When I was sixteen I rear ended someone. I was on Kemper Road headed west back toward Springdale, where I lived. My friend Angela and I had come back from taking the SATs (I think) and I'd taken my eyes off the road for a second and the guy in front of me stopped short and I didn't see it. There wasn't much damage to my car, and I don't remember much damage to his. An ambulance on its way elsewhere stopped and checked out Angela. She was black, straight hair, braces and a voice like a Disney fairy. In my memory she was always frail, underweight. I remember the police came, and I spent some time sobbing in the back of the cruiser while he wrote me a ticket. I remember Angela going to see a doctor for some physical therapy, and my parents being miffed that she'd done so and hadn't told me, hadn't at least warned me that she'd been through some series of PT and hadn't communicated with me about it. We weren't really friends after that.
When I was 24 I was in a hit-and-run. I was on Western Avenue turning east onto North Avenue when a woman turned into me headlong. I looked at her and she looked at me. Then she continued her turn onto Western and I never saw her again. This time the car was full of people. I remember shouting out her license plate number to my friend in the passenger seat so he could write it down. Then, once I turned onto North, I flagged down a squad of Chicago's finest and told them I'd just been in a hit-and-run. They told me that it wasn't their beat, and if I wanted police help, I'd have to call the police and ask for it. Never mind that I'm a citizen who pays taxes and lives in (and loves) Chicago. I ran up to a cop on the street asking for help and he/she (they) denied it. We were on our way to a party; I didn't want to ruin my friends' good time by waiting at this enormously busy intersection for someone to show up who might be as much (read: little) help as the previous officers had been. So we went on to the party.
In 2008 I rear ended a Jeep. Same scenario as the first, only we were at Wilson Ave getting onto Lake Shore Drive. I'd recently moved in with the man I married, and we'd just had a fight about something, I don't know what. I was on my way downtown to meet a publisher who liked my work on Chicago Public Radio and wanted to talk to me about a long-form project. She hasn't responded to my emails since then. The Jeep driver was very nice. He said I'd just hit his frame, and since I drive a roller skate and he drove a solid vehicle designed to haul, he said it was probably fine; we traded info just the same. My front was pretty jacked up: the hood was dented up and the bumper was really struggling. I limped home, back to my apartment in Lincoln Square and buried my face in my honey's shoulder.
Two days ago I was sitting at a stoplight on LaSalle at Clark Street. I hate that intersection. There's so much going on over there, so many streets, it seems, headed in strange curving directions, so many lanes merging or creating, and with the construction it's just worse. It was 4:40. All Things Considered was on the radio. I'd just bought some things for the Christmas table I'm setting this weekend, and I was on my way to the North Side--a few presents to buy and then therapy. The green arrow flashed, signaling a left turn onto Clark, and seconds later I heard a loud BAM and I and the car were rocked forward. Hard. I shouted something into my empty vehicle. I put on my hazard lights. The guy behind me got out of his car, and I slowly got out of mine. I was afraid of another hit-and-run, but he was polite and concerned for me. Behind us someone honked their horn, then traffic started snaking around us. We pulled into the BP on that corner and had a conversation, he in broken English because Spanish was his primary language, me in broken English because I was terrified. The cars were okay: he'd knocked his license plate off one screw, and that missing screw had gouged a hole in my back bumper, about an inch long. He gave me his name and phone number, and an approximation of where his car insurance office is located. It seemed to me that he would rather keep the insurance out of it, but it was hard to tell because he spoke in phrases, not full sentences. "If you need anything, call me, just... let me know, don't... If I can help... Please call me..." I can remember him waving his hands at me, his palms facing me, in a kind of surrendered gesture. At some point I wanted him to stop talking and kept saying, "Okay, I understand. Thank you." I got in my car. My best friend, my husband, was away in Ohio, visiting his family. I had two choices: go somewhere and get help, get checked out, or continue with my day. I am my mother's daughter: when we have to get shit done, we get shit done. So, after a failed attempt at filing a police report over the phone, I got back on LaSalle and made my way onto Lake Shore Drive, like I'd been trying to do all along.
