Yesterday, I crashed my car.
Wait. The right words are very important.
Yesterday, I was involved in a car crash. Yesterday, my car crashed. Yesterday, two cars crashed, and I was in one of them.
Yesterday, some crazy woman in an SUV —
No, that’s not right either. Or, from another perspective, it’s exactly as right as all the others.
The facts are these: yesterday morning, after Light’s elementary school delayed the start of classes because of the torrential rain, I drove her to school via the grocery store. While turning off the highway to climb the hill to the school, an SUV struck the front-right wing of my car at immense speed. Both cars spun in lazy circles on the wet road. I have bruises on my knees and across my chest from the seat-belt, and Light has a sore wrist. No other injuries were sustained, in either car. The air-bags didn’t deploy. The eggs in the trunk didn’t break. For reasons which elude me, the passenger-side brake light was broken. The windshield cracked in three clean, straight lines, but it did not break.
Yesterday, a number of complex systems including physics, mechanical engineering, meteorology, human psychology and chance joined forces to spray fragments of glass and body-work across a four-way junction.
Bruises are healing, Light slept well last night and was pretty relaxed, all things considered, about being driven to school this morning. We’re as completely insured as it is possible to be, and the gap between the value of the car and the market value isn’t so large that we’ll be very far underwater. We are, by any measure, incredibly fortunate.
Yesterday, I was stupid lucky.
The reason that the words are important is this: I feel guilt. That’s no surprise, I have a thing with guilt. I will take responsibility for things are completely beyond my control, and feel terrible about them. I’m not just talking about apologies, from the casual to the sincere — I’m British, that’s a significant part of my social engineering — but rather the deep-seated feeling that I did something wrong, that I must atone, that I can never be forgiven. The truth, as I see it calmly right now, is that it was an accident. I didn’t do anything wrong, and neither did the driver of the SUV. It was One Of Those Things.
Yesterday, a decision I made endangered my daughter and four other people.
Even as I write these words, I want to justify my response. I want to say that when you’re driving, what happens is your responsibility. When you’re a parent, what happens is your responsibility. I was in charge, so what happened was my fault. Don’t pity me, don’t forgive me, just let me carry this.
But the right words are important: responsibility is not the same as fault. I took responsibility: I checked on Light, and got her to safety; I checked on the other vehicle, and helped where I could. I called Lani, dealt with the police officer, spoke with the tow-truck guy. I did everything that I could do, but the thought of what could have happened is terrible, so terrible that I can’t even enumerate the specifics. That’s alright; you know what they are. Things could have been worse, and the fact that they weren’t is… chance. Luck. This is my fault, and only improbable good fortune saved the day. I’m a monster, and I should feel guilt.
Yesterday, I made a mistake that cannot be forgiven. It was a long time coming.
This is the difficult part. Here goes: I grew up believing that I was bad, unworthy, rotten to the core. It isn’t true, of course, but a lot of those dark little whispers took root in my soul, and I believed them. Bad things happened, people let me down, I made poor decisions — but what else could be expected of a witless wretch like me? Those things aren’t true, but they’re still there, and when I’m tired, or stressed, or afraid, they come back, casting doubt over every good decision, leeching away the happiness from the most peaceful of moments, and promising with dark foreboding that some grim day, it will happen. I’ll lose everything. And I’ll deserve it.
I’m working through it, and have been for some time, but yesterday was tough. Lani calls it The Bullshit — even the kids call it that, and take a certain amount of glee in pointing out when I slip toward the dark. For the first time, I’m beginning to accept that the things I have always believed are not — and have never been — true.
That’s why the right words are important. If my attention slips, I start to rewrite what happened, tumbling down into culpability, guilt and self-loathing. When I remember that it was an accident, that I did everything I could do, and that I wouldn’t blame any other person in world for what happened, then I can keep perspective. It’s a long road ahead, but things are, for the first time, beginning to change. It really is time to let The Bullshit go.
Yesterday, I crashed my car. Today, I’m doing okay.