I have so many things to say, and yet I cannot seem to find any words. So much has happened this week, and in some ways I am finding it difficult to process it all. Today is the eleventh anniversary of the car accident in which my identical twin sister Louise and our dad died (me and Louise were a few days shy of six, our little brother Dan was three). I always find the week of the fifth of April emotional, the anniversary doesn't make me miss Louise and Daddy more, because I miss them in everything that I do; but somehow their absence has a greater gravity to it.
|Daddy and Louise|
I was conscious throughout the whole of the accident, so I saw everything that happened and, unsurprisingly for a five year old, I guess, was traumatised by it. I have been nervous of all modes of transport since (strangely I've always had the biggest issues dealing with trains- there were times in the past when we couldn't go into large stations without me freaking out majorly, which was slightly problematic given that we lived in London!). In cars I have a habit of counting in my head: counting lampposts, counting cars we drive past, counting the number of times I clench and unclench my toes in a rhythmic pattern if it's dark outside. I always assume that car accidents are waiting just around every corner. Whenever anyone is late anywhere or doesn't reply to a text I am convinced that they are lying in a ditch somewhere. So, I was prepared for Tuesday's events.
My mum was taking me to an appointment, and we had just turned out onto the main road (the top of Winkholme, for anyone who knows the Cowling area) when she had a sneezing fit. I'm not entirely sure exactly what happened, but the sudden sneeze meant Mum couldn't straighten the car up in time. For a split second of forever I saw the rusted iron railings that line the roadside superimposed on the empty sky, and then I felt the car being lifted up beneath me. A strange sensation of total calmness filled me as I realised we were going to go over the edge. And then we were falling.
The power of metal on earth was mind blowing. We dropped about six feet before hitting the field that slopes sharply downwards at the edge of the road, and started to rolly-polly down it. My eyes were open, and I could see everything as though it was moving underwater. Our possessions flying around the car; the mud through my window at one point when the car was on its side with the passenger door momentarily planted to the ground; the windows each in turn shattering into one thousand crystals of broken glass that seemed to fall around us like snow. Being in a car that is upside down (albeit only for a second at a time) should be terrifying, but somehow it seemed surreally natural to me. I was not afraid. As we were rolling, I knew, without even having to think about it, that my mum was going to die. People say that when they are in accidents they see their whole life flash before their eyes, but I saw my future. In a split second I lived through every moment that would pass differently because my mum wouldn't be there to see it. I am no stranger to bereavement, and I can tell you that I saw a lot of moments. Maybe it is strange, but it didn't cross my mind that there was a possibility of me being injured, let alone dying. I think its because I escaped the first accident with cuts and bruises, but watched half my family die and the other half in intensive care. That is the only event in my life that I thought of as the car went tumbling down: a lone image of a balloon floating above the bed of another patient in the ICU when I went to visit my mum.
It felt as though it would never stop. In a strange way that I cannot explain, I didn't want it to. I was so convinced that when we got to the bottom she would be lying there, motionless next to me, and that I would have to live through it all again. Some people say that they are scared of aeroplanes, others say they are scared of dying when the aeroplane crashes. I do not mind accidents, what scares me is the thought of surviving. Somehow, it seemed easier to remain in this state, where my world was physically turning upside down, than to face the endless spiraling that is the loss of a parent. Although I couldn't hear myself, apparently the whole way down I was screaming 'Are you alive? Mum, are you alive?'. Suddenly we came to a halt, I looked across at her, and she said, 'I'm an idiot.' That was the most illogical and wonderful thing I have heard in years.
|We survived, the car did not|
Some people respond to shock by crying, staring into space or breaking down. Strangely, I tend to morph into some kind of determined, composed human being who takes control of the situation.
'Right, I'm going to call for help.'
My phone had been flung out the car by the force with which we crashed into the floor every time we rolled. I brushed the shards of glass off the handle and pushed, the door opened and I climbed out. I found my phone resting on a mound of upturned earth not far from where we had landed. I had already rung my step dad, explained what had happened and that we were both fine before I noticed Mum, stuck in the car due to her door being dented the wrong way, shouting at me to let her speak to him. The man in the car in front of us had seen us go over in his mirror and pulled over to help. By this point, he had climbed into the field and made it down the hill to the car, and quickly switched the engine off (the rest of the car was totally destroyed, but amazingly the engine lives on!). Thank you Mr. Blue-Van-Driver, we didn't realise until later that you were so concerned about switching the car off to stop it exploding (Mum thought 'Oh yes that makes sense no point wasting petrol'!). Mum climbed out across the passenger seat and various members of the village turned out to help.
I frequently hear people complain about the emergency services, but a police officer was on the scene within minutes of being called, and an ambulance followed not long after. We were both fine, cuts and bruises but nothing more, but they still wanted to check us over. The ambulance crew then insisted on waiting with us until my step dad arrived to pick us up ('Oh no, you can't stand out there it's cold!'). Then there was the man who works at the local garage who picked all our stuff up from where it was strewn across the field, the kind lady who went home and made cups of tea for everyone and all the other people who stopped to see if there was anything they could do to help. I feel like I belong in my village.
It is only now, a few days later, that what happened has hit me. I keep reliving the falling, feeling the car roll and the world turn upside down. I can't stop this uncontrollable panic from rising within me, but I guess that is natural. I keep crying and shaking randomly, and then being okay again. It has also brought all my memories from the first accident to the front of my mind, I won't dwell on them now as that is another whole post, but I am reliving that accident and the aftermath of it too. I am very lucky though, I have supportive family and friends, and their help means a lot to me.
This accident (which I have nicknamed 'accident 2') has come at rather unfortunate timing: three days before the anniversary. My mum and brother have gone to London to visit Daddy and Louise's grave, but I opted to stay home. For me, one trip down a hill in a car is enough traveling for one week! Everyone who saw where we crashed said they were amazed we weren't seriously injured. I don't know quite what I believe about life after death, but I think that somehow, Daddy and Louise's love kept us safe as we fell. I just hope that, wherever they are, they are together and they know that I love them.
|Louise and Daddy's grave|
Anniversaries can be difficult times, it is hard to sit there thinking 'this exact moment eleven years ago I was sat at the side of a motorway with total strangers whilst my family were trapped in the car dying' (they got me out the car through one of the windows). I often wonder, if there is an afterlife, what do people do on the anniversary of the day that they died. I like to think that they are doing something nice, that they are happy. I sent pebbles to the cemetery for them, which Mum found their last time she went. 'Integrity' for Daddy because of his honesty, and 'Sunshine' for Louise because she was so bright and full of life. I like to think that even though she is no longer with us, that brightness shines on.