Athena Scalzi

How I Totaled My Car (PS: I’m Fine)

Athena Scalzi

On December 12th, I went to my friend’s ugly sweater party at her house in Columbus. After a few hours of socializing and dancing (badly), I ended up starting my trek home at around 2:30am. It’s not the longest drive in the world, but it is long enough to be a pain in the ass, especially in the middle of the night.

It only took me about ten minutes to get out of Columbus, and then it was smooth sailing on the interstate. It was one of those times where it seemed like there was truly no one else on the road, except the occasional semi all the way in the right lane. Maybe it’s because it was so late (or so early).

I was all the way in the left lane, going the usual highway speed of about 75mph, when suddenly there was a tiny little piece of something in the road. I ran over it and thought, huh, I wonder what that was. Then, for the briefest second, I saw a destroyed car in the right lane, and by the time I looked back at the road, there was huge piece of something in the road.

It was large enough, in fact, that upon running over it, I caught air, my airbags went off, my front tires popped, and my vehicle was immediately totaled.

With my ears ringing and my eyes wide from being stunned by the airbags, my first thought was did that really just happen? and my second thought was I should pull over.

And so I pulled over into the left shoulder, threw it into park, and immediately got out to breathe in the non-smoky, freezing night air. The adrenaline hit was instant, and I knew it was why I started shaking immediately, separate from the cold. Upon getting out, I realized I hadn’t gotten over enough, and part of my car was still in the left lane. I pushed aside the airbags and got back in, and tried to pull over more, but my car was completely dead. The underside had been ripped apart by whatever I hit, and fluids from my engine were gushing out onto the pavement.

Again, I got out and looked back at the car that I had seen. The smashed car was across the highway from me, and it looked like it had been rear-ended so hard that the back half was pancaked into the front half. Obviously, it had been in a collision, so where was the other car? I looked ahead on the highway, and it was so dark out I almost missed it, but there was the other car, flipped upside down in the middle lane.

Immediately, I ran towards the flipped over car. All I could think about was how there were probably people trapped inside, hurt or dying, and I wanted to help. It was further away than it looked. Turns out highways are pretty massive.

Upon reaching the car, I called out, “Hello?” Immediately I heard the sound of someone on the inside banging on the windows.

“Help me! Let me out!” they yelled. I tried pulling on the doors, but they were locked, or maybe just stuck, but either way I couldn’t open them.

“I can’t get the doors open,” I replied. It was then that a semi blew past me a few feet away, and it occurred to me that I was quite literally standing in the middle of the I-70. I looked back to see if there were any other cars coming, considering that they could smash right into the flipped over car (and me) if they were traveling in the middle lane, and in looking back I saw that a highway patrol officer had pulled up to the smashed car I initially saw.

“The cops are here, I’m going to tell them you’re trapped,” I told whoever was inside.

I ran back to my car and saw the cop standing by the other car talking to someone.

“Help!” I yelled. They both looked over and the cop yelled back, “Stay there!” I stayed put and waited for him to run over to me.

“Someone’s trapped in their car!” I pointed to the flipped car, which was barely visible, to which the cop said “my god,” and ran to it.

The next thing I knew, three more patrol cars and three ambulances showed up. I stayed by my car and stood in a place that I was easily visible, and was approached a couple of times by different officers asking me if I was hurt. I kept saying no, then they’d go off and deal with something more urgent.

As I stood around, I decided to look around some more and take pictures, because I found the whole thing kind of interesting and figured this was a pretty rare occurrence. In doing so, I followed the trail of red metal from my car back to where I hit the thing in the road, and I discovered that it was the back axle of the first car I saw. One of the tires was still attached.

They shut down the highway by laying down a line of flares, causing a traffic jam. I thought about how much I would’ve hated to be stuck in traffic at 3am.

Eventually, a paramedic came up and asked the same thing I’d been asked a dozen times, and while I assured him I wasn’t hurt, I mentioned that I was cold, and it was starting to make me numb. So he took me to one of the ambulances and let me sit inside to take my information until another officer was ready to take my statement.

“Is there someone hurt? Does anyone need this ambulance?” I asked as I stepped in. “I don’t want to take it if someone else needs it more.”

“No, no one is hurt,” he replied. “The other two drivers are fine, you all refused treatment so no one is getting taken to the hospital.” All three of us were completely uninjured? That seemed lucky.

