(Note: I was teaching a lesson on writing personal columns last year and had all the students write one from their experiences. I decided it might be a good idea for me to do the assignment along with them. This is the result. It still could use a little polish, but so could everything else.)
This was the 4-wheel drive shifter knob from “Joann” – my 1986 Bronco II. It’s the only thing I have from the wreck itself.
I can’t remember the song on the radio.
I do remember the speck-in-your-eye-sized particles of broken glass covering my face like salt.
I can’t remember what my father and I talked about as we packed my belongings from college, loaded them into my 1986 Ford Bronco II, AKA Joann, and headed for home.
I can remember his panicked shouts as he rushed to my aid on a cold Friday night in December, 1996.
“Corey! God please… are you alright, son?”
“I’m okay Dad! I just want to get out of here.”
I never saw the mysterious stranger who stopped to help my father pry open the back gate from my overturned vehicle, the wheels still spinning.
I’ll never forget the feeling of being violently awakened by the low growl of my tires on the rumble strip left median of Highway 67.
This is my fraternity pledge pin, salvaged from the wreck in Dec. 1996.
The feeling of turning the steering wheel too sharply. The out-of-control, white-knuckled-horrible feeling of the Bronco II sliding past both lanes of traffic, tipping and rolling… rolling… rolling into the ditch on the right.
I can’t recall if my life flashed before my eyes as my vehicle, my birthday gift from three years prior, hurtled off the highway.
I can recall the rush of relief when I realized I had no broken bones, no cuts, no pain, not a scratch on me. I can recall the first words out of my mouth.
“Thank you God.”
To this day, I’m shocked I didn’t curse.
I remember other things too.
The roof of my vehicle, practically crushed into the doors all the way to the handles.
This is a replica of one of two championship football rings that were lost in the wreck. My parents gave it to me as a Christmas gift a few years ago. Some things were ruined by the mud, some things were never found. We found the needle used to pump up a basketball, but even when my Dad and I went back to look for the rings with a metal detector, we were unsuccessful.
The long, tearful embrace from my mother at a gas station parking lot in Bald Knob, Ark., where she seemed to find it both difficult and wonderful to believe her oldest son was still alive.
The weariness in picking my belongings from that muddy ditch. Watching the remains of my Bronco hauled away on a wrecker. The warmth of the air conditioner in Mr. Salter’s truck, as he had driven two hours North to come to the aid of his friends’ son; and how I wondered if this was a sign from God as I watched the mile markers zip past on the way home, in no way sleepy anymore.
Nearly 10 years later, my mom still tells the story to practically everyone she meets, putting her own “Touched By An Angel” spin on it. It cheeses me out a bit to hear her tell it. It suits her to do so. Not me. I rarely share it and if I do, only cryptically.
But as much as I try to pretend disinterest when she’s sharing the story of my accident with someone, I’m covertly hanging on every word.
I need to hear the story.
Again and again.
It’s too easy for me to forget that yesterday, last week, the time spent writing this column – every moment – is a gift.