Crash, by Monica Restrepo

You are on the fastest lane of Interstate 95, the tranche in-between Miami and Boca; the plastic city you left and the plastic town you hope to leave. Life in the new town is lonely, and so you say yes to any and all playdates offered by your old friends in Miami. You haven’t realized it yet, but the people you visit are not the life-long friends you’ve idealized them to be. These are women you met in prenatal yoga, baby sensory class, the neighborhood park. They are moms whose children happened to be born within a few months and miles of yours. With them, you survived years of sleep deprived nights and loads of milk-stained clothes. Now you have moved away, and they have moved on. Now you get into your car and drive back to them, hoping to arrive somewhere.

On the road, your mind is on nothing and everything at once. You are aware that you’re going 85 while transporting precious cargo in the form of your five-year-old daughter, who sits quietly in the backseat watching episodes of Shimmer & Shine on your iphone. And yet, your mind is also off the road, obsessing as you now do over inconsequential things with the hope of gaining some control over your uprooted life. You mentally ask and answer questions like: How many more minutes of Shimmer and Shine will I let her watch? Should I get off at the Palmetto, Spanish River, or Glades exit? How many apples are currently left in my refrigerator?

Suddenly, something catches your eye in the rearview mirror. A black car is speeding towards you, in a relentless way that says get the hell out. You stop counting apples. Too fast, still too fast, faster, your head spins and the blood in your veins rushes. You think about pressing on the gas but you’re not the kind of person that drives that fast and you’re already going 85 and how much faster can you drive on the fastest lane of Interstate 95? Before you’ve had a chance to answer BOOM! the car slams into you. Your chest heaves forward, the weight of your body tumbling the wheel left, your car heaping onto a shoulder lane. The black car is still in view, not in the mirror now but through the right window. You see the attacker; a young, black-bearded guy with eyes bloodshot from doing too many drugs, or playing too many video games, or doing drugs that make life seem like a video game. He lowers his window and not knowing why, you lower yours too, as cars whizz by, swerving to avoid him, honking with great urgency because he’s slowing down too much and he’s still on the fastest lane of the highway. Your eyes meet and the crimson in his pupils spit at you as he yells: “NOTHING HAPPENED TO YOUR CAR!” as if you are somehow the crazy one. And for a moment, you think he might be right, you think you might be crazy after all, because even though you’re safe now on this miraculously timed shoulder lane, you’re still afraid: afraid of this guy and his car and his power, afraid of what he’ll do next, afraid he’ll park his car in front of yours, afraid he’ll get down, afraid he’ll point a gun to your face, afraid he’ll force himself into your car, afraid he’ll rape you, afraid he’ll take your daughter.

A moment later, the guy speeds off, zigzagging madly into a future that doesn’t have you in it.

In shock, you turn to look at your daughter, who’s still completely absorbed by the genies making wishes on-screen. “Are you okay?” you cry, your hands still on the wheel, your blood still wanting to burst out of its thin canals, tears soaking your sweat-dampened blouse.

“Yes, mom,” she says, barely looking up at you. “What happened?”

You explain that a man crashed into you. You ask to borrow your phone, just for a minute. You call the cops. Over the phone, a gentle voice says: “don’t worry, ma’am, hang in there. Someone is coming.”

You take your hands off the wheel, opening and closing your fists until the blood starts circulating more slowly. Cars swish by you and you pray no one else needs the shoulder lane. Twenty minutes later, a cop arrives, this one with a voice less kind. You hand over your registration and license and report the crash. “Your car is barely scratched,” the cop remarks in a snarky voice, looking too long at your license. “Are you Colombian?” he asks. You do not like his tone of voice, you do not like the look in his eyes, you do not like that he’s trying to figure out where you’re from or using your last name as some ridiculous form of flirtation. You look down and shake your head no and ask him to please help you get back on the highway.

On the remainder of the drive home, you ask no questions. You think only of two things: the black car speeding into your rearview mirror and the guy with the bloody eyes screaming at you, window to window.

When you arrive home and get out of the car, you run your fingers over the few scratches and small dents on the car trunk, wondering how something that runs so deep can seem so innocuous. You open the door for your daughter. Together, you walk into the house, and when you hold her hand, it feels like butter melting into toast. Your legs move awkwardly up and down and you feel like a Care Bare, prancing on invisible clouds made of air and sugar. You see your husband and son playing in the backyard and you walk outside. You notice, for the first time, how the pesticide-treated grass has a bright mint green tone and how the mango tree is blooming white and fluorescent orange flowers. When your son embraces you, his skin feels like silk against your cheek.

You think there is only one answer now: you are dead. This is heaven. You see an image of your car totaled on the shoulder lane of Interstate 95, you hear the ambulance screaming, you reach out to run your hands over the crisp white bedsheet covering the remnants of your body.

Years from now, you describe the crash to a friend, recounting the vivid colors, the floating feeling, the glossy touch of your children’s skin on yours.

“Being in a near-death incident alters your senses,” she says. “Everything you felt is scientifically proven to be the after-effects of adrenaline.”

Some days, this simple answer will suffice. Other days, you recall the feeling of being dead and alive; how the world can be everything and nothing at once. And in this remembering, you accept the plastic town for what it is, you see the fleeting friendships for what they were. You stop speeding back. You play with your children in the backyard, taking your shoes off once in a while, pressing the soles of your feet against the hardened grass.

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Monica Isabel Restrepo has a BA from the University of Pennsylvania and an MFA in Creative Writing from Florida International University. Before becoming a lyric essayist, Monica did financial research on Wall Street, consumer marketing at People Magazine, fundraising for a Bangladesh-based non-profit, and education journalism at UNESCO. She currently lives in Boca Raton, FL with her husband and their two amazing children. In her spare time, Monica guides students and young professionals through the essay portion of college and graduate school applications. Her work appears in Harpur Palate, The Lindenwood Review, and Cherry Tree.

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