Concussions, Compulsions, and Car Crashes
By the time my body was thrown from the windshield and plastered to the pavement, I was already relatively confident I wasn’t dying.
Good. That’s the first step, I suppose; I’ve never done this before.
Gratitude for my continued existence quickly gave way to embarrassment. I must have crossed the street while the light was still red, and now everybody is screaming and wailing and crying and probably going to be late for work.
Idiot, idiot, idiot. Peel your face off the street, dummy, people have places to be.
The walking man was still lit up in white. The walking man!
I was walking, that was for me. She wasn’t walking, she was in an SUV. The walking man is not for SUVs, it’s for people who walk. I was walking, now I am lying down. There is no lying down man lit up in white.
Get off the street.
If you’ve never tried it before, lying down on a four-lane street elicits a feeling of intense wrongness. It’s like sitting down for lunch and eating a ham and peanut butter sandwich; something just isn’t right. However, if you do find yourself in either of these situations, I have found the best solution is to reflect for just a moment on the problem, and then get up and try again. With this in mind, I allowed myself, strewn across the pavement, to be flabbergasted for just a second or two before I pushed myself off the asphalt and onto my feet.
I dragged my body up off the road and found myself face-to-face with the driver—a middle-aged woman with dark hair, her face twisted by her own horror. She was screeching like an exotic bird; I didn’t make a sound. Never had I seen such an honest and powerful display of horror on a face. Somehow, I found her wailing hilarious. Her eyes popped out of her head and her screaming mouth was stretched, almost grotesquely, into a wet cavernous hole. Which one of us was more frightened by the impact? Being hit by a car is shocking, yes, but a young man with a backpack barreling onto your windshield at breakneck speed must be just as startling.
No longer lacquered to Lakeshore Road, a gaggle of gawking women drew together, encircling me. They ushered me over to a nearby bench. Seeing as my spine hadn’t collapsed in on itself like a telescope, I felt pretty good. I felt even better when the ladies around me started saying things like, “Thank goodness he’s so big and buff and strong. Otherwise, he could have been really hurt!” That ego boost was exactly what I needed after having been humbled by a rocketing wall of metal. Thank goodness that didn’t kill me, how humiliating that would have been: killed by a soccer mom.
Sitting quietly and waiting for the police to arrive, I wondered what one does in a moment like this. Surely, playing Candy Crush would be inappropriate. Call somebody! Yes! This would be some very important, rather disquieting news for lots of people in my life. I called my father first; I got no answer. Though, I already knew he wouldn’t pick up; he was almost certainly sleeping, as he had just finished working a night shift at the emergency room. There was no answer from my mother either, she must have been working. No answer from either of my brothers, although I think that was just due to their brotherly nature.
The funny thing about head injuries is that they tend to make you forget about getting head injuries, so when the EMTs showed up and asked me if I had hit my head, naturally, I said no. The memory of my head bouncing off the windshield would only come back to me later that night, somehow regurgitated from some deep crevasse in my brain, the quarter-second impact perfectly preserved. Oh well.
The dark-haired woman was out of her car now, her face tear-stained, struggling to catch her breath. Feeling for her, I accepted her apology. Despite the soreness starting to swell in my achy bones, I knew her day would be significantly worse than mine. Still, I felt like a dope in the grocery store who apologizes when somebody else hits them with their shopping cart (except her cart had 250 horsepower and was a sports utility vehicle). She continued to apologize for what she had done until the police arrived to force her away from me.
The authorities asked me my name and age, and when I answered, I felt shoulders relax around me at these two words: “I’m 21.” I realized then that everybody had assumed that I, a young man with a backpack, attended the local high school down the street. I would also learn that, apparently, hitting a child with an SUV yields far more punishing criminal charges than hitting an adult with an SUV. I felt strange about this at the time; being hit by a car as a 17-year-old had to hurt the same amount as being hit by a car as a 21-year-old—a whole lot.
Unfortunately, for the dark-haired woman, distracted driving yields a significant criminal charge no matter the victim’s age.
What caused me to be tossed by the car and onto the street at such an impressive distance was also, in part, what caused it to hurt as badly as it did. The car didn’t stop until a moment after I had already been hit. The woman slammed on the breaks after I had become all too familiar with her windshield, reduced to a mosquito on the headlights of a semi. Presumably, this only happened because the dark-haired woman was distracted. Although, I chose for the time being to give her the benefit of the doubt.
