Most people have a moment in their lives when they have nearly died. Whether that moment was being inches away from getting hit by a car or almost slipping off the edge of a hiking trail, it humbles us and makes us a little more grateful. When that moment came for me, I barely understood the significance of it. My ignorance was mostly because I was sound asleep while it happened.
My parents have never given me a bedtime before, even when I was in elementary school. When I was younger, I would always find reasons to stay up as late as I could before my eyelids began to droop. The night the crash happened was no different.
I had three reasons to stay up:
1. It was the weekend, so I could without any immediate consequences.
2. My cousins were sleeping over at my grandparent’s place upstairs. We were trying to finish reading my book of Garfield comics for the 3rd time. This particular reading featured Jon Arbuckle with a falsetto voice.
3. If I was tired, I would fall asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow and have less time to think about the monsters in my closet.
Whenever my cousins would sleep over, I would try to sneak myself into their beds and pretend to fall asleep so my parents would let me stay. My dad didn’t fall for it that night though. He scooped me straight out from under the covers and put me into my own bed downstairs – a decision that he could have possibly regretted by the next morning. I scowled with defeat, but it was not long before fatigue overtook me, and I was snoring.
The next morning, I woke up to the sound of knocking on my door. My eyelids were stuck together with “sleep dust,” but I could still see the sun peering through my curtains. I opened my door and saw someone unexpected.
“Uncle Peter?” I said.
Uncle Peter lived a 45-minute drive away, so we rarely saw him unless there was a family dinner, holiday or event. I wondered what could have been so special about this Saturday morning.
“Let me show you something.” My uncle lifted me up and carried me down the hall to present the reason why this Saturday morning was so special.
My house was in shambles. Okay, not my entire house, but the front door was torn out and the floor of the entranceway was reduced to tile shards and wooden scraps. The doorframe was bent into an oblong, and there were pieces of glass from the window sprinkled everywhere. My favorite pair of white sandals stuck out from under the rubble.
Uncle Peter stepped over the mess in my house and showed me a gigantic hole in the fence where the gate used to be. I didn’t dare to put my bare feet down in fear of splinters and stray pieces of metal.
It didn’t look like my house. It looked like the buildings down the street that had just been bulldozed to make room for a new swimming pool, but even that didn’t happen overnight.
I saw my parents were surveying the damage from our front lawn. I wanted to ask if Godzilla had come in the middle of the night and decided that our house looked like a tasty midnight snack. I also wanted to ask how I managed to sleep through the noise of our house getting crushed and why nobody bothered to wake me up. I had wanted to meet Godzilla ever since I saw the movie with my dad.
My dad stroked my hair, and my mom kissed my face.
“A drunk driver crashed into our house last night,” she said, and I swear I saw tears in her eyes.
“He was trying to turn the corner but turned too soon,” my dad continued, “He’s fine, but he’s going to have a lot to pay for.”
My mom took me into her arms and whispered thankful prayers.
“Are Mama and Yeye okay? Eugenia? Vincent?” I said.
I turned around in my mother’s arms in hopes that she would take me upstairs only to see that the bottom of the stairs was missing. My cousins were crouched at what was the new “bottom” of the stairs with half-awake confusion on their faces. They, too, had slept through the crash, which I wouldn’t have believed if I hadn’t done so myself.
I imagined the house shaking and groaning with pain when it happened. There was supposed to be a huge crackle, broken lights and loud honking, but then again, I only knew that from TV. A car crashing into a building was usually the sort of thing that happened in sitcoms when the one of the character learns how to drive for the first time.
This wasn’t a comedy show though, and the TV never tells you how it feels like to pick up the pieces afterword. They don't tell you what it's like to feel unsafe in your own home.
My parents had called a group of people to help us clean up. Some of them were family or friends, and some of them were hired workers. My cousins were lifted down from the broken stairs and sent home. My grandparents didn’t want to risk falling so they stayed where they were.
Construction workers repaired the damage as quickly as possible. They made a make-shift door and laid down planks of wood until new tiles could be put in. For days, they worked on the entrance, and went from patching up to making a brand new space.
It was strange to live normally with all the chaos happening in our house. When we ate dinner, the site of the accident was in plain sight. The house was noticeably colder too. The tension and shock of the first day had faded, but there was still the draft and breeze to remind us of the cracks in our home.
Of all the minor hiccups in our daily patterns, the strangest change of all was that my parents no longer let me sleep in my room. They often deliberated about moving me permanently to another place in the house.
I came to realize that for my parents, the scariest part of the crash wasn’t that our home could be so easily intruded by danger. What worried them the most was that if the drunk driver had decided to turn a few seconds earlier, it would have been my room with a hole in it and not the entranceway. Even though the likelihood of a similar incident occurring was highly unlikely, my parents tried to keep me safe by keeping me close. They told me I was too young to understand. Maybe I hadn’t fully grasped the concept of life and death, but to me, everyone was safe, so everything had to be okay. It didn’t make sense to be afraid.
Eventually, the physical remnants of the crash disappeared. New tiles were set, a door and frame were installed, and the stairs were completed. All the dust was swept away, and our house grew warm again. My parents let me sleep in my room, and the crash became both an obsolete thought and a crazy story. By that, I mean that my parents never spoke of it again, but I decided that it was an entertaining tale to tell my friends.
When we moved out of our house a few years later, the crash was long behind us; at least so I thought. My parents refused to live in a corner house again and resented the fact that we moved onto a street that was just as busy as the former. When it came to picking rooms, they gave me an upstairs room facing the alleyway.
“It’s the biggest,” they said.
I translated that into: “It’s the safest.”
Usually, when people have a near-death experience, it changes them. It might not necessarily be life-changing exactly, but a small part of them registers that certain things should be avoided. In my case, my near-death experience didn’t change me very much, but it changed my parents.