Life and Death Experiences in the Overflow Lot


Things could have gone differently.  

It’s the thought running through my brain.

Like, I could be on life-support.  Or in a full body cast.  Or paralyzed.  Or really badly bruised.

My morning had gone off without a hitch.  The kids were cooperative.  Lunches got packed just so.  I posted an ironic and witty Wordless Wednesday post, which I thought was an apt follow-up to the post I wrote last week about Seasonal Affective Disorder, and the winter pummeling we are getting in the North East this year.   I replied to a couple comments on my blog.

I even had extra time to fully dry and round-brush my hair.  In my cashmere sweater and ruby lip stain, I felt pretty and confident.

I dropped my son off at school and proceeded to work.

It is creepy to think those could have been my last movements on this earth.

Our lot at work was full.  It is always full lately due to the excessive snow.  There is an overflow lot across the street next a big, old cathedral.  I pulled into the overflow lot and took the last space, in front of the building.

Since I am a creature of habit, I have a little ritual when I pull in to work.  Even when I am running late, I take a moment to collect myself before getting out of my car.  I take a breath.  Sometimes I look in the mirror and tell myself I am a sexy beast capable of anything.  I turn off the music streaming from my iPhone, and unplug it from my car.  I gather together my lunch, pocket book, and then check to see if there are any new alerts on my phone.  Today there were a couple Facebook notifications.

As I was completing my ritual by checking into Facebook.  Something happened.

There was a roar of thunder, a hiss, a pounding.

I saw a flame of white sparkles shower my car, followed by mounds of white.

The pounding continued.

My brain could not narrate this story for me as rapidly as it was happening.

I saw my windshield shatter.  I heard myself scream.

My first impulse was to start my car and back away, but my car would not start.  This was probably a blessing because, in my panicked state, I probably would have backed into the cars parked like sardines in the lot.  I grabbed my keys, lunch, and pocketbook and leapt from the car.  IMG_7262

Through screaming and hyperventilating, I realized that an orca-sized avalanche of snow had slid off of the cathedral and onto my car.

Through my screaming and hyperventilating, my brain worked to remind me I was experiencing trauma.  My body was flooding itself with fight or flight chemicals, my brain was working overtime to formulate words to accompany the storyline.

You’re shaking because of the adrenaline, my mind told me kindly, ever the social worker.  You’ll work it out.  Your breath is fast and your muscles are tense because you have been scared, and your body has responded in its most primal way.    

A woman approached and I asked her to get someone, anyone from work.  I instructed my fingers to dial 911.  The police station, which is less than a half mile away, took my call and let me know someone would be on their way. I heard sirens and my shrieks melted into sobs.

Some of my colleagues came out and held me and waited with me.  We waited.  And waited.  There were sirens all around but no one was coming.  Then we noticed the street was blocked off and there were flashing lights congregated at an intersection down the street.  There must have been an accident.

As we were standing there, another avalanche of snow came thundering down off of the roof.  The thudding rumble terrified me.  I started screaming again, then sobbing and shaking.

My boss instructed my coworkers to take me inside, so I let myself be led into the building through the back.  I did not want to run into any of my clients looking like I did, whatever that was.

I sat in an office with some of my work pals.  We waited. And waited.  I grew calm and then hysterical again.  I was hugged.  I was given water.  Our program’s psychiatrist came down and put a bag of frozen edamame on my neck as she rubbed my back.  On a primal level I was aware of how upset I was, but on another level I was deeply conscious of being loved, cared for, tended to.

I felt confused.

I could see people around me and they were talking.  My head hurt and I felt confused, like I was looking at them through an aquarium.

Briefly, I wondered if I would pass out or die.  But I didn’t.  I said,  maybe it was good I was with the car and knew that it happened, as opposed to coming out after dark at the end of my work day and having to deal with it all then?  My friends nodded and agreed sympathetically.

I called AAA.  I called my husband.  I called insurance. The police still had not come.  I called the police again.  “Yeah,” the dispatcher said.  “We were responding to an accident, and then another accident, and then there was a domestic dispute.  We’ll send a cruiser out when we can.”

My husband texted me and told me to make sure I took photos.  I texted him back and let him know it was not safe to get close enough to the car to take pictures.

It was at that point, I realized that if I had gotten out of my vehicle even seconds earlier, I would have been pulverized by that falling snow.

I imagined myself lying, bloody and broken in the parking lot, unconscious, unable to call for help.  And with all of the city’s resources being diverted to other accidents, I could have laid there for hours.

What would have become of me?

I can’t let my brain go there, really.  But it does.

My husband called me and asked me a bunch of questions.  I got pissy and ranted about how, geographically speaking, I was in Hitler’s asscrack, and this was the worst possible place something terrible could happen to a person because of the common crapulence.

After a while, I was calm.  But not a nice calm.  Shock calm.  The kind of calm where you are numb and a little off.

