First Responder

When I was 22 I got in a wreck with a semi-truck going 70 mph on a crowded stretch of I-44. My survival was deemed miraculous by the police and several other witnesses; I walked away completely unharmed, having inflicted several thousand dollar’s worth of damage to the semi. To this day I’m not sure exactly what happened. One moment I was driving straight and the next moment I looked out the driver’s side window and saw the grille of a semi two inches away from my face and I was being pushed along sideways at a great speed with smoke and a spray of rocks going everywhere and I have no idea how my tires didn’t pop and the car didn’t flip. Somehow my car became unstuck and I spun free of the semi and was thrown backwards into the other lane of oncoming traffic.

Yeah. It was weird to walk away from that one.

After I regained control of the car and managed to move it to the median, an older guy — overalls, potbelly, scratchy voice of a lifelong smoker — pulled his RV to the side of the road and jogged back to see if I was okay. He was the first responder.

“You okay there?” he said, in that standard-issue Missouri drawl that can sound so small and backwards at times and so warm and comforting at others. I could see his wife up ahead standing by the RV looking concerned. Traffic on both sides of us zoomed past.

We hugged. I couldn’t think of anything to say, so we just hugged each other in the way you might hug your own relatives or someone you care about, and then he thumped me on the back and jogged back up to join his wife. In a few moments the sirens arrived and the driver of the semi made his way back, looking like he had just narrowly escaped ruining his entire life by killing someone (which he had), and a few other people pulled over to help, but it’s the man in the RV whose face I’ll remember.

Small kindnesses.

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