The Subaru is fine. That’s not why you’re here.
You’re here because of the 1991 Chrysler LeBaron. Maybe an ’89. It was my first car. I was a high school junior. I got my drivers license a few weeks earlier and Dad bought the used 4-door sedan for me as a gift.
The year doesn’t matter because it was totaled that Saturday night.
I was a mile from Jeff’s house. He was sitting beside me. We watched Wayne’s World that night and I was driving back to his house to drop him off. I remember pressing the fast-forward button on the tape deck to get the next song. I don’t remember the album. I remember the light drizzle. I remember the thud from behind.
An out-of-state Buick crashed into my rear. I tried braking and avoiding the future staring me in the face but we were driving downhill on Route 138 and the road was a little wet and I crashed into the Jetta. It was dark red. Its driver was a year ahead of me in school. His sister was with him that night. I remember that.
I don’t remember the crash. All I know from the police witnessing everything from the bottom of the hill is I swerved across the 2-lane highway, hit a guardrail, and blacked out.
I know I blacked out because I remember Jeff poking me and telling me to get out. I was disoriented, staring at a telephone pole in front of my cracked windshield. My door wouldn’t budge. I slid across the bench seat and followed him out to figure out what happened, suddenly remembering the crash. Wow. Ahh, that’s why my door didn’t open.
The police collected testimony from the drivers and passengers and, because my car was not drivable, they drove us home. I grabbed my removable tape deck and stuff from the glove box first.
Jeff wanted to be dropped off a few houses away so his parents wouldn’t be concerned by flashing lights. The cops drove me home next. I remember entering through the garage and half-crying to my parents to take away my license.
I was in shock. I thought I caused the 3-car accident. I thought I fiddled with the tape deck and didn’t pay attention. Dad called the police while Mom calmed me. He said I did nothing wrong, that the police witnessed everything and the guy behind me with an out-of-state license plate would be charged for driving too fast. Dad made another call and learned my car was totaled.
I don’t remember when I went to sleep. I don’t remember the next day or the next week. I remember seeing the Jetta’s brother and sister in the high school hallways. I don’t remember if we said anything but I remember we basically avoided each other.
The New York Times published an op-ed from Saul Austerlitz about the craft of writing condolence letters:
I write because I desperately need to communicate, and because I know that ultimately, I cannot. I write to remember, and to be remembered. The one desire emerges from the other.
Those 31 words spoke to me. They bled to me. I wanted to share my emotion. The best stories have an emotional connection. That’s why we remember them and that’s why we share them.
I wrote a version of the above two years ago. Editing it, different memories came to light. Some I kept in. Others I left out. I tightened the text.
Maybe you’ve experienced a car crash. Or, maybe reading my 24-year-old memory sparked an emotional connection to something else of yours. I hope your thud wasn’t as jarring.