I was in a serious car accident 11 days after my 18th birthday in 2006. I had a brain injury, and spent six weeks in rehabilitation. I’m fine now.
I’ve been trying to figure out how to write about this for a while, so I figured I would start with the facts.
On the one hand, my accident has absolutely nothing to do with my life now. It almost feels like it happened to another person. On the other hand, it has everything to do with my life now.
Because of my accident, a few things happened:
1) I got a brief taste of what it was like to live as somebody else.
2) It helped me be myself more fully, or it turned me into myself.
3) I decided there was no way I could continue to live in the town where I had grown up.
After my accident, I was unconscious in the hospital for 10 days. The doctors told my family that in addition to a broken collarbone, tailbone and pelvis, I had a moderate brain injury. When I woke up, the injury was downgraded to mild, but I still had to spend the next month in rehab to relearn some physical and mental skills.
In rehab in Atlanta, I met people with stories of trauma that had a major impact on me. There was my roommate in the inpatient facility who had been a college freshman until she was thrown from a car that her friend was driving. She lost the ability to walk, eat on her own, or communicate verbally. There was another girl who had escaped Hurricane Katrina only to have a serious brain injury a few months later.
This was my first encounter with people whose injuries were more serious than mine, and most of them had a long road ahead of them. I felt like we didn’t really belong in the same facility — as in, I didn’t belong. It was here that I understood the true meaning of empathy for the first time.
The accident also affected my personality in subtle ways. When I came back home after the accident, I acted older. More serious. Probably less fun. Less tolerant of large, loud crowds of people. Are these characteristics, most of which I have today, a result of the effects of the accident on my brain, a result of experiencing a trauma, a natural consequence of growing up, or a little of all three? I’m not sure, but I know that when I came back from the accident I was different.
Finally, my accident made me 100 percent certain that as soon as I could get out of my hometown, I was gone.
Jackson, Tenn. is the kind of place where everyone pretty much knows everyone else. My father was a professor at a local college and a columnist at the local newspaper. My siblings and I had gone to multiple schools and participated in different activities. We were well-known in town.
After my accident, news spread quickly in the way that it only does in a small town. All of our family friends showed up at the hospital, prayed, sent flowers and gifts, gave money, and were generally amazing.
But the result of so many people knowing about the accident is that my life came to be defined by it. Not by people who knew me personally, but by friends of friends and old classmates and acquaintances and random people in the grocery store. Because of my accident, I didn’t go away to college like I had planned. Instead I went to the local college, and this of course meant that it was even harder to get away from what had happened.
The first couple of years after my accident, people I didn’t know would routinely try to talk to me about it, against my will. A memorable example: In the college dining hall, an acquaintance asked me if I had any “effects” (as in mentally) from the accident. What do you say to that?
People’s responses to my accident show some of the best things about living in a town where everyone knows everyone else. In a small town, you are known. You are cared for. But because of the accident, I decided I needed to live someplace where I could choose to be anonymous.
I was back in Jackson last year for two weddings. One stranger at each of these weddings brought up the accident to me. “Weren’t you the girl..?” Remember this is 10 years after it happened. “Yes,” I said, and smiled.
So this is my story. I don’t talk about it much. I doubt most people who know me now have ever heard me mention it, and you probably won’t. It’s not that important, but in a way, it is.
I have a scar from the accident on my left temple, where broken glass had to be removed. Though I always cover the scar with makeup, I’m proud of it, too. It shows where I’ve been. I earned it.
Follow this journey on Lovely Introspection.
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