I’ll never get used to how suddenly it happens; slowly, and then all at once. Like a cruel never-ending cycle, repeating incessantly, within seconds the scene flashes in front of me once again—just as haunting as the first time I relived it. Anger flourishes through my chest like molten lava, a liquid hate that burns within my lungs and forces unshed tears to the surface, threatening to spill just over their fragile threshold. As metal crashes with metal, tires shrieking against the pavement, I can’t help but think about her small hand in mine; begging me not to go, to stay, please stay. I didn’t, and it was the worst choice I’d ever make in my life, just as it was the last. I watch on in morbid defiance as the car leaps from ground level—the same as it always does—and overturns midair, plummeting to the street below with a fury I’ve grown used to witnessing. ‘Come back quick, okay mommy?’ She’d say, a glimmering hope swimming within those beautiful blues of hers, the most charming little smile pulling at the edges, her over-eagerness at the thought of me coming back soon practically blinding. But I didn’t mind, how could I? Anything was better than this; watching on as the violently rolling vehicle jolts to a stop, doors and windows smashed inward, metal hinges sharp and jagged, protruding outward in all directions—hidden just beneath the smoke unfurling from its dented hood. But my heart drops when I see it, the same as it always does, a large broken opening stretched across the expanse of the windshield, fractured from the body that was thrown from it. And in front of it, the figure of a young woman, a mother whose daughter had begged her to come home quickly just hours before, now lay splayed across the black top—lifeless. I lasted three cycles of watching, sobbing, gasping for air when I felt that I was suffocating, until I finally admitted to myself that the dead woman bleeding steadily from her head—arm bent, leg broken—was me. ‘I love you, mommy.’ I could still hear her voice, gentle, and soft. A voice filled with so much love, so much of everything I didn’t deserve, everything I would never ever hear again. The tears came harder, faster than they’ve ever fallen, and before I knew it—my feet were moving on their own, slowly walking toward my body like a moth to a flame. I knew what was coming; it always did, unapologetically taunting, cruel and evil—but why? As my body beckoned nearer, I knew there would be no answer. It happened like clockwork, the seconds that followed. Slow and unhinged but spiraling closer; I didn’t want to face what it was, what I had done. The car I hit sat stationary a few feet away, dented, but the man inside it unharmed—living, breathing, and able to go home to his family alive. While my daughter would spend the rest of her life without me, the person that was all she had in this world—and for what? The opened message lay only a few feet away from my lifeless body; phone screen alight while my life was blown out, message bar still blinking from what I had been typing when I ran that red light. If I had just waited, put it off longer, I would still be alive—and my life, no, my daughter’s life—would have never been the price to pay, for the measly unsent message of ‘yeah, okay’.
I knew a girl who lost her mother to distracted driving. Her mom had been texting while behind the wheel, ran a red light, and crashed into another vehicle. She was thrown from the windshield and killed instantly. That story has always stuck with me throughout my life, and I try my best to take my friend’s phones away when they pull them out, or text for my parents when I’m in the passengers seat. Her story inspired me to write this–distracted driving isn’t a joke, and It’s very real.