The Accident

I spent 2 hours with Roman 10 years ago. He was a short, bald, monosyllabic Eastern European who, as we would find out later, was prone to unpredictable blackouts. I had never delivered furniture with Roman before, nor would I ever again.

I usually delivered furniture with the owner Al or his son Mark. We’d load up a gutted 15 passenger van with tables, chairs and movers’ blankets and deliver our goods, sometimes stopping for a sandwich or soda along the way.

The job was an easy one. Load the van, drive to the customer, unload, set up, and then drive back. We would deliver beds, dressers and entertainment centers to everybody from dog breeders to drug dealers.

This particular Saturday morning Al said he had a delivery that would take a couple of hours tops. I get to the store and find out I will be going with Roman. I shake Roman’s hand but he doesn't say much.

The van is already loaded up so we take off. Roman is hungry so we park on the street across from a 7-Eleven.

We run across the street and I get a snack and a Red Bull. I have never had a Red Bull before but they are getting quite popular and I am curious.

We cross back to the van while the light is still red and get in. I don’t recall Roman or I putting our seat belts on. I do remember taking a sip of the Red Bull. I also remember the city bus next to us at the light.

The light turns green and instead of waiting for traffic to pass and then merging into the lane behind the bus, Roman starts to drive parallel to the bus. I worry that this is not legal or safe since we are not technically in a lane yet.

We accelerate quickly. The bus crosses in front of us to stop and drop off passengers in front of the Pizza Hut.

We don't slow. I don't look at Roman but if I did I would see that he is unconscious.

My awareness of what is about to happen quickly heightens and I shout Roman... ROMAN while clutching the armrest with my left hand and holding the Red Bull in my right.

I can't tell you how fast we are going, as fast as it takes a 15 passenger van to go from a standstill and cross a major intersection. Whether it was true or an illusion caused by the stopped bus in front of us, it feels like we are accelerating the whole time. It feels like we are going 40.

I close my eyes and brace myself.

There is a sound of heavy metal crunching and when I open my eyes and turn to my left I see bloodied Roman slumped over a steering wheel that is now bent in half. The windshield is smashed and spider webbed where his face hit it. I immediately try to get out of the van and run for help but can't because my seat belt is on.

When did I do that?

I unbuckle and run into the Pizza Hut. I am frenetic uncontolled adrenaline. I feel nothing and nothing is in focus. I shout for somebody to call 911, that there was a car accident. A room full of blank faces stares back at me almost as if the entire restaurant has been paused. Nobody moves.

Police are called. Bloodied Roman makes his way into the Pizza Hut bathroom. Ambulances come.

I leave my boss a voicemail. I don't call my parents. I want to know exactly what is happening before I make my mother panic. This is something I will replicate at later points in life. Something I give great care to replicate.... something my sister however will miss in this scenario.

I don’t know what I would say anyway:

Hi Mom I am fine but... how do you get glass out of someone’s face?


I feel like I have whiplash but nothing else is injured. The police ask me if I want to go to the hospital. I refuse. They double check.

Finally I decide to call home. My sister picks up. I tell her what has happened and to come get me. The note she left my mother begins like this:

Rich was in a car accident. He is fine…

But really, by the time she got to the he is fine, it was already too late. She should have led with that.

My sister arrives. She calls my parents. Take your time they say, don't rush home they say. My sister says we have to stop for gas on the way home. I don’t understand why we can’t just go home.

We get to the gas station and my dad calls my sister again. I pick up. He asks where we are and I tell him. He tells me to hurry home.

I hang up confused. Your son has just been in a car that crashed into the back of a city bus and you tell him to hurry home?

I am still in shock, nothing really makes sense.

We finally make it home. My parents come out to meet me. They are dressed like they are going to barb-b-q though I don’t recall them being invited to one. We go into the kitchen and I sit down. My mother fusses over me the way mothers are allowed to. She repeatedly asks me if I want to take a shower.

What for? To wash the accident off?

I’m fine mom. I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine!

She is wringing her hands, she is nervous. I tell her I am fine I just want to sit and relax. She walks me into the back of the house where the blinds leading into the backyard are all closed. Her voice is full of worry.

I don’t know how else to do this but…

And she opens the blinds.

There in my backyard are 50 of my closest friends, teachers, and relatives, all gathered for a surprise party for me, a party to congratulate me on my high school accomplishments.

For the first time in hours, my world comes back into focus. Sheepishly, I finally agree to take a shower. Though I am still in complete disbelief that I am actually able to, on this, the luckiest day of my life.