Ten years ago, I almost died.
Some things in life are just a matter of fact. If my wife hadn’t driven like an absolute badass one otherwise calm evening in St. Louis county a decade ago, I may not be on the right side of the grass. Yet here we are, still playing life’s games and trying to come out ahead on the cards.
We were driving on Interstate 44, which is the kind-of south St. louis highway, with I-55 being the most south highway to take in the city. I would say we were between the Elm and Big Bend exits heading westbound. We were driving to pick up our dog at a best friend’s house in Kirkwood. The weekend was heavy and rest was needed.
I remember seeing a driver moving all over the highway behind us. He was at least three car lengths back, but he was slowly getting closer to us. It was like seeing a tornado rolling up behind you, but there was no way to outrun it. Speeding wouldn’t be a good option, not on a crowded highway. Rachel saw it too.
At this point, we had been together around eight and a half years, while being married for five and a half of them. I mention this because as the accident started to happen, you do think about all of that stuff inside like five seconds. Is this it? Is this how it all ends? 27 years of age? What about kids?!
He hit us pretty hard from behind and sent us into an instant spin. Swinging across the highway made the blood pressure jump higher than any previous occasion, like a roller coaster ride locked away up in Six Flags. I kept thinking we were going to hit the median and just get destroyed. I also saw another car just kicking us around further. Maybe it did. I can’t remember every single second of it. All I know is we had gotten to the side of the road suddenly.
I looked over at my wife in the driver’s seat, her hands seemingly glued to the wheel, harder than Sandra Bullock on that runaway bus. We both couldn’t believe what had just happened. It was as if she had just performed her own stunt on the studio backlot. No stunt performers are allowed in real life. You either deal with it, or the clock stops. Rachel kept our clock going. It’s as simple as that. Without her heroic driving, the last ten years are deleted like a file off your computer. Quick and painless. It just never happened.
The drunk driver was indeed very drunk, with a little girl in the backseat and a beer can falling out at the scene of the accident. They had terrible auto insurance and his sister showed up to defend his honor without knowing what he did. Someone lost control of their car due to stupidity and irresponsibility, and it almost cost everything for us.
Vinny never happens. Holly Hills never takes place. My wife would never meet her best friend. I would never get on Twitter, enraging many with sports opinions. She wouldn’t become one of the best Tile Shop managers in the country. My mom and dad would lose a son. Rachel’s family would have lost a beloved daughter. Our old dog, Marley, wouldn’t have been picked up. A lot of stuff doesn’t happen.
The only way to look at this comes through a equal dose of cynicism and homemade sappiness. Appreciate what you have, and what you have done, because tomorrow may not happen. It’s not a guarantee. One sunset doesn’t provide access to the next. You have to earn it and be lucky. Unlike poker and card games, life has a lot to do with luck. The choices you make go into it, but there’s no way to predict what’s coming from the other end. You can’t rely on stats, analysis, or much research when someone sends you into a spin on a major highway.
My wife saved the day. I can say I married her for many reasons, but just the fact that she always knows what to do when the shit is about to hit the fan sits near the top of the list. She turns 37 on Wednesday, which is something that may not sound lovely to her. 99% of people hate nearing 40. Listen to someone who is a little over a year away from reaching that mark. I don’t mind. The more years lived, the more time you’ve received than many others. Don’t waste it.
Spend some of it being thankful and the rest hoping you have a Rachel Imperiale Buffa in your life, ready to whip the car out of harm’s way.
Thanks for reading and stay safe.