The Impact

Here is an excerpt from the first chapter of my book. “I love this song,” my sister Mary Beth says wistfully, as she navigates the snowy drive through the Chuckanut mountains to Bellingham, Washington. It’s 1978, and the hit love song, “Somtimes When We Touch” plays through the speakers of our yellow Ford station wagon. Christmas break is over, and my thirteen-year-old brother, David, and I are accompanying Mary Beth back to college, then making the two-hour drive back home to Bellevue. I’m seventeen and the prospect of that long stretch back thrills me but scares me too. Though there’s still plenty of daylight left, it began snowing shortly after we left home almost two hours ago and the roads up here in the foothills are covered in an inch of snow. “Yeah—I like this song, too,” I say. We all start singing along, crunched together in the front seat, David sandwiched between me and Mary Beth.

We are creeping along at about thirty-five miles an hour with the rest of the cars, forming a curving serpentine as we weave through the foothills.

“Oh no!” Mary Beth suddenly shouts. A white semi truck is in the left lane with its right turn signal on, and it begins to merge into our lane. The giant smiling face of a child that is eating a piece of buttered bread leers at me from the side of the semi, getting larger by the second. Mary Beth taps gently on the brakes, but our car starts to fishtail, like when I slam on my bike brakes on a bed of gravel. I throw my arm across David’s stomach, like my mother would do. As the car starts spinning out of control, I have this crazy memory of the teacup ride at Disneyland. My stomach drops and I flatten my feet against the floorboard. Though I’m scared, I’m also aware of how pretty the snowflakes are swishing past the windshield. I feel like I’m inside a snow globe. It seems to take forever for us to stop. Then we slam the guardrail so hard my teeth vibrate. The station wagon comes to a stop on the left shoulder of the freeway, facing traffic. Not one of us speaks. The windshield wipers continue their lazy swiping, the radio drones on, and everything feels quiet.

The cars in the right lane keep streaming by. No one seems to notice that a car with three young people in it has just spun out. No one is stopping to help us.

“I’ll get out and check the damage,” I say, my voice sounding calmer than I feel. I slip out the door and take a few steps to the front of the car, my legs trembly, breathing shallow, to see if the tire and bumper are damaged. I feel light, like I could float away, but also relieved. Inconquerable. We’re okay! I think. And so’s the car. I scurry back inside and make my report. We need someone to stop traffic so we can make a U-turn. Why isn’t anyone helping? I think. It’s one in the afternoon; how could everybody miss us? Then I wonder, What would Kevin do? My older brother, Kevin, is the problem-solver in the family, and since Dad’s death four years ago, I always look to him for answers. As if channeled by my brother, I suddenly know what to do. “I’ll get out and flag down some help,” I say. It makes me feel proactive and smart.

I get out of the car again and walk carefully around its back and up to Mary Beth’s driver’s-side window. She unrolls it and hands me her gloves. “Be careful,” she says. David opens the passenger side door and starts to get out. “David!” she yells. “Stay in the car!” David quickly slips his legs back in the car and shuts the door.

Now that I am out here on the shoulder of the freeway, I feel foolish instead of in control. How do I get someone to stop and help us? I wave my arms feebly, knowing I look stupid. Shouldn’t a seventeen-year-old girl standing next to a spun-out car be an obvious call for help? What am I, invisible?