I peeked out a window and saw a cop car circling around the lot where my car was.  I gathered my stuff and ran out.  The cop took my report and waited with me for AAA to come.  We waited.  And waited.  As we were waiting, another avalanche of snow came off the roof.  I felt validated by the cop’s response of surprise and awe.

Eventually the tow truck came and got my car out of the pile of snow.

I’m okay.

I made it home to hug my family and that is all that matters.

But something about the whole experience today just feels. . .  deep.  That’s not even the word.  I don’t really have a word.

A couple days prior, the psychiatrist (who put the edamame on my neck) and I were talking about how sometimes we fear we might go crazy from the relentless stress of working with people who are at high risk for going crazy.  I’m ashamed to write these words, but I said to her, “Sometimes I fantasize about getting in a minor car accident on my way to work so I can go be in a hospital for the day instead of at work.”

Is there fate?  Is there karma?  Did this happen to me to prove to me that those sort of thoughts and statements are totally bogus and that you should never wish for anything so awful?  Gosh, I don’t know.  But it gives me pause.  And I’m terribly thankful.

This is the kind of crap we are dealing with in the North East this winter.  We are dealing with seasonal depression, property damage, accidents, slip and falls, loss of revenue, and cabin fever.

We are also dealing with orca-sized tons of snow that fall off roofs 200 feet up and crush our vehicles with us in them, which I can honestly tell you is something that had never even crossed my mind.

Be careful out there.

Hug your people.

Send out positive energy and rainbow-colored light for goodness.  (Note I did NOT say “white” light.)

And take a moment to pause and notice where you are and what you are doing.  Imagine, if I had not had my little pre-work ritual before getting out of my car.   That little moment I keep for mindfulness before going into work may have saved my skin.

I wonder what my trauma response will soften for me, and what the chemical reflexes will brand into my brain.

It is all still so fresh, so I don’t know.

Thankfully, I have been granted the time to wait and see.

22 responses »

  1. Wow, that was truly terrifying. I appreciate your walking me through your emotions and the after-shock. Experiences like that can be really life-changing, and we can all learn from them.

  2. Goodness, Charlotte. I am so glad you are here to tell this tale. It sounds absolutely terrifying! I have been thinking a LOT about motherhood and mortality (there’s a draft post in my drafts folder at the moment), and it’s anxiety-inducing.

    I’m sending you healing energy, loving thoughts & am so grateful to the Universe that you are still here with your family, with us.

  3. Wow. I am so thankful that you’re okay and am sorry that happened to you — truly terrifying. So much more to say. Thinking of you and sending lots of love your way as you process the aftermath.

  4. What a terrible experience for you. This must have been a hard post to write. But thanks for writing it and reminding us to “hug our people” and remember what really matters. Namaste 🙂

  5. I am so glad that you’re ok! It seems to be “avalanche’s week” :-S a friend of mine had her car crushed just like yours on Monday. But she lives at 3’000 feet above the sea! Take care and hug everyone. I hug you from across the Atlantic

  6. So glad you are ok! How terrifying. I heard my son once on the phone making an excuse to someone about not attending a party. “No, I can’t, my dad was in a car accident.” I told him he should never do that. “Lie?” he asked. “Well, of course you shouldn’t lie, but don’t ever put those thoughts out there in the Universe, they have a way of coming true sometimes.” Even when we mean no harm by just saying what we are thinking it can happen. I have done as we all have and of course no one WANTS to be in a car accident or in the hospital, it is an off the cuff remark meant to be humorous and relieve a little stress by sharing frustration with another person that can understand. I am very mindful what I say outloud. Thank goodness for little rituals and just daily life and our little habits for seconds matter in every decision we make. You stayed in your car, thankfully and did not get hit by the second blast. Very, very happy your story had a happy ending even though it was so terrifying. PTSD is real and if your feelings don’t abate soon, please talk them out with someone. You had a very traumatic experience!! ❤

    • Gosh how true! It was an important lesson to me I n many ways… not sure if I even know all the ways yet. Thanks for your support and for the comment. It means so much. Xox

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  9. I heard someone say recently that they always felt as though they’d be the one to survive a plane crash. We all feel that way though, because we’re all the stars of our own “movies,” and the star always prevails.

    It’s weird. When you find yourself in a situation like that, you’re on auto-pilot. Hardwired to pull through. You don’t consider dying to be a possibility, and it’s only after that you can step outside yourself and be like, “No, that was actually a close one.” Felt the same when I woke to my house burning down around me.

    Oh, and I am so glad you’re not dead. 🙂

    • Interesting. . I guess we are the stars of our own movies, but I don’t know if the star always prevails in mine. You are right about being on auto pilot. The after part when we put words to the story is very powerful. I’m also glad you didn’t burn down with your house, because who would amuse me with funny sketches of raccoons?

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