At various points in life most accept that unfortunate things can easily come to be. This acquired wisdom, not the fruit of painful lessons, does not save one from shock.
I drove on the same highway I had driven countless thousands of times before. I was changing radio stations in the fruitless pursuit of a song that didn’t grate the nerves. Really, is it impossible to have any decent music? Is it really necessary to dedicate half a station’s airtime to advertisements? Bugger and sod. I saw something in the mirror. A golden flash was quickly approaching. How fast was I driving? I looked, 58 MPH. That is hardly slow – but it isn’t unreasonably quick, either. The saloon drove over the double yellow lines that demarcate the direction that traffic ought to follow. The driver overtook the grey VW saloon behind me in an overtaking lane designated for traffic driving in the opposite direction. “Feckin’ Eejit” I muttered to myself before said driver nearly drove into me. In a flash she crossed the double yellow lines again – overtaking cars quickly moved into the lane most distant to avoid her.
I was still driving at a steady 58 MPH, but she was quickly moving away. Well, she was. She must have been driving at least 80 MPH as she entered an infamously treacherous turn. It was too much for her and she lost control. The driver of the ute in the opposite lane had the look of abject terror on his face as her golden saloon spun relentlessly at him. He couldn’t avoid it. His ute was flung 30 yards back – into a van. She was stopped by the side of a hill. I barely avoided that. Two insurance-fraud related “accidents” as a teenager bred a profound vehicular paranoia. I drove to the side after the three vehicles involved stopped. The driver of the grey Volkswagen saloon, a nurse as fortune would have it, stopped in front of me. Other drivers stopped to try to help. It was too late for the driver of the ute.
After the first responders removed his crumpled door with the help of bystanders he breathed his last. His aorta was torn. His now nearly featureless face, damaged nearly beyond recognition by the force of two high-speed impacts, told more of his sad fate than any words. His most innocent of passengers, an older terrier, had been flung onto the road and expired. I waited among the wreckage for an hour and a half. The driver of the grey saloon and I struck up a conversation full of gallows humour. She is a woman of profound Christian faith who grimly accepted it as divinely-ordained fate. We gave our testimonies to a California Highway Patrol officer. As the only witness to have seen the entire series of events unfold I had to walk along the road with him explaining the events and showing the locations in detail.
One grows used to this, I suppose. The police were stone-faced throughout. The fire crew were polite, but curt, their expressions impassive. The coroner arrived a half hour after the first ambulance. He laughed with the medics. For some death is merely another day at the job. For me, it was utterly surreal.