Wednesday, June 20, 2012

What If?

When I was in high school, just before prom season, I remember seeing a presentation where the entire class gathered outside to see a demonstration of what’s involved in a drunk driving accident. To set the scene: all the students sat on bleachers, two smashed up cars were on one of the school roads, a student actor laid in the grass with fake blood oozing from his forehead, another actor got out of a car and began screaming that her friend was dead. A few minutes later, police cars showed up, then an ambulance, then a fire truck, and the grand finale was an air ambulance helicopter landing and taking the most critically wounded to the nearest trauma center. It was quite a spectacular presentation. There’s no doubt that most of us went to our next class with an understanding that drinking alcohol and driving is a bad combination.

Up until recently, that presentation had been my only experience with drunk driving. Sure, I’ve known of a couple friends to be arrested for DWI, but even then, they never crashed a car or hurt anyone. Earlier this week, my wife and I were enjoying a warm day in the front yard. Our 17-month-old daughter was splashing in a blow up pool. Our neighbor and her kids had come over with their new puppy. You know, just a really nice afternoon. Then...crash.

It was clear there had been some sort of accident nearby. Shortly after the crash, I heard the sound of an engine revving. I left the scene of our nice afternoon, and walked down the block to see a small truck sitting atop an electrical box and an entire neighborhood’s mailbox laying in a nearby driveway. Being one of the first people there, I quickly assessed the situation. No one seemed to be hurt. The driver was still in the truck, clearly dazed and confused. There was a high school girl there who told him to shut the vehicle off. Thinking there was a slight risk of a fire, she and I helped get him out of the truck that was leaking some sort of fluid onto electrical lines.

I sat him down in the grass and eventually convinced him to move further away from the vehicle to a safer location. I told a neighbor to call the police, mostly because I didn’t know how much of a fire risk there was, and the whole situation was clearly above my pay grade. As I began to talk with him, it was evident that he had either been drinking or had a medical problem. In an effort to keep him on the scene while we waited for the police to show up, I asked him a few questions, “Is there anyone else in the car?” “No.” “Have you been drinking today?” “Yes.” “How much have you had to drink?” “A little,” followed by a little thinking, “Don’t call the cops. I’m on probation.” I asked, “What are you on probation for?” “DWI.”

About then, the police pulled up. I pointed out the driver and told them what he had told me, then began gawking like all the other neighbors, just in case they needed any information from me. Then my wife walked up with our daughter. It wasn’t until I saw my daughter that my heart rate began to rise and I found myself becoming angry about the whole situation.

This guy spent the whole afternoon drinking, then proceeded to drive through our neighborhood at five o’clock in the afternoon. Five o’clock. The time of day when people are coming home from work and checking their mail. Five o’clock. Just before dinnertime, when all the neighborhood kids are running from house to house. Five o’clock. The exact time my wife and I were playing with our daughter in the front yard, less than 200 yards away from where the accident occurred. I kept asking myself, What if he drove onto our lawn instead of the one he did? What if I didn’t see him coming and couldn’t move my family to safety in time? What if the car exploded while I was pulling him out and my daughter didn’t have a father anymore?

I’m happy none of the above happened. Nobody got hurt. The police arrested him. Our power (which went out because of the crash) was back on in less than two hours. Overall, things turned out fine. The reason I’m writing this is because, despite how tough it is sometimes, you can’t live your life asking, “what if?” Sometimes bad things happen, and more than likely, it is out of our control. What I’m really trying to say, is to enjoy those precious moments that life brings - like sitting outside and splashing in the water with your daughter.