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Published: December 4th 2008
Up on the Roof!
This photo is about as self-explanatory as it gets...
“Allô! Ça va toi?”
“Are you OK?” I looked straight up to my feet. It took little time to smell the decaying grass protruding through the smashed windshield. I wiggled my toes. Fine. I could move my arms, legs, and neck. I felt fine.
“Yes, I think so.: All I could make out was his voice and beams from his flashlight that penetrated the snow-covered brush.
“Are you alone?”
“Can you move?”
Affirmative. Things still made sense to me. I saw it all transpire in slow motion. There was nothing to brace for. Those turbulent seconds were almost clairvoyant. “Yes, I can move.” That last sentence gave me away. He had viewed my plates when jumping down into the ditch after me. From then on we would converse exclusively in English.
I was not from around here, an Anglophone. He took a walk around to determine the best course of action. “I’ve already called. Help is coming.”
“Good.” The engine had quit upon impact, but the steering wheel air bag never deployed. I craned my neck painlessly forward and touched the tip of my nose against the chards of the windshield. I was looking at the ground, yet not
Through the Trunk
That is how I was extracated...
completely aware of my orientation except that gravity was curiously forcing me to the roof. Is this what it’s like to be an astronaut moments before blastoff?
The voice called out again. Frosty air had enveloped me, as the cabin’s integrity had been compromised. At least I wasn’t alone. From behind: “Do you want to get out right now?”
An easy question merits an even easier answer. “Yes, let’s go.”
“OK, can you open the trunk?” The lever was now above me on the driver’s side door. Powdery snow that had penetrated tickled my nose before melting. I flipped the switch and heard a familiar popping sound.
Unaware of the few minutes that had transpired, the beams of light from the flashlight were now inside the cabin and directly bouncing off the rearview mirror. On forearms and knees, he crawled over the inside of the bank window, cabin light, and moon roof.
Strapped upside down, I looked down at my rescuer. He reached up and extended his open hand. “I’m Jean-Pierre.”
“Richard.” Our smiles became giggles over the absurdity of the situation and my apparent good fortune. “Nice to meet you” was all I could produce. Our eyes scanned in a three hundred sixty degree arc. We perceived no immediate danger in our cramped quarters. That sent us into a fit of laughter; perhaps it was a manner of comic relief for a traumatic set of circumstances.
I never got a good look at the man. If he had not found me, I would have been looking at hours of incarceration and the guaranteed onset of hypothermia. “Ready to go?”
“Yep”, I replied with complete calm. Oddly, I could not figure out what the next step would have to be?
“OK. I have to detach your seatbelt.” I knew what that meant. “Un, deux”, he paused until a forceful outburst, “trois!!!”
I immediately crashed in a crumpled pile onto the felt ceiling. Damn, that hurt. It would be the only pain I would feel for the entire time. Jean-Pierre piped up, “You OK? Let’s go. You follow me.”
On my hands and thighs, I turned back and peered straight up to the flat part of my seat, the steering wheel, way up to the gas pedal, and brake. How surreal. How out of place.
Jean-Pierre led me through the trunk. I was out and rolling around in brown, moist grass and a film of snow. On my feet, he pointed me up to the road, seven to eight feet above. His wife at the top offered me a hand. When Jean-Pierre followed, the three of us stared in bewilderment at the undercarriage of what was left of my car.
Jean Pierre reiterated, “I have called emergency services.” while inspecting me. “Are you in pain?”
“No.” I answered in an annoyed tone. I needed to add, following a brief pause and the first wave of nausea, “I am going into shock.” Then came a sudden attack of the chills.
“You need to sit in our car and wait.”
I did, but briefly. The momentary exposure to the warmth had stabilized me. I found it awkward to be experiencing the mental trauma and be aware of it while it dictated terms. In a freak but temporary moment of clarity, I stabbed my right hand into an exterior pocket to retrieve my camera. I got out of the car and gingerly walked over to the edge of the ditch to survey the wreck and particularly the crumpled windshield. As I snapped three shots, I realized: None of this matters.
I actually walked away from it. In three weeks or so, life will go on as if this never happened. I was alone; I put no passengers at risk and injured no other motorists. Just how fortunate would soon became evident with the arrival of the paramedic and firemen.
He was on his cell phone with someone when he approached Jean-Pierre and me. Still in shock, his mustache was his only memorable feature, lit up in a kaleidoscope of emergency vehicle lights.
To our side, he put his phone onto his right shoulder to examine the damage. “He is still in there, I suppose?” were his first words.
The question confounded me, but not Jean-Pierre. I did not grasp the implication of his question. “Qui?” was my response. “Who?” Surely he wasn’t talking about Jean-Pierre or me. We were just fine.
“That would be me!” I exclaimed, as if I had won the grand prize in the bonus round of a game show. I threw open my arms at him and cracked an exaggerated smile. Such are the symptoms of shock. The paramedic’s eyebrows spiked and he turned to reconcile the car with my unblemished presence.
“Oh” was all he could manage. “I’ll be right back.” He stepped away for a brief instant and returned to whoever was on hold.
Later on as the tow truck dragged the Nissan’s carcass from the ditch, I learned he was on the phone with the coroner to tell him he would not have to make the trip from Sherbrooke to identify my body.
Two firemen performed a final walk around the crash site and focused in disbelief on the points of impact. As I returned a woolen blanket to the ambulance, one approached me and tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around to hear the words that will always stay with me from this point forward.
“Les anges étaient avec toi, Monsieur.”
The angels were with you.
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