The event I write about today is not new. In fact, many of you already know about it. But it’s taken me a few weeks to process the worst fear I’ve ever felt. It’s silly, though, because my fear is based on what ifs. The thing that scared me didn’t actually happen. But it could have happened, and it still could happen. The possibility hangs heavy on me, like a lead apron the dentist drapes over you before shooting x-rays at your head. It’s the possibility that shook me to the core. It’s the possibility, made alive by vivid imagination, that smothered any remaining embers of youthful invincibility I may have had. What possibility is that?
I almost lost LeAnne in a car accident.
How did it happen? And what does whiskey have to do with it? Disclaimer: This article is barely about whiskey. It’s more of a personal story. If you have no interest in my personal life, then this might not be the post for you. Try last week’s article for technical whiskey knowhow. If you are curious, then read on. This story is written in the first person present because that’s how I prefer to tell it.
It’s Wednesday, 8am, and 18° outside. I kiss LeAnne goodbye as she heads out to work. Because it snowed last night, I tell her to come back home if the roads are too bad. Then I sit down to write the weekly blog post. Usually I have it done the night before, but it’s been a busy week. So here I sit, thinking and writing.
At about 8:30am my phone starts ringing. I glance at the screen and see it’s a local number, but not one of my contacts. I don’t answer it. If you know me, you know I don’t answer the phone if the number isn’t in my phonebook.
Then, as the phone keeps ringing, an odd feeling washes over me. It’s like my subconscious has figured something important out, but can’t give me the details. Instead, it slips a strange and uncharacteristic urge under the door. I suddenly feel, for no logical reason, that I should answer the phone.
“Hello?” I answer skeptically.
“Baby it’s me.” LeAnne says in an unusual pitch.
“Are you ok? Why are you calling me from a weird number?”
“I’ve been in a small accident. I’m ok, but I think the car might be totaled. I’m sorry baby.”
I’m taken back. I put on my best conciliatory voice, “It’s ok. Are you ok? Baby, cars can be replaced. But are you alright?”
“Yes, I’m ok.”
I hear the tears forming in her words, “I slid off the road into the creek. Can you come get me?”
“Of course! Where are you?”
“You know the neighbor’s house that always has the happy little black dog playing in the front yard?”
“I’m at that house.”
“Ok I’ll be right there as fast as I can.”
“Be careful,” she warns.
“I will. Ok, I’ll be right there.”
I throw on warm clothes as fast as I can. Right before I head out the door I stop and double check. I won’t be much use if I forget a necessity. Keys? Check. Wallet? Check. Pocket knife? Check. Then I wonder if LeAnne might need anything. My brain scrambles for a second and then I decide to grab our favorite snuggly blanket off the couch. It’ll keep her warm and hopefully comfort her.
I know the house she was talking about. She’s only about a mile away, but it takes me a few minutes to get there. The roads really are bad. I’m shocked they haven’t been plowed or salted. I’m also going slow because I’m looking for the sight of our little blue Prius with its nose in the creek.
I get to the house where LeAnne is waiting without seeing the car. My logical brain figures she must have made it past the house she’s at now, and walked back. I knock on the door and LeAnne opens it. She’s dressed in borrowed gray sweatpants and a sweatshirt. She’s holding a towel and her hair is wet. Another fact I can’t quite work into the puzzle of what happened. I step into the warm house.
“This is Debbie.” LeAnne points to the 50’s something woman sitting in an oversized armchair.
“Hi Debbie,” I wave awkwardly. “Thanks so much for helping LeAnne.”
Debbie nods in my direction. She says something to me, but I’m not sure. I’m focused on LeAnne and getting her wrapped in our snuggly blanket.
“Debbie has been so good to me. She let me sit by the fire, use her phone, and gave me dry clothes to wear.”
“That was nice of her. Why did you need dry clothes?” I ask. “Never mind, you can tell me later. You’re ok, most importantly. So where’s the car? I was looking for it on my way here but didn’t see it. Are you up the road?”
“No. You know that old barn by the sharp bend in the road?”
“I went off there.”
“Huh, I drove right past there but I didn’t see it. Weird. Ok, I’m going to go check out the car and see how bad it is. You sit tight here and I’ll be right back.”
I drove 150 yards back down the road to the spot. No car. I pull off the side of the road to park and look around. It’s not until I walk to the very lip of the bank and look down that I see something. It takes a second before my brain realizes what I’m looking at…
Once it clicks, I’m in shock. I feel a heavy apron of fear and dread settling on my chest.
As I walk down and around to get a better look, I just keep repeating, “No, no, no, no.” Because I can’t comprehend what I’m seeing.
I run up to the car and look in. I look at where LeAnne had been sitting only a few minutes ago and I can see it so clearly. I can see 50 different ways she could have died. And then, in a fraction of a moment and without my consent, my brain plays out each terrible way in vivid detail. The specifics are all different but the punch line is the same. They all end with my beautiful LeAnne’s lifeless body trapped in this Godforsaken car.
My throat is getting tight. She could have been gone just like that and there’s nothing I could have done. I feel so powerless. I ball up a fist and bring it down again and again on the car. Why did my mind have to show me those terrible things? I know she’s ok, I just saw her, but I can’t stop what happens next. It might be 18° out, but my tears are hot.
After I compose myself, I go back and get LeAnne. I take her home and hold her in my arms for a long, long time. I might never let go, except for the necessary task of taking her to the hospital to get checked out.
I whisper to her, “I almost lost you.”
“I know,” she says. “I love you so much.”
“I love you too. So, so, so much.”
The good folks at the hospital tell us LeAnne is just fine. She only has a little bump on her head and some bruises on her shins. A miracle we’re both thankful for.
We come home and crash – figuratively. We’re wiped from the day’s excitement. I pour a generous dram of whiskey. Don’t ask me what I poured. I don’t know. I do know, however, that it feels perfectly appropriate. It’s my way of commemorating an averted disaster. My way of marking a happy ending, when it could have been so much worse.
— Zac Smith