(So as to keep you from thinking me a sociopath for addressing the following with careless light-heartedness, let posterity note that no one was seriously injured in the scenario detailed below.)
Throughout my 25 years I have rarely been recognized for my heroism. I’ve made a reputation for being sarcastic, impatient, brash even…but as far as my memory serves me, I’ve never been thought extraordinarily heroic.
This weekend proved precisely why that is.
So after almost one full year of planning my college roommate and I finally arranged a hang-out. She lives all the way in Wichita- a whopping 2.5 hours away- so it’s understandable that the scheduling took us so long…epic fail. As she came to Nompton in August ‘08 it was my turn to head to Kansas, so following a 10 hour workday I drained 2 Diet Cokes, grabbed my never-completely-unpacked suitcase and hit I-35 for a weekend of reminiscing.
Our mini-holiday was littered with outings fun only to complete losers like Melissa and myself…in college we’d make an evening of visiting the local pet store (for “puppy therapy,” which consisted of cuddling puppies and contemplating ways of buying them without being disowned by our parents), then gorging ourselves on Mexican food or sushi. So our reunion took a similar route; we went to a wildlife park, visited the Wichita humane society, and ate at the local hibachi grill. As I said, we are losers.
But the “highlight” of the trip occurred on our way home from our aforementioned jaunt to the humane society. It’s worth mentioning that on the drive there Melissa skillfully avoided several bags of partially demolished mulch on US-96. There was a bit of swerving and some slight braking, but for the most part it was an anticlimactic incident of road debris. No harm, no foul.
Unfortunately for several other Kansans, one hour later a less chillax driver saw the mulch and reacted quite differently.
So we’re driving home from the grown up version of puppy therapy, me yappin on about my newly discovered gift of child-rearing...it was an engrossing tale no doubt, and I was therefore dismayed to find she was paying me absolutely zero attention. For no reason I could imagine she abruptly began hugging the steering wheel, peering dramatically onto the highway ahead and mumbling something about, “no oh no oh nooo that’s not good.”
So I gaze out on the road, trying to locate the reason for her disrespectful distraction. We’re in the left lane, and in the right lane about 20 feet ahead another car starts braking in the strangest manner. It seems to mimic the “oh sh*t a cop” braking cars do when they realize they’ve been radared, so I chalk up Mel’s behavior to her not wanting to get a ticket. Here I am telling a fascinating story and she tunes me out to fret over a damn radar gun. Cheapskate.
Then, just as I’m about to do the obnoxious thing where you force those suspected of ignoring you to repeat everything you’ve just said, I catch something racing towards me out of the corner of my eye.
And I realize it’s the front-end of a car.
Suddenly two things dominate my thoughts as if etched to the inside of my skull:
1. So this is what a head-on collision looks like
2. OH SH*T IMA DIE (this thought quickly materialized into a stream of high-pitched yelling, directed inadvertently into Melissa’s right ear. Am very helpful in stressful situations.)
Miraculously (and I mean that, as the car was barreling directly towards us), Mel managed to brake enough to miss the runaway vehicle just as it smashed into the weirdly-braking car in the right lane. (In retrospect I now understand why it was braking like it was; clearly the driver saw the out-of-control car, had NO EFFING CLUE what to do about it, and was therefore preparing for impact by braking, squeezing his eyes shut and yelling OH SH*T IMA DIE. Of course I’m only speculating here, but I’m pretty sure that’s what I’d do in his stead.)
So we miss the car (which is already alllll kinds of smashed up as it hit a guardrail while flying across the median), and Mel pulls off the road while car parts fly as if propelled by an F-5. She comes to a stop, looks at me and asks “are you okay,” I stammer “HOLY SH*T” and she says “we have to go help.”
To which I respond with my best HAVE YOU LOST YOUR DAMN MIND face.
“What? What?? I can’t—I don’t know—what if we—WE HAVE TO GET OUT OF THE ROAD!!!” I finally succeed at verbalizing a complete thought, so she throws her 4runner into drive and pulls further into the grassy median. Then she turns again to me and says “we have to help,” and I ogle her in complete confusion and fear. I’d hoped by bringing to light our severe vulnerability—by pointing out the impending danger and doom associated with chillin’ on the road after several cars have smashed into one another—she would come to her senses and agree to get the hell outa dodge. I mean, I’m a pretty smart girl and everything, but Mending Bones 101 is not a required class for journalism majors…and hanging around unable to provide medical aid with the possibility of becoming wreckage-victims # 3 and 4 seemed quite unnecessary. But there she sat, insisting her plan to abandon the protective steel frame of the SUV was both rational and severely pertinent.
So she's staring at me, waiting impatiently for my “oi, let’s go save the day!” epiphany...and seconds before I blurt out “OKAY YEAH I HAD CPR TRAINING BUT OHMYWORD MELISSA WHAT DO YOU EXPECT ME TO DO??!” I remember something previously blocked by the distress afflicting my mind.
Melissa is a registered nurse.
At the same moment that I comprehend why she’s so determined to “go help” (because, by Jove, she actually can), Mel loses her patience with me and sighs “okay well I have to help” and hops out of the car.
“Yes, you—you help” I stutter.
“Yeah, okay…and you call 911 with my phone!” She points aimlessly into her car, apparently directing me to her cell but I of course do not catch on. So she turns to go help, I clamber awkwardly into the driver’s seat (I have NO IDEA why I did this, and it earned me a “what the hell are you doing” look from Melissa), and I begin fumbling around the console for her phone.
