disassembled, torn all to Hell and gone. I couldn't see how the woman and baby were alive, much less standing and relatively cogent. They couldn't have gotten out of the passenger side as that was the side the vehicle came to rest on. The driver's side was looking skyward. The windshield was splintered, but intact. How did they get out, how did the lady come to be lying in the grass? Were they plucked out by the hands of angels? I don't know.
I put the rig in gear, eased the clutch out. What I had viewed an an inconvenient night for myself became something else. It sure had become a lot more than inconvenient for 3 of my fellow human beings. It's enough to make a person reflect on the Law of Relativity. What is relatively bad for you may be another person's horror.
I got to a spot where I could pull off, regroup a little. I called my wife, let her know what I'd encountered. I told her when she ended her day to please say a prayer for those 3 people. A lady standing in the darkness, clutching a toddler, and that broken doll. "And while you're praying, please don't forget to ask for my continued protection, ok?" She assured me she would, and I know she meant it. She's my sanity, where I go to unburden my mind.
I know that unburdening myself in this manner lightens my load, but makes hers heavier. I can't help myself, sometimes.