“So do you know if I need to be awake while you drive, Sarah?” My dad laughs as he leans the car seat back, moving into his “default position” – lying down with his eyes closed.

“No, as far as I know you just need to be sitting in the passenger seat,” I assure him, smiling.

He relaxes and I tell him we should drop by the fairgrounds tomorrow, the day we’re also planning to do a hike.

“It’s the last day they’re accepting entries for creative arts – I don’t have very many things ready but I’d like to enter.”

We’re driving from our home to the Subway in Duvall. It’s a beautiful, sunny day and the windows are rolled down, a Leeland CD playing.

Bottom of the hill. Clutch – shift to first. Look both ways. Merge onto Highway 203. Second gear, third, fourth.

“It’s the sound of melodies, the sound of melodies, rising up to you, rising up to you…”

As the road gently curves then straightens out I rest my hand on the stick. I hate shifting in fifth gear, usually ending up shifting into third before I find fifth. But driving 55 mph in fourth wastes gas.

The road’s straight now and a car passes me. Clutch, shift- The gear sticks in the middle, refusing to budge up and over into fifth. My glance down for a split second turns into two.

“Sarah-” I hear Dad say something, and look up, my brain registering we’ve drifted. From there the memory’s hazy, everything happening in less than five seconds. I must have over corrected and we began skidding – the car whips back and forth several times, and we sail off the right side. I see the world spin as the car flips once.

Boom. We land on the car roof.

I’m staring at the shattered window shield, grass pressed beneath the spidery veins of the broken glass. My mind refuses to believe this is reality. I move my arms, looking around, repeating the same sentence over and over, trying to realize – this isn’t a dream. The floor of the car looks strange – only later on do I realize it was the roof. My glasses are lying in front of me and I pick them up, put them on.

I look to my right and Dad is in the same position I am, crouched, hanging from the seatbelt, his hands on his head. His arm and blue, button-up shirt is covered with mud. A thought penetrates my shock – Dad could be wounded. Bad.

I touch his arm and say, “Dad, are you all right? Are you hurt?”

“Yeah, I’m okay,” he answers.

There are voices outside the car, a man outside my window. I release the seatbelt and reach for the door, but it won’t open. I don’t know if I grabbed the window crank or the door handle, but the window is wide open so I crawl out and stand, dazed. The man standing there helps me up the embankment, then a woman, until I reach the top. Another woman waiting there reaches out and steadies me, asks what my name is.

“My name’s Sarah too!” She smiles. She’s dressed in shorts and a tank top fitting to this hot day.

Later I’ll see her kids in the van next to us, restlessly playing as they wait for Mom to come back. Later on I’ll wonder how sharp her tone was when she pulled over and told them to stay in the car, what horrors she expected to see crawl out from the flipped car. She had been the second person behind me.

She asks me more questions as I look around, seeing cars pulled over around us. Just like they would around a car crash. Except this car crash is ours.

They help Dad up and he crouches beside me, rubbing his head, as dazed as I am. His clothes are smeared with mud, but he’s all right.

He looks up at me.

“Sarah, do you know what happened?”

I tell him as best as I can remember – it happened so fast – my voice catching.

When he asks again I tell him again. When he asks the third time I’m concerned. His eyes tell me every time he asks, he truly doesn’t know the answer I gave to him a moment ago.

“Dad, did you hit your head?” I crouch beside him and take off his hat. There’s only a small smear of blood on the left side of his forehead, so small it’s inconsequential.

Sarah is beside me the whole time, rubbing my back. “It’s okay, honey.”

I turn to her and the other women gathered around – witnesses to our 55mph lunge off the road. “Are you a Christian?”

She laughs a bit. “No, actually I’m a unitarian.”

“Could you pray for my dad?”

She just smiles. “Sure, honey, we’ll pray.”

The firemen and policemen are there minutes after we go off the road. Everyone asks if I’m all right, and I answer every question they ask – were we wearing our seatbelts, what happened, what’s my name, where do we live – determined to prove my mind’s working. To assure myself – my mind’s working.

When we tell them Dad’s asked the same question about 6 times now, they strap a neck brace around him where he crouches, start asking him questions. What’s your name? He knows that. Where do you work – do you work Monday through Friday. I expect him to come up with the witty retort of a self-employed man, but he just gives a small, frustrated laugh and answers, “I don’t know.”

