I learned two new things about myself last night on a dark Alabama highway: 1) I rock at evasive maneuvering, and, 2) Deep down, I have a situationally dependent scream that is rivaled only by no name actresses in 3rd rate horror films. I'm still in shock at what happened, terrified at what could have happened, and immensely thankful to God above for what did not happen last night.
On several occasions spanning over the last 16 years of my life, various mentors (who have never even met each other) have told me the exact same thing, "Jessica, these crazy things happen to you because you are such a good story teller, and God must want you to always have a story to tell..." or some variation of that statement. Now, I don't know if I'm all that good of a story teller. Intense? Yes. Sarcastic? Most definitely. Witty? I'd like to think so. Good, however, is in the eyes of my readers, and I hope I can do this one justice. But, this story disturbs me, and, since writing is how I process, understand, and eventually accept my experiences, here goes...
My husband, 3 children, and I were nearly halfway into our approximately 1200 mile, 20+ hour drive back home to NC after visiting family for Christmas in OK and KS. It was dark, about 9pm, and I had just taken the wheel so Bill could rest. We almost stopped in Tupelo, MS for the night, and if we had, this whole awful scenario would have never occurred. Or, more accurately, it would have occurred, but I would have had no knowledge of it. Anyway, we decided to press on to Birmingham, AL. I can tell you exactly where it happened. Traveling East on Hwy 78, approximately 33 miles west of Birmingham, just past mile marker 57. I can tell you where it happened because I had to recite it to the Sheriff. As I said, it was dark. I was traveling in the center of 3 lanes of eastbound traffic at about 78 mph. There was a slight dip in the road, and when I came up over the rise, I thought I saw something in the middle of my lane. I did. It was a person. Just. Standing. There. In. The. Middle. Of. The. Highway. Not on a back road. Not on the shoulder. Dead center in the middle lane of traffic, just over a dip in the road, on a highway with a posted speed limit of 70 mph. Thank you, Jesus, I swerved in time. He made no move to get out of the way. Thank you, Jesus, there was no traffic to run into. Thank you, Jesus, I didn't flip the van jerking the wheel so violently at such a high rate of speed.
It's funny how the mind works. In that split second, I was able to take in his clothing and description. White male, about 6' or so, pushing 200 lb, dressed in dark brown coveralls and dark brown beanie, older model teal green Chevy S-10 on the side of the road. Everything simultaneously slowed down and sped up. Even as I jerked, I saw myself hitting him, his lifeless body flying into the van, my children having nightmares for years to come, and me in an orange jumpsuit, serving time in jail for an awful accident. I screamed the most intense scream. I couldn't stop. My whole body was shaking, my hair was standing on end. I told Bill to call 911. I could barely talk, but was able to relay all the information I took in in that fraction of time. They sent a sheriff to help the man.
I spent the remaining 30 minutes of our drive to the hotel berating myself and reliving the situation. I am trusting to a fault, maybe even a bit gullible, and I kept asking Bill dumb things like, "what if his wife was having a baby in the truck and he was flagging for help?" "Should we have stopped?" "Was calling 911 enough?" Then I had to relive what I saw. Either he was standing in the lane, waiting for a car to hit him, or he jumped in the lane. I honestly don't know. But I do know he made no move to get out of the way as my speeding minivan barreled toward him. So, no, I don't believe he was just an innocent person flagging for help. I believe he was either drunk, high, deranged, or demented, and he was clearly suicidal. There was no help or service that Bill and I could have provided that would have been better than calling for emergency help. And, honestly, what it boils down to is the fact that we live in a crazy, scary world these days, and I refuse to risk the safety of my children.
I find myself being both angry that my family could have been killed, injured, or forever scarred by his decision, and concerned for his well being and wishing the sheriff would tell me what led him to the center of my lane that night. I may never know, and that's ok. Thank you God for protecting my family from him, and, by doing so, for however brief a time, protecting him from himself.
I still see that dark silhouette every time I close my eyes, and I will probably never drive down a dark highway ever again without thinking about that, but, by God's amazing grace, we are all ok.