I wrecked my truck one mile outside Georgiana, Alabama. Long ago. The only thing I remember is the smack of metal. My driver’s window busted into ice.
I thought I was dead.
I had the life-flashing-before-my-eyes experience. I saw myself in diapers. Middle school. I saw my wife, Jamie, in the passenger seat.
She screamed, “I love you, Sean!” while my truck rolled.
They would’ve been her final words.
I was too shell-shocked to repeat those words back to her with what might’ve been my last lungful. I regret that.
She helped me climb out of the vehicle. We sat on the side of the highway. Jamie tore a piece from her shirt and dabbed blood from my face. She cried so hard she gagged.
I tried to say something, but my voice didn’t work.
The paramedics arrived.
“Sir, can you tell me your name?” asked a large blue uniform.
“Your NAME, sir.”
I was too confused. All I said was, “My truck.”
“Yeah,” he said. “That ain’t a truck anymore. You’re one lucky sumbitch, sir.”
It was an understatement.
After I regained my senses, the EMT’s told me that earlier the same morning—only miles up the interstate—another accident had happened.
A semi truck jack-knifed. An economy car skidded beneath the trailer. The top of the car got ripped off—the family inside was ruined.
“It was a traveling gospel group,” said the paramedic. “They were leaving a church gig. They were high-schoolers.”
I’ll never forget hearing about those kids. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen my share of old-fashioned gospel groups.
Take, for instance, the time I drove six hours to North Alabama, just to watch three brothers sing. I used to lay concrete with them before they started traveling the circuit. The eldest, Aaron, was a good man—built like a Philco refrigerator.
I remember when a contractor tried to cheat Aaron and his brothers out of a week’s pay. Aaron should’ve pinched that mean man’s head off. Instead, he reached in his wallet and gave the man a hundred-dollar bill.
The man said, “What the hell’s this?”
Aaron said, “A parting gift.” Then he walked.
I asked Aaron why he did that. He said, “Anyone who takes my shirt can have my jacket, too.”
I had no idea what he meant.
And I still don’t. But sometimes I wonder at the meanness in the world, and I wonder at the lost folks who keep feeding it. I won’t lie, it makes me sad. Because such things are a waste of precious calendar days.
Anyway, I guess what I’m getting at is: the paramedic was right about me. I’m lucky. Damn lucky. Because I’m here. Alive. And not some flowery cross near Exit 114.
And I’ll say one more thing, something I wish I’d said long ago.
I love you, too, Jamie Dietrich.