After a bit, an officer came and told me to come with him to his car, and I sat in the front seat and filled out a paper giving my statement. The guy from the first car I saw was sitting in the back seat doing the same thing.

“Where’s the other guy?” I asked the officer, who then informed me the other driver was impaired, so he was in the back of a different car (most likely in cuffs). Then, a tow truck came and started taking my car away.

The officer got out to do something, and I turned around to talk to the guy.

“Okay, what the hell happened?” I asked. He told me that he was traveling in the center lane going about 70mph, when suddenly this other car came flying up behind him, going at least a hundred if not over. He claimed that he tried to get into the right lane to get out of his way, but in the middle of doing so was smashed into and went spiraling out of control, meanwhile the car that hit him flipped over.

Somebody came and picked that guy up from the scene a few minutes later. Meanwhile me and the other driver got taken back to the station. I sat in a room and waited for my ride. The impaired guy was put in the room next to me, and I heard the officers tell him he was going to jail, and then I heard him start sobbing.

I got picked up at around 5am, and it was about another hour and a half before I was able to lay down in bed and finally sleep.

Long story short, there was an accident, I was just minding my beeswax when I suddenly hit the debris from the accident. My accident was considered separate from the other accident. I was not cited for anything and was assured by the officers many times that I was at fault for nothing, no one was hurt, and I don’t know if the impaired driver ended up getting actually sentenced to jail or if he just got his license revoked. I got a new car the next day (a used car), and started driving again immediately.

Now, it’s been almost three weeks and I feel okay. Though, things in the road scare me far more than they used to. I never realized how much shit there is in the road all the time. Plastic bags, soda cans, branches, there’s so much that we just casually run over everyday and it obviously doesn’t affect your car or anything.

But there have been several times over the past three weeks when it wasn’t just a can. I was driving to the grocery store and there was an entire full trash bag in the other lane. Like one of the heavy duty black trash bags. Another time, I was on the highway again and there was a huge board of wood laying in the road that I had no choice but to run over. Shortly after that, there was an entire tire!

Sometimes, you hit things, and it’s just a little bump, other times, you hit an axle and it destroys your car.

So, yeah, my anxiety has been a little higher. I’m hoping it goes away after a while. Here’s a selfie I took while I was in the cop car.

It’s New Years Eve! Don’t drive drunk! You could flip your car. Or kill someone. You know how it goes. Have a great holiday!



Looking Back on 2021

2021: Not a great year! Its major claim to fame is that it wasn’t as bad as 2020, which I expect and bluntly fucking hope will go down as a real bottom-scraper in the annals of the 21st century, but let’s all agree that “not quite as bad as 2020” is not a huge recommendation for a year. I mentioned last year around this time how 2020 looked good for me on paper but was miserable in reality; I can say that 2021 looked less impressive on paper than 2020 — I didn’t publish fiction of any sort this year, for one thing — but was I think a much better year overall for me, both as a human and as a creator.

Let’s recap some of the personal highlights:

1. Wrote The Kaiju Preservation Society and saw it get positive reviews in all the publishing trades (including Library Journal, that review is official as of tomorrow) and otherwise do pretty darn well in its 2021 run up to publication in March;

2. Wrote the third installment of the Dispatcher series, which will debut in audio in the second half of 2022;

3. Got the Dispatcher series optioned for TV;

4. Saw “Automated Customer Service” premiere as part of Love Death & Robots, Vol. 2, and win an Emmy;

5. Bought a silly guitar;

6. And also a whole damn church;

7. Was Guest of Honor at Dragon Con — again! Although in person this time;

8. Was nominated for a Hugo for the Interdependency series;

9. Made a little bit of music;

10. Got a dog.

Plus there were some other things that happened in 2021 that I can’t talk about (yet) but which were definitely positive developments; maybe I’ll get to tell you about some of them soon. There were some of the usual disappointments and annoyances as well, because life is never 100% perfect. On balance, however, a definite step up from the year before.

I will celebrate the upswing and hope it augurs well for 2022 and beyond. I do think “2022 and beyond” are going to take a lot of work, to be clear. But I’m in a better place now to face it all than I was twelve months ago. So, come on in, 2022. I’ve been expecting you.

— JS

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