Sometimes, something will just hit you like a semi truck. And occasionally, that thing is an actual semi truck.
There you are, driving along, minding your own business, when the cab of a tractor-trailer suddenly veers in front of you.
“Well, there goes my day,” you think.
In the movies, when this happens, people’s lives flash before their eyes. What flashed before my eyes last Tuesday was a giant trailer grinding its way over my side mirror and A-pillar, its gleaming, indestructible flank looming large in my windshield as it grated to a halt. Let’s face it, my entire life is not half as interesting as a (literal) front seat to a truck-car collision. There are entire cable networks devoted to truck-car collisions.
The semi dragged my car sideways, and then – as the trucker threw his engine in reverse as if he were trying to backspace a simple typing error – pulled me back in the opposite direction. Our perilous pas de deux was arranged to a jarring symphony of metal screaming against metal and the horn on which I was leaning out of pure instinct.
There was no moment of reflection, no scenes of childhood or loves lost or other brushes with mortality (since I live not-so-dangerously, those would consist mainly of watching the 2000 election go to Bush and, of course, eating my own cooking). There was simply the awareness that being hit by a semi was going to really suck, and that he had better not drive over the back end of my car because my 2-year-old was with me, and that my husband would be carless and who was going to pick up the kids from school?
And what really hit me – as the semi hit me – was that one should always check the left-hand lane for careless, mirror-eschewing drivers of tractor-trailers, just in case there’s one attempting a wide right turn across two lanes. Because they can turn you into soup.
Thank goodness for car horns and my preternaturally loud voice. (And for this being a parking-lot accident instead of a highway accident.)
As the trucker continued to back up, compounding the damage despite resistant squeals from my car’s frame, his buddy finally realized that I was yelling at him to let me do the backing up. You know, seeing as how I was not the one in a 10-ton vehicle climbing over a small SUV monster-rally style, and all.
My car limped back a few feet, the denuded rims of my wheels yielding nails-on-a-chalkboard shrieks with each shuddering inch. The truck parked a good 30 yards away, at the other end of the parking lot – perhaps because, as he had just illustrated so amply, his vehicle was a beast to maneuver, but perhaps to distance himself from the fact that he had nearly flattened a mom and baby who were driving safely in the appropriate lane of a busy parking lot.
As I climbed out to survey the damage, I wasn’t sure how my car was going to look. I was fine on the outside, but I felt shattered. First, my car had been hit by a semi, and it had all played out in ultra slow-mo. The turning of the cab. Me slamming the brake to the floor and skidding to a halt, avoiding the cab. The corner of the trailer swinging toward me, like a scene from “Final Destination,” but framed in my windshield instead of on a movie screen. And then the crunching and screaming of metal.
As it turned out, my small SUV was neither totaled nor unrecognizable. The trailer had passed over my front end, sparing the hood but leaving a deep gash in a support pillar. My mirror had been sheared off and was lying in the road, its little wires sticking out in forlorn resignation. Other than that, the only damage was to the two front tires, flattened by the weight of the semi as it lurched against my car, ripping them from the rims and shredding the rubber like it was so much mozzarella cheese. They had needed replacing anyway. What mattered was that the little son and I were fine.
It’s a little over a week out from my tangle with the semi. The car is still in the shop. The insurance company is still trying to determine fault. (Yes, I should have noticed that a truck had pulled into the opposite lane to make a wide right into the parking lot, instead of assuming my lane was wide open. No, he clearly did not check his mirrors.)
Whatever the decision, I am already being punished more than my insurance company can possibly imagine. No, not with guilt. With a repair-shop courtesy car. It is ugly, smells of stale cigarettes and motor oil, and handles about as well as my car did after being hit by a semi.
And now, a week later, it is finally happening. Every time a truck pulls out in an intersection or turns into a side street, each time a tractor-trailer wobbles halfway into my lane on a rain-slicked road, my life flashes before my eyes.