It takes time.
Things stay with you.
All’s well that ends well – but it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.
It’s been over a week since I accomplished the hitherto-unheard-of feat of being in two car accidents in one day. I’m calmer now. I’m over my jet lag. I haven’t had any more nights of reliving the accidents millisecond by agonizing millisecond. I’ve gotten into my car and driven, safely. I’ve walked miles in town and crossed dozens of streets without coming close to any threatening cars.
But I’m not the same. I know now how vulnerable I am. I don’t just mean that consciously, in a moralizing kind of way; I mean that every instinct buried deep within me has woken up to tell me, every day, that I am vulnerable.
When I walk to or from work, even if I’m securely on the sidewalk, I picture a car careening helplessly towards me. When I cross the street, I check in every direction for cars that might hurtle around corners. Situations that used to set off my cautionary instincts now go straight to my panic button. And yet I was starting to make progress.
A few days ago, a couple of hours after congratulating myself for how well I was doing, I found out how ok I wasn’t. I was driving, heading into a left-hand merge from which I had to move rightward toward my exit. I’d driven this stretch of road countless times before. This time a car tailed me terrifyingly closely, desperate for the moment it could pass. I let it go by, then shied away from the next car eager to speed on. Even though I knew I was starting to drive like a scaredy-cat, I couldn’t help it. Finally, after a quarter mile that felt infinitely longer, they had gone. And I fell apart into tears. I cried as I exited, and turned, and drove on.
As intimidated as I was by the driver on my tail, reminding me of the drunk-off-his-ass driver who had hit us so suddenly and so hard last week, not even a fraction of the emotional impact hit me until the moment had passed. I knew from my helpless tears that it would be a long, long time before I was really ok.