In “On Writing”, which is also a concentrated story of his life, Stephen King describes how, while on a walk, he was run over and nearly killed by a mad driver. I too brushed with death in a car accident, some twenty years ago. And it was my fault: a brief loss of attention, tiredness, the usual story: that evening I should not have been driving at all. But I don’t not want to tell you, reader, about the circumstances. All car crashes are, in some way, due to one main reason: being there at the wrong time. What still interests me about that crash is the way rehabilitation came, the slow journey to recovery, mental and physical.
First there is a sense of guilt, of utter responsibility: the other driver I could have killed, his family, my family, my employer, whose car I wrecked, mankind in general. And of course there is the pain, the multiple fractures, the painkillers, the gloomy hospital wards, what one reads, or thinks one reads, in other people’s eyes. The first year is plain hell: guilt, pain and remorse. Concentration is impossible, there is always a loop back to that instant: the fraction of a second when it happens, when all goes dark. Sleep, normal sleep, is an old memory, now is the time of awake nightmares, restarting anew every night.
In the second year rehabilitation is merely a dream. But there is at least a chance to start exercising again, slowly, to walk, to read a bit. The shame is there, the fear of being damned, the total loss of confidence. There is also the realisation that “going back to normal” will not happen. The new normal is this: not only remembering, but having the accident constantly in mind, as a tune for ever imprinted in one’s skull, never escaped from. Another year goes by, work has changed, real world events unfold, people die. Slowly the awareness of the triviality of one small incident grows.
And then new habits are created: the daily life become a series of small exercises, attempts at recreating an order. Over a decade the body adapts, the pain is still there, but diffused, some strength comes back, and with it some confidence. And, today, I think I was just plain lucky.