You know you’re in trouble as soon as you hit the accelerator. The front wheels don’t grip, you oversteer; you have a fraction of a second to try and hold it together before you hit the verge. You’re not quite sure how it happens but you’re thrown back across the road.
You have another second to try and gain control but it’s useless. Your first thought is ‘I hope no-one’s watching this.’ Your second is that the crash is inevitable.
You hit the off-side verge almost straight on; you’re not sure how fast you’re going but it’s fast enough to leap the ditch completely and smash into the bank beyond.
Time for one more thought: ‘This is going to hurt.’
The impact is a barrage. The windscreen shatters. The seatbelt grips. The airbags blow. Then you’re rolling and you lose all sense of direction.
Now the thoughts come hard upon each other: you’re alive; you’re in pain (chest, shoulder, knee, hip); the air is thick with smoke; the baby’s screaming.
This last thought pushes all the others into nothing.
You hit the seatbelt release – no fumbling, just one and done – and let yourself to the ground. You’re lost; don’t know how the car has landed. You consider searching for your phone and glasses but they’re not important, not crucial. You crawl into the back, grateful that however you settled the way seems clear. A moment to realise that the smoke is probably the explosive from the airbags.
Your baby is still in her car-seat, upside down, wailing. You say something to her, or at least you think you do, and support her as you release her. Again, no fumbling; she drops into your arms and now she’s right-side up and still screaming but you cradle her and coo to her and wonder how to get out.
The door is above you. You find the release and push but you’ve only got one hand. It doesn’t give at first. You try again and this time you get something behind it.
Then the door is pulled up. The onlookers have arrived, the assistance. You pass out the baby. You haul yourself up and let arms take you, undignified, to the ground. No, you say, there’s no-one else inside. Just me. Just the baby. You take her back and let yourself be led to a waiting car. Has anyone called emergency services? Not you.
You sit and cuddle your girl. You want to cry; you are crying. The pain’s not too bad. The shame, the shame, the humiliation. What happened? The truth is that you were going too fast for the conditions. There’s no other truth, though you dearly wish there was. It’s your fault. You lost it.
People are kind. You phone her mother on a borrowed phone. You speak to emergency services on another. The ambulance comes; you try to thank people but words are tricky. You hold on to the girl and never want to let go.
The ambulance arrives. Then the police. The breathalyser. People are telling you to be strong, be a father; guilt can come later. It’s already here, you want to say. A spectre of failure. you’ve let everyone down, wasted everybody’s time. You’re the statistic you swore you’d never become.
You’re fine, but for a minor fracture and a lot of bruising. The car is written off. The baby… prognosis uncertain.
You go to hospital. You’re still not sure if you’re allowed to cry.