Turtles Are Off Limits

There are those days. Those days when you look back at the end of them and can see all those tiny little insignificant decision points that if you had just gone the other way on any one of them, the day would have turned out so differently. So much better. So much less painful.

Friday was such a day.

I picked the kids up from school because my husband was heading out of town to setup a pottery booth at a festival. Jane wanted to go to Starbucks and spend the rest of her gift card. So we went through the drive-thru. If only we hadn’t stopped at Starbucks…

From there, we promptly forgot to stop by the grocery store on our way home. If only we had remembered our plan to stop there…

As I pulled in the driveway, past the mailbox, I paused. Had the mailman picked up those cards I stuck in there that morning? There was no flag to stick up. I backed up to check. If only I had gone ahead and parked instead…

The cards were still in the mailbox. *sigh* If only I had driven them to the post office that morning instead of assuming the mailman would come…

I glanced at my kids. Two were asleep and one was drowsy. Maybe I should drop them off. Let them go in the house and chill. But I wanted them with me for some reason. If only I had let them out of the car… If only I had left the cards for the mailman to pick up the next day…

The drive to the post office was uneventful. I dropped the cards in the box and headed home. As we approached the last major intersection, I noticed that all three were asleep. I smiled at the peaceful silence, the relaxed faces. Then I noticed a very large turtle scuttling across the highway. If only I had ignored the turtle…

But, no. Turtles are cool. Little boys like turtles and this one was so big. And it needed help crossing the road. I suspected it was an alligator snapping turtle so I had my doubts about actually picking it up. But little boys… they love turtles…

I had already turned off the highway toward home when I turned back. I paused for a brief moment. The boys were asleep. Was I actually going to wake them up to see a turtle? To possibly see a turtle get run over before we could do anything about it? If only I had turned around again and continued home…

When I got back to the intersection, I saw that an SUV had stopped in the left turn lane of the highway. I watched as a young gymnast hopped out of the back seat. She was very lean and tiny, barefoot, and dressed in nothing but a leotard. If only I had left this family to their task and returned home…

But I was fascinated by the barefoot gymnast. I watched her try to pick it up. It had to be about a foot wide. It snapped at her. She removed her hands. I wanted to be part of this moment. I wanted to help rescue the turtle. If only I hadn’t cared about the turtle…

I crossed through the intersection and pulled over on the shoulder. I contemplated calling out to the driver that the turtle was dangerous. I contemplated waking Daryl up to have him help. I wasn’t sure how he could. Or if he would.

That’s when I saw one of the most incredible things I’d ever seen. The tiny barefoot gymnast had picked that giant alligator snapping turtle up by its tail and was carrying it swiftly to the side of the road. I wouldn’t have done that. I know for a fact Jane wouldn’t have. And I had my doubts about Daryl. The girl returned to her SUV and they drove on.

I couldn’t wait to tell my Facebook world about the cool young barefoot gymnast and the turtle. If only I hadn’t been so eager to tell the story… maybe I would have remembered to look both ways…

I watched the highway ahead of me and inched slowly forward. There was no traffic coming. None at all. I started my U-turn. We’d be home soon. Only we wouldn’t. I looked over my left shoulder when we were approximately perpendicular to the direction of traffic. Just in time to see the large vehicle hurtling toward us. Too close. Way too close. I may have stuck my hand up to the glass, as if to stave off impact. I’m pretty sure I uttered a futile NO!

The vehicle slammed into us, sheering off the front driver-side quarter panel and spinning us around 90 degrees. It disappeared down the road and I sat there stunned. I don’t think my brain was working too well. All I really knew was that my forehead hurt from where it had hit the window.

I don’t remember worrying about the kids. I think this is because I couldn’t comprehend how bad it was. I tried to turn the steering wheel and apply the gas. I should really get over on the shoulder. The middle of a highway was not a safe place to be. But the car wasn’t going anywhere. Uh-oh.

That’s when I finally started focusing in on what Jane was saying. “Mommy? Mommy? Are you okay? Are you okay, Mommy?”

Momentarily giving up on me, she turned to her little brother, “Hal, are you okay? Here, undo your seat belt. Come over to me. It’s okay.”

Daryl sat stunned in the front seat. He would remain quiet and still for most of the experience. Jane tried me again. This time, the concern rose in her voice. “Mommy?! Are you okay? Do we need to get out of the car?… Mommy? Should we get out of the car?”

Get out of the car. Yes. Sitting in a car in the middle of a highway is not good. But neither is walking across a highway. Or standing on a shoulder. But, yes, those are probably better than staying in the car. “Yes, let’s everyone get out of the car. Jane, take Hal. Please watch for traffic.”

