By Kristen Banks
At this time of year, with the holiday quickly approaching, we are all reminded of the many things we have to be thankful for. My list is long this year as I think about time spent with my family, what a joy it is to work at my cozy little quilt shop, or all of the wonderful new friends I’ve made because of it.
My life has changed so much in a few short years, it’s not that things weren’t good before, but I never realized how much I had to be thankful for until one dusty dry hot day in the late summer of 2013. It’s kind of funny to think that the best days of my life started with the worst day of my life. That day started out like any other, but it turned out to be anything but ordinary.
I’ve been accompanying my Dad on regular weekly car buying trips to auction in Dallas ever since I graduated from high school. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed, not just because of getting to drive cool cars or the excitement of the auction, but I’ve also got to spend the kind of quality time with my Dad that a lot of people never have the luxury of. We talk, eat good food, just enjoy being together, and somehow manage to also get some business done.
On this particular day I was driving a nearly twenty year old tiny little two-seater 5-speed Mazda Miata convertible. I learned to drive “stick” on a Miata when I was a teenager, and I’ve owned several of them throughout the years. They are still one of my favorite cars to drive to this day.
This particular car was a car we brought back to life, and saved from going to the wrecking yard. The body and interior weren’t the greatest, but it was cheap, mechanically solid, and got great fuel mileage. Hence the reason we were using it for our personal car to run back and forth to Dallas in on buying trips. It was the kind of car you could still enjoy without worrying about parking too close to the buggies at the grocery store. One more ding wasn’t going to hurt it.
We had bought more cars than the two of us could drive back that day, so we had to shuttle them. We’d each drive a car to Van Alstyne, leave one off in a parking lot, then both get back in the other car, and go back to the auction to pick up another car. This was my second, and last, trip down. It was hot and dry that September and I had been out in the dusty wind all day. Needless to say I was ready to head north.
We left the auction, Dad in a Pontiac, and me in the Mazda. I still remember rounding the old familiar corner and accelerating up the ramp and onto the highway heading home. The old Miata had a bad top, and the wind noise was so loud it was deafening. There would be no radio listening on this trip, because I couldn’t have heard it thunder over all the racket of the worn out rag top flapping.
I remember feeling relieved and relaxed, because although Dallas traffic is always bad, the traffic wasn’t terrible at that point and all the driving I had left to do was the ever familiar drive home. This was a stretch of road I had driven a hundred times before.
The last thing I really remember was seeing my Dad’s tail lights about five or six car lengths ahead of me. I don’t remember what I was thinking, and I don’t remember which landmarks we had just passed. All I remember was being a couple of miles from the auction, and being out in the middle of five lanes of traffic driving straight ahead.
That’s when I heard a funny metallic scraping noise.
From the time it took me to turn my head to the left to see what the noise was about, it’s like the world started coming apart. All I knew was that I was wrecking, and to my horror it was with a semi.
At first I thought that he didn’t see me, because my car was so little, and that he had just merged into the side of me. I figured that he saw me now, and that we would both slow down, and get stopped. Sure, the car was probably totaled, but it was all going to be ok. But, he just kept coming. It was like he was bearing down on me, sparks were flying, there was tire smoke, and awful noises.
I had a death grip on the steering wheel, my teeth gritted, and my foot buried in the brake. I had been going 70 mph when the wreck started, and at first had simply tapped, then as things progressed, pumped my breaks to try and get stopped. Nothing seemed to help, and it felt like I was going faster instead of slowing down, that brake finally went all the way to the floor and stayed there. Nothing changed.
What I didn’t know was, my car was already out of control. And there wasn’t going to be anything I could do to stop it at this point. If you’ve ever been in a serious accident, or have talked to someone who has, they will tell you time seems to slow down and seconds can feel like minutes. At the same time you feel like your body/car is moving at the speed of light. It’s like being in a dream, or some kind of out of body experience.
The funny thing was, I wasn’t scared. The situation was incredibly intense and violent, but I was more focused on trying to remember what I was supposed to do to stay in control of my car. As I was desperately trying to do something to help my situation, the steering wheel (which had been shaking violently) bounced out of my hands and my car seemed to hit some kind of warp speed.
I broke loose from the semi, slid forward down the highway. At this point my hands were off the wheel and the car was completely out of control. The car made a sharp 90-degree left turn in front of the semi, who was still moving fast down the freeway. I felt a wave of panic wash over me, and caught my breath as I threw both of my hands and forearms up over my face and head, waiting for the impact that was sure to come.
I felt nothing. I slowly lowered my arms, and dared to open my eyes which had been shut tightly in terror. To my surprise, or horror rather, about a third of my car was being pushed, bull dozer style, down the highway, and plenty fast too. Again, I felt a strange since of relief thinking, “Surely he sees me now. We will slow down and get stopped.”
Then I realized he had a lot of momentum, my car was a tiny bug compared to that behemoth, and if we caught just right he was coming over the top of my little red hood. Again, panic washed over me, and I think I opened my mouth as if to scream, and then the car broke loose again, and now I’