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very bad trip.



winter blues.
We don't get out much. Well, at least not at night. Once the sun sets, it's as if we have to rush back in before the cast of the Thriller video come out for a flesh-eating dance-off. With the exception of dinners hosted by other parents who have small beings, or hosting for said parents, our social life since 2015 is not as fluid as it once was. 


I used to think new parents only wanted to spend time with other new parents just so they can sit around and talk about being parents. But no, that's not it. We gravitate towards new parents so we can actually socialize while tricking our kids into thinking the evening is about them. "Do you want to play with Marcus tonight?" is code for "Mommy and Daddy want to get drunk with Marcus' parents tonight." And the only way the deception is effective is with another child, an out-of-the-way playroom and a Netflix account on standby once the kids start fighting over a toy your child hasn't touched since he was 9 months old. 


Case in point: We had one of Aurélien's colleagues over for dinner the other night and Georges treated him like a science project. With eyebrows pinched with suspicion, I could see Georges wondering two things. One: why was this guest not accompanied by a child? Because according to Georges' experience, all adults come with tiny counterparts. And two: what could he get away with since this lone wolf clearly did not know what a child was? The evening was more action-packed than usual with the playroom neglected since Aurélien's colleague proved to be much more interesting. Poor guy. I don't think he will be accepting any future invitations chez nous. 

When we received an invitation to celebrate the PACS (a civil union)of our two good friends, we decided to switch it up from playdate dinner parties and party like it was 2014. Back in Paris. With our friends who either don't have kids, don't want/like kids or left their kids at home. Fitting into the third profile, I grew giddy at the prospect of actually engaging in an unabridged conversation complete with follow-up questions and genuine interest! "What are we bringing to the party again?" Aurélien asked me the day before. "I told you," I shouted from the other room, "A bottle of Champagne and genuine interest." 

The plan was set. At exactly 16:30 Central European Time we dropped Georges off at Mémé's (much to the light objection from Aurélien's mother, this is the name Georges has chosen for her, which is the seldom-used sobriquet meaning Granny), our car had gas, and I had sequin jogging pants on. Before Mémé could even get an au revoir out, the car was screeching like Meatloaf's Bat Out of Hell II out of her driveway. 

To tailor the words of the late Biggie to set the scene: we were going going, back back, to Par-ee Par-ee. I then put my damn hands up.

In the car we talked with great passion about where we'd grab a bite to eat before going to the party. Did we want to go up to Belleville for Chinese? Get a pulled pork burger near Bastille? Mexican in the Marais? As we fancied ourselves with the diverse culinary delights of Paris, we saw a car ahead of us swerving in and out of his lane and into ours. "I don't like the way this car is driving," I pointed the obvious out to Aurélien. "He's probably texting. Let's get away from him." Aurélien agreed and we moved a lane over to steer clear of the car's path in order to pass him. As we glided passed, I looked over to see if I was right about the texting. Instead of finding someone's head hovering over a phone, I saw a young guy, early 20s with a hooded sweatshirt over his ears looking around with twitchy eyes. Our eyes met and I motioned for him to pay attention to the road. He nodded in acknowledgment, we left him safely behind us feeling satisfied that he had learned his lesson from my little hand gesture. Hand over heart, I guess parenting never ends, I thought as I glanced back at the rearview mirror with pious introspection.   

So here's when I jump in and note that setups like these, whether in writing or in film make it obvious to the observer that these two characters are going to interact again (otherwise why would the twitchy driver be cast in the first place). But in real life, these random interactions are common and fleeting and don't usually develop into a life-altering event. Real life, regrettably, doesn't flag these foreshadows. 

Fifteen minutes later, "twitchy eyes" was already forgotten and we were still talking about food (He's French, I'm Italian. We just can't help ourselves. It's always going to be about the food.) As we entered the densely populated section of the A6, the highway stretched out to seven lanes with cars pouring in from several mergers, fusing the journey from the countryside of Seine-et-Marne to the southern banlieues (outer city neighborhoods) of Paris. Despite the increase in traffic, we noted how well it was moving, and considered and stopping at the Leroy- Merlin hardware store to pick up picture frames before dinner. We were just that unstoppable that night. 

Just as we were deciding if we were getting ahead of ourselves— I mean, hardware store, dinner, and a party? Who were we?— Aurélien looked in his rearview mirror and said, "Look at this guy—" and before he could complete the sentence, we were launched forward in full force from our car being plowed into from the back. Because we were already driving at 70 miles per hour and the car behind us was clearly moving much faster (the police report estimated he was going about 90), we lost complete control on the busy highway. Our car made several 360-degree turns while smashing into objects, with each impact being louder and longer than the one before. With each collision that felt like the metal was crunching in closer, I remember waiting for the impact that was going kill us. 