What seems like centuries later I find it, plaster it to my ear, realize I’ve forgotten to dial and look down at it only to realize IT’S HER EFFING IPOD. Sweet Jesus. After cursing my stupidity I once again begin my search, but as I tear apart the innards of her purse I think of something and stop abruptly.
Mel has an iPhone. I do not possess the mental prowess to operate an iPhone.
So I curse some more, realize I HAVE MY OWN DAMN PHONE and lunge for it (as it’s still in the passenger seat, where I logically should be). I dial 911 and am momentarily confused to see I’m calling “Emergency” (because who do I know by the name “Emergency”? Fail).
Then a forcefully calm voice says “911, what’s your emergency?”
And I say,
“There’s been a wreck….”
And I pause.
Because I don’t have a flippin’ clue where I am.
“What is your location, miss?”
“Umm….” And feeling like one of those punkass kids who prank calls 911, I mutter “I don’t actually know.”
Long pause, on the part of the 911 lady. “Okay…”
“Ooo, can you find me with GPS!?” I practically holler, thinking I am Genius and have found the solution.
“Maybe…” she says, but it’s soon clear that as I have a lame-ass, non-smart phone I might as well be in a small black hole engulfed by the Bermuda Triangle. So she asks me if I’m on an interstate, and then we debate whether that’s the same thing as a highway…and then she asks what part of Wichita I’m in, and all I can offer is that it’s by the humane society. Fail, fail, fail.
In the interim I’m filling in details about the accident, in a pathetic attempt to do SOMETHING worthwhile…
“I don’t think anybody’s injured, but airbags did deploy…except in the one car, which I think is too old for airbags.”
The lady latches onto to this line of conversation.
“So what kind of cars were involved?”
My heart sinks a little lower in my stomach, because I know I’m about to Epic Fail the 911 dispatch woman yet again. “Umm, the one that crossed the median is silver…?” (and in my defense it was so crunched up I literally couldn’t tell the make or model), “and the other is tan. NO! Brown. Umm…brownish tan? And old?”
Then, increasingly desperate to save face, I spot a man meandering the grassy median and proceed to chase him down.
“Sir? Sir!” I call. Perhaps this fellow can tell me where in BFE we are! But I keep calling, and he doesn’t respond…at one point he looks directly at me but walks the other way. To quote Stephanie Tanner, how RUDE.
So my self-righteous don’t-you-ignore-ME-buddy mindset kicks into gear, and I haul ass to catch him as he wanders the opposite way down US-96. “Excuse me sir! SIR!!” I literally yell inches from his face, and he finally turns to gaze wearily upon me.
“CAN YOU PLEASE TELL ME WHERE THE HELL WE ARE??”
With an irritating amount of difficulty he tells me our location, which I then relay to the dispatch. I give him a quirt nod and a dismissive “thanks,” then mentally shun him for being a douchetard and hesitating to provide necessary information in a time of crisis.
But as I glare after my newfound Least Favorite Person in Wichita, he wanders back to his car. Which is the vehicle that was broadsided just moments before.
And he was the driver of the vehicle that was broadsided just moments before.
I am a horrible person.
I consider re-chasing him down and apologizing for being an ass, but I figure he’s so much in shock he won’t remember it 5 minutes later…and besides, the 911 lady is once again asking me difficult questions.
“Can you tell me what direction you’re facing?” she says with practiced patience. I choke back the words WELL WHAT DO YOU THINK? and instead mumble something about getting my bearings.
I look left, right, and up, then realize with despair that I have never, ever been able to tell what direction I’m facing. So in my frustration I seek aid…but instead of asking any one of the dozen or so people now gathered on the road, I spot a passing van.
And run after it.
I’m waving my arms, my phone tucked awkwardly under my chin. The driver looks alarmed and confused (as well he should be), but making the naïve assumption that I must have a good reason for chasing him down he slows and rolls down his window.
“WHAT DIRECTION IS THIS??” I blurt out, pointing furiously in the direction of traffic.
“Uhh, east?” he replies with trepidation. He continues on by reciting our exact location, and as I got that info from the last guy I jumped I wave him impatiently onward and shout "East! It's EAST I'm facing east, east!" into the phone.
“Okay…thanks.” says the 911 lady, in a please-calm-down-you’re-hurting-my-ears voice. Then she asks “are you calling from a 911 cell phone” and I get desperately confused…saying that yes, I am on a cell phone and yes, I did call 911, so does that make it a 911 cell phone? Apparently her wires got crossed and she thought I was calling from within the 911 network…and I guess she thought I actually worked for 911...…in which case ohmyword I hope she requested to have me fired.
But as I continue to iron out the 911 cell phone debacle, Melissa suddenly returns and begins ushering me back into the car. “Everybody’s okay,” she says, buckling with care and casting one last glance at the metal massacre in her rearview mirror. “Thanks for calling 911!”
After cautiously rejoining traffic on the fateful US-96, she looks curiously at me (back in the passenger seat where I belong) and repeats, “hey, thanks for calling 911.”
And in that split second- in the “do or die” moment when I can opt to take the high road and reveal my utter ineptitude at heroism- I do the most obvious and logical thing I can think of.
“Oh yeah, no problem. It's the least I could do.”
They say you can die a hero or live a coward...but I choose to be the blithering idiot caught somewhere in between.