“All right, Miles, I’m going to give you a number.” The men are always talking, always moving around him. “The number’s five. I’m going to ask you what that number is later on, so remember it.”

They’ve pulled out his laptop case, my bag, and Dad’s wallet and glasses. I took Dad’s cell phone off his belt and stand watching as they strap Dad onto a gurney. He calls me over again.

“Sarah, Sarah.” He finds me. “Do you know what happened?”

The men need me to move back, to do their job. I stand by Sarah and bite my lip, hold in the lump in my throat.

“Sarah, Sarah.” Dad’s eyes are searching for me, his neck held still by the neck brace.

I ask if I can come with him, but they need me to stay and answer questions from state patrol. They leave with him in the ambulance.

I’ve called Mom several times – each time getting the answering machine. The sun is beating down on me and no one has any water in their car. I feel dirty and shaky and scared.

State patrol comes and the other cars leave. The state patrol man has an accent that makes him hard to understand – but I answer all of his questions and we sit in his air-conditioned car waiting for the tow truck. The tears come in waves. I’m praying the same things over and over again.

God, let Dad be okay. God, I’m so sorry.

I know God wasn’t mad at me. I know it was an accident. But what I want, more than anything, is to hug my dad and tell him, ‘I’m so sorry.’ But I can’t. So I tell God.

Another state patrol man came to wait for the tow truck, and I direct the man I was with to the Duvall Church. He’s from Olympia and has no idea where Duvall or Monroe was.

He drops me off at the church with the final words, “be safe!” The church was locked, so I sit down in the shade outside the door and first call my employer, letting her know I can’t come in to work, then Mom again.

She finally calls me back.

Thank you, God.

“Mom, I need you to pick me up at the Duvall Church.”

“Why, Sarah?” Mom’s voice is confused. “Are you with Dad?”

I break down and start crying. “Mom, we were in an accident. I’m all right – they took Dad to Evergreen. I need you to pick me up! How soon can you get here?”

There is panic, confusion in her voice now. “I’m at the Staab’s – I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

“Drive safely,” I tell her.

She arrives fifteen minutes later – fifteen minutes of tears and prayers for me – and we hug for a long time. She had been having lunch with a friend, and her cell phone had been in the car.

We drive to Evergreen and ask for Miles Ulrich at the front desk of the ER. The receptionist gives us welcome words – “He’s just about ready to be discharged.”

The doctors had taken a CT scan and found nothing worrisome. When he had refused to sign any papers, they had instructed him to take ibuprofen at home and pronounced him “good to go.”

The accident had happened 2:30pm. At 7:30pm we were home, eating lunch in the living room.

We had been going 55 mph and flown about 20 feet after leaving the road. Every back window in the car had been blown out. And yet… we’re alive. Not only alive, but moving. Talking. Practically unharmed.

 

God had brought us through the Red Sea, without our clothes getting wet.

We had just stood in the furnace, with no trace of smoke on our clothes.

Even though my dad is still sore, he no longer has that blank look in his eyes I will always remember. He may forget the plot to a movie, but he remembers my name and where he works. And for that I am so, so, so grateful.

There are many blessings God gave us on that day and the days following. My dad had been asleep when I was shifting, and strangely woke up (I am convinced God woke him) in time to touch the wheel and alert me to the fact I was drifting. He remembers an oncoming car – if we had hit it, our bruises would not be so few today.

The bank we landed in was (no joke) a perfect place to crash. The tall grass in the ditch cushioned us… at least better than concrete would have. And even though Dad got a bit muddy, further down the road we would have landed in much deeper water.

The very person my mom had been having lunch with was moving, and offered to let us borrow their car since they couldn’t pick it up until fall.

Although one used computer Dad had just picked up that day had fallen in the water and may or may not recover – his laptop (a.k.a. for a computer programmer his life) is intact, as well as a money bag that was in his laptop. All of my things were covered, only minus a cell phone battery. And true, we now own several library items due to their mutilation…

But the greatest gift, as Dad and I feel so keenly when we see each other, is that we are both alive. God has given us more time to enjoy His blessings on earth. I hope I never forget – this great thing He has done for me, for my dad, for my family.

He has preserved my life, and I am filled with a song of joy to thank Him!

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