PTSD, no nightmares (that last more than a week), no head trauma or lasting damage. But I wonder what it does to you to have things constantly ramming themselves into you. After this last accident, I felt antagonistic: I wanted to fight, I wanted to ram something or someone back, to somehow expel whatever had just been pushed into me without my permission. My body hurt; I had twinges of pain in my neck and shoulders, and when, 40 minutes later, I got out of my car and walked into Target, my hips were complaining, too. I wasn't mad at the driver. He mad a stupid mistake. I've made plenty of stupid mistakes, as evidenced by accidents 1 and 3. But I was mad at somebody, and I wanted to smash something, to be violent in order to get rid of whatever I was carrying around in my body as a result of the accident.
My husband used to know a woman, a kind of freaky-deaky, polyamorous, dominatrix sex kitten; and to use language like this demeans and judges her, and I don't mean to do that. I only mean to highlight the contrast between her and I, who think when we do it with the lights on we're being freaky. Anyway, this woman, he said, often had a longing for the physical activity, not of sex, but of like, Greco-Roman wrestling, or something. She wanted to throw her body against another's, to pull and twist and snap and yank on another human being, and to have someone do the same to her. I don't know what that communicates about her. That's also not how I feel. I feel like something has radiated through my muscles and tissues, and rather than let it pass through me, I need to transmit it or transfer it. I don't have an outlet for a lot of that feeling. I can take my husband with me to the gym and we can play racquetball, but slamming a ball around a wood-and-glass room isn't the thing. I feel like I'm walking around with an earthquake inside me and I need to release it in order to feel whole again. I'm short-tempered, I'm distracted-- but those could be the really strong muscle relaxant I got from the doctor at the urgent care across the street from my building.
(Sidebar: I was so scared after the last wreck because for months I've been trying--and failing--to get health insurance. After the way I was feeling, I thought something might really be wrong with me, and I'd lack the resources to deal with the problem. When I walked into the clinic yesterday morning and asked to see a doctor, the admin asked for insurance and I told her I didn't have any. "Oh, it's going to be awfully expensive," she said to me, a look of smug disapproval and pity on her face.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, the visit is 169 before any of the x-rays or blood work or anything--"
"Well do I need an x-ray?"
"I don't know, I don't know the extent of your injury."
It could have just been me, but this woman seemed to take some delight in my situation. There was a kind of self-satisfied smile on her face. Small, but still it was there. It hurt me.
"Well, maybe I can talk to the doctor before--"
"They don't really like to do that, consultations can get sticky--"
"I'm not talking about a consultation. I want to talk to the doctor before they perform a battery of tests on me."
"Oh, of course."
"I mean, she can't perform an x-ray without my consent, right?"
I filled out the rest of her paperwork and sat down. This did not help the violent tremor-feeling I'm carrying in my body. I wanted to tell her, Look Lady, it's not my fault I don't have health insurance. As much as I love where I work, they don't value me enough to provide me with health insurance to help me take care of myself, and the THREE companies where I've applied have all either dropped me or declined me because I have a "feminine problem" that I can live with but that makes me generally uncomfortable and may compromise my ability to conceive, but all the health insurance companies can think about is incurring the cost of another "female surgery" a surgery which, by the way, I don't even want, but it's the only way doctors in this country have figured out how to deal with this condition. But I'm trying. So why don't you wipe that smirk off your face and help me? I can pay your $169 or whatever, one way or another, but what I CAN'T do is feel like a valuable human being because I can't get any help from this totally fucked up system.
It's not nice that on top of feeling the need to break something I also felt humiliated for my lack of ability to play by the system's rules, because they deny me a spot at the table.)
As I was saying, the drugs I got ($4 generics from Target) are really strong, so all of my distraction and short temper could be from how groggy and incapacitated they make me. But I can't shake this feeling, that when that guy in the Honda rear-ended me, he put something in me, and it's something that I'm struggling to get out.