Noticing that Daryl’s door wouldn’t open, I told him to come out my side. As I got out, I could plainly see why the car wasn’t going anywhere. The front tire wasn’t attached to the wheel anymore. The wheel wasn’t straight. The quarter panel was gone. The bumper was loose. And I don’t mean the plastic bumper cover that everyone calls the bumper. I mean the actual metal bar behind that.

“Mommy?” Jane’s voice broke through again. “Do you need to turn off the car?” Oh. Yes. That might be good. That’s when I noticed the rapid-firing ticking sound coming from behind the dash. I’d learn later that part of Jane’s distress was fear that the car was about to blow up like in the movies. I reached in and pushed the button.

We moved to the shoulder. I saw the other vehicle, what would turn out to be a solid eighties model Suburban, about 40 or 50 yards down the road, nose-down in a ditch. It would dawn on me much later that night that the man in the other car never braked. There had been no screeching. There were no tire streaks on the pavement. I don’t know if I didn’t give him time to react or if he thought I was going straight and fancied shooting around me. The speed limit was sixty. We’d essentially been hit by a tank going at least sixty miles an hour.

Jane sat down holding Hal. I set my purse down and tried to decide what to do next. A man in a truck had stopped. Looked like he was on his phone. The other driver was on his phone. Surely someone had called 911 already? Was there a reason for me to? Surely someone had already called?

As if to answer my question, a Constable pulled up. How did he get there that fast? I called my husband. “I just totaled the Prius,” I managed in a shaky voice. In response to his question, I assured him everyone was okay. The Constable and another man stopped by to check on us. They looked at the bump on my forehead. They decided to call an ambulance “just in case”.

I thought I might be in shock because the world looked so surreal. Why couldn’t I focus on anything? Was my eyesight messed up? That’s when it hit me. “Where are my glasses?” I looked around frantically and touched my face repeatedly. “Where? Where are my? Where are my glasses?”

“It’s okay, Mommy. It’s okay. Come sit down.” My pacing was making Jane nervous. The man who said he was an officer and a former EMT told me to sit down. I sat. Before long, the Highway Patrolman arrived. I know exactly one such officer and this happened to be him.

After he took all the information, he walked up and smiled. “You know this is on you, right?”

“Yes, yes, I do.”

Yes, it’s all on me. If only… if only any of those if only’s…

Then again, if I had pulled out just a second or two earlier, I might not have been talking to him at all. Or Hal… sweet little Hal… If only I could quit thinking about what had almost happened…

A friend drove us home and everyone was fine. I had a few tender bruises. Jane was a bit sore the next day. Daryl was still sporadically complaining about a sore neck a couple days later. Hal had no complaint.

And, really, I guess I have no complaint either. We are all alive. We are all intact. We have such wonderful church family that we have a nice, reliable, spacious vehicle to drive on an upcoming trip. We have two different vehicles offered to us as a long term borrow while we wait for the insurance to settle. We have been surround by love and support and prayer.

No, I have no complaint. And while there’s no point in pondering the if only’s, the family all agrees that I am to have nothing to do with turtles. Ever again. Even if they are a foot wide.

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15 thoughts on “Turtles Are Off Limits

    • Oh, no. He shot off another 40-50 yards down the road and went off into a ditch. Didn’t realize I left that part out. 😉

      So he was there too. I didn’t walk down to where he was and he didn’t walk down to where I was. Learned later that we don’t share the same language, so I guess we didn’t need to talk anyway. lol

  1. Oh, I feel so terrible for you. I can’t even put thoughts together to express it properly, only to say I am glad it wasn’t worse. And…please tell me you were screened for a concussion. Your description of the daze after impact sounds very familiar to what I experienced about 3-1/2 years ago, only I didn’t remember hitting my head. And I have had congnition problems ever since. So even though it may have seemed relatively minor…please be diligent about your health on this one.

    Jane’s reaction is touching. She was so good, taking on the “voice of reason” role and doing whatever she could to help everyone and keep you safe. Once again, proof you and your husband have been doing an excellent parenting job.

    I’m so glad you’re all intact. And well enough to write about a horrifying and harrowing experience. Be well!

  2. I only “liked” this because you are all relatively okay. Shook up and bruised is not good. But alive and healing definitely is. I’m so sorry you went through this. But thankfully you can heal. I was holding my breath from the beginning. As soon as you said the first if only.

    • Thanks. 🙂 I have. I wouldn’t say I was haunted by them. Probably more fascinated to think of how many times I could have made a different innocuous decision and not experienced this – and not even have any notion of what I had narrowly escaped!

  3. Pingback: Slow Down | mybrightspots

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