The police handed me a court hearing number, affirming that whatever happened to the dark-haired woman would be up to a judge. They offered me a ride home, but I declined, opting to limp back to bed.
When I was 10 years old, my mother and father took me to a doctor in downtown Toronto because I couldn’t stop washing my hands. I would wash my hands when I touched something I felt was unclean. I would wash my hands when I saw something I felt was unclean. I would wash my hands when I had a thought which I felt was unclean. I would wash them all the way up to my elbows, sometimes twenty times in a row, until my knuckles bled. The broken skin felt like gloves two sizes too tight around the bones of my fingers.
The doctor told my parents I had obsessive compulsive disorder, and I started taking special medication to help. In the following years, diagnoses for generalized anxiety disorder and depression followed, and more medication came along with them. My life became a balancing act. Excess energy evolved into anxiety and panic, while allowing myself to become too tired—whether that be due to work, school, or social pressures—manifested in depressive symptoms. My equilibrium was a perfect, tiny point in this world, a flawless little box—inside, I was safe. The box was small and dark enough to coddle me through waves of chest-gripping panic, but was just large enough for me to move, circumventing the boredom that left me depressed. My box was safe, but I never got to stretch my legs out, or see the sky. My every move was predetermined by my fabricated ideas of right and wrong, good and bad, helpful and unhelpful. These concepts were woven into my mind. Weed and alcohol were bad, never use them. High grades were good, always get them. Video games weren’t useful, don’t enjoy them. Getting a good job would be useful, so work as hard as you can to get one. There was no time for joy, for laughter, for relaxation, or for friends. When Covid-19 emerged, my isolation only worsened under quarantine.
In 2020, I developed agoraphobia, a fear of the whole world and everything in it. Leaving the house frightened me, so I slowly came up with more excuses to stay inside, all alone. Eventually, the fear grew to be so intense that I could no longer continue my part-time job at a little bakery across town. I could no longer continue to do anything, except focus on my law school application, because I had convinced myself that, so long as I could become a lawyer, I would finally be free. I would have everything that I wanted, and I would finally have the confidence to explore the world like I always wanted to.
In the summer of 2022, after failing to get into any of the law schools I applied to, I felt like I was nothing. Still, I kept working. I was an undergraduate student, taking summer courses on campus, struggling every day to gather my wits enough to climb on the bus to my classes without being overcome by panic. The panic consumed everything, what was, what is, what could be, but every day I walked to the bus stop, trying, with every cell in my body, to be good, to do the right thing. Breathing deeply to relieve the anxiety, I would wait for the walking man to light up, look both ways, as was the good thing to do, and then walk across the street. No matter how hard I worked, how earnestly I tried, how careful I was, nothing I could do stopped the SUV from hitting me. In that moment, everything was thrown up into the air, me included, never to be the same again.
Back in my bedroom, I undressed to assess the damage. Nothing horrific, a bruise darkened and spread across my hip and a headache which slowly worsened. I woke my father. Worried, he touched my bruises and asked about concussion symptoms. Things seemed fine. I reflected for just a moment on what happened, chuckling at the asinine nature of the event, then I fell asleep.
The next morning, I took some ibuprofen, waited for my headache to subside, and headed for the bus stop once again. Second time is the charm. I felt a strange sense of confidence while waiting for the streetlight to change. My fear of the world had slipped away that morning, as the worst had already happened, and I had survived it. What more could the world possibly throw at me that I couldn’t handle? There was the walking man, lit up in white.
Breathing deeply, I crossed the road and sat at the bus stop. I looked up and saw the very same woman, in the very same SUV, barreling through the very same intersection, cellphone in hand, just one day after she nearly killed me. Some people never change, but now I know that I can.
Copy Editor (Volume 49) — River is completing a specialist degree in Political Science with special interests in social justice and law. He is currently working as a copy editor at The Medium. In his spare time, River can usually be found noodling on his guitar, obsessively replaying “Red Dead Redemption 2,” dipping into local thrift stores, and flipping through worn paperback fiction instead of doing his course readings.