Once the thrashing finally stopped, we sat in a thick of smoke unable to see in front of us. Although I couldn't see him, the sound of Aurélien's coughing gave me great relief that he was still alive. I waved the smoke away to find him and together we sat hand-in-hand absorbing the aftermath; blood dripping down his face; the four deployed airbags drooping listlessly with exhaustion from doing their job and the highway still bustling around us. With the car beeping in panic, it began to fill with more smoke, the thought then occurred to me that it was on fire. 

Terrified we would burn to death, I hurriedly unfastened our seat belts. I then reached for the door handle to my right, only to realize it was above me, which was how I learned that our car was on its side. Once I kicked the heavy car door open above us with my leg, I crawled out to our next unpleasant discovery: we were hovering on the concrete highway divider with the traffic whipping past us in both directions. 

What no one tells you is that car doors are really heavy to operate when they are not in their upright position. Getting this thing open was what I imagine pushing open a sewer grate would be like. The door resisted my foot's attempt at keeping it open by pounding against my ankle and once I was able to turn around, just for good measure, it got me again against my back. I hopped down from the car, with just a second to allow my fingers to escape the door's path of fury before it slammed shut in Aurélien's face. 

Helplessly I stood outside the car, tears streaming down my face from having to leave Aurélien to free himself when who comes walking up along the highway? To the surprise of absolutely no one was "twitchy eyes". 

I knew it. 

"Are you okay?" he asked us in what I will grant him was sincere concern and fear. 

Are we okay? Well, let's recap here: I warned you earlier of your irresponsible driving and you almost killed us, so no, we're not really okay. "et toi?" I asked. Yeah, that's right. I was pissed so I was not going to speak formally and vousvoyer him. It was tutoyer from here on, buddy. I wasn't playing around here. 

Aurélien who is like Thomas Jay and can't see without his glasses made it out of the car and was wandering dangerously close to the moving traffic. Aurélien ordered the boy to go in the car and look for the glasses as we called for help. 

The traffic began to back up with all lanes congested, some cars kindly offering to help, and some cars distastefully filming us with their phones. As we waited together, the driver confessed to having not slept in five days and fell asleep at the wheel. When rehashing the events the next day to my brother on the phone he didn't buy the story the kid gave us of not sleeping from studying all week. 

"Studying all week?" He echoed skeptically. "I call Crystal Meth." Maybe. But I didn't want to believe it. "You don't get to call Crystal Meth," I said, feeling like I always do when I talk to my brother, an 11-year-old with braces. "Plus, they don't even do that here." My brother, now the expert of French drug statistics and habits sealed his theory with, "There are labs."  

As the night grew darker and colder, Aurélien and I huddled to protect against the cold January air and car exhaust we were breathing in, while the other driver sat awkwardly next to us on the concrete divider, cuddling no one. 

Once the disbelief wore off, the physical pain began to set in. My neck and entire left side of my back grew stiff and throbbed with pain, which after an MRI and two X-Rays were results of whiplash. And Aurélien's chest became immobile from his diagnosis of a cracked sternum. On the highway that night, we cried in relief that Georges was not with us, which was an anomaly because he is always with us. The what-ifs and could-haves continue to haunt us and have kept me pale ever since. 


When the pompiers and police arrived, we were taken away on stretchers. Aurélien in his wool coat destroyed from airbag burn and me still in my sequin joggers, which were now just ridiculous since our evening was going to be spent in the Emergency Room. Before we parted ways on our stretchers, I reached my hand over to Aurlién and said, "So I guess this means we're not getting that dinner, huh?" Because, like I said, it always goes back to the damn food. 

Thank you all for the kind notes many of you have sent via e-mail, text and Instagram regarding this accident. We are still in recovery with Aurélien having had to take the month off from work and my whiplash unleashing residual problems that will take time and sessions with our fantastic ostéopathe to heal. We are told by all of the doctors and specialists that we've seen that we are lucky to be here. We truly do feel lucky, loved and looked after by some higher power. 

2 comments:

  1. Glad you're okay! What happened to the other driver? Was he arrested?

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  2. Thank you! We know how lucky we are. We don't for one second take that for granted. It's definitely changed our outlook, as cliché as that is. And no, he wasn't arrested. He was breathalyzed and drove home unscratched. Drowsy driving should be handled as drunk driving. He was clearly impaired.

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