The Defining Moment

One defining moment changed my life for the good, for the bad, and most importantly, forever.

It’s funny how memories work. Sometimes, when you want to remember, you can’t, and other times, when you want to forget, all you can do is remember, over and over, like a carousel. Your mind is trapped by the memory, trapped by the defining moment. Tirelessly repeating. Endlessly searching for other options.

It’s funny how that works, as if your mind is searching for options in retrospect. You know, like when you have an argument and that witty comment comes to you a few minutes after the heat ends. But there is no way of going back and in time and changing what you you said or didn’t say. When the argument is over, it’s over, and all you can take from it is knowing that you should have said what you didn’t say or maybe the opposite, that you should have never said what you did. It’s the same with a defining moment, only the repetitive nature lasts longer; sometimes, it never leaves.  After this major life event, there was no exit, no solution. I can tell myself I should have done that, or I shouldn’t have done that, but in this case, it wouldn’t have made a difference.

Thinking back to that morning, before it happened, nothing stands out really. It was a morning just like every other morning, one I would normally forget. I didn’t wake up on the wrong side of the bed, and nothing was particularly wrong. It was a day like every other day, except for one important fact: that morning, I was running late. Maybe it’s not even worth pointing that out. I ran late often. I still run late often.  I am my mother’s daughter, and tardiness is second nature to me.

In those days, when I was running late, my mama would drive me and my cousin Clara to school. Clara was in middle school and would get dropped off at our house early in the morning, because the schools in my neighborhood were better than the ones in hers, and her parents wanted the best for her. Since I was still in elementary school, my bus would leave way before she got dropped off. But this particular morning, I was running super late and I had missed the bus so my mama was going to take us both to school.

I remember it still as if it just happened. It’s sharp, clear as glass. I grabbed my backpack and my shoes and slid into the front seat of my mama’s everest-green 1995 Toyota Corolla. The car was almost brand new – it couldn’t have been more than a few months old. I remember how much she loved that car. She’d had a Chrysler Caravan prior to purchasing the Corolla. It was a nasty maroon van, the kind you see in those old movies where families pile into their minivans and no one is particularly happy about being there. It was the same for us. No one liked the minivan, and my mama hated driving it.  So when she got the Corolla, it became the light of her eyes – she honestly loved that car and never really minded driving it as much as she did “La Van”, as she called it.

I sat next to my mama as she drove us to school. Like usual, she talked about pretty much everything on the drive. She repetitively spoke about my tardiness, and I zoned out. She’s always had a way of repeating herself, so there was no real need to listen to every detail. I sat there, scrambling around my seat, looking for my socks. I couldn’t find them, so naturally, I unbuckled my seat belt. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking – how was that a good idea? It wasn’t. It was not a good idea, but I did it anyway. I squirmed in my seat and managed to put both socks on, and then I bent over to tie my shoes. I guess I was bent over too long. Maybe, if I had been sitting up straight, I could have helped somehow. But really, there was nothing I could have done.  When I made it back up, it was too late. All I could see was the car heading right toward us. And it all happened so quickly. A quick blink and BAM. My blood pumped through my body like a hurricane swarms through water, fast and steady. My legs were shaking; my palms were perspiring. Our car was smoking, and the other car was in the middle of the road. My ears were ringing. Was I alive? Was everyone else alive? Could I move? My family was fine. I was fine, or so it seemed. My mama stepped out in a panic. Clara was sitting in the back seat, still in shock. I got out of the car and circled around, not knowing what to do.

Clara stepped out, and all three of us stood outside by the Corolla, watching as the ambulance took the driver of the other car away on a stretcher. I felt so lucky. There we were. We had just had a major accident, and all three of us walked away from the accident scene without a scratch.

From that point on, I can’t remember much. My brother came to the rescue and I got dropped off at school. The rest of the day is a blur. I continued my life as if I had just ran over a tiny bump in the road.

Somehow, that accident became such a defining moment in my life. It became life before the accident and life after. I know now that life is filled with defining moments, filled with madness and craziness that comes in so many different ways, from so many different directions. But at that age, I hadn’t had too many defining moments other than the death of my father, so a defining moment like this one made a huge impact on me.

Two weeks after the accident was when everything started. It was then that the pain came crashing down like a million tiny needles hitting my entire spine. It was then that I realized I had trouble sitting in a chair for too long. It was then that my physical body was letting my mind know that things were off. I went from the age of nine to eighty in a split second. I couldn’t run during P.E., because my body ached all over. I felt like I was dying, or maybe like a train had just crashed into me at full speed. Every ounce of my body ached and I didn’t know what to do. I thought for sure that the accident had ruined my life and that I would be in pain forever. Somehow, I was right – I would be in pain, forever, and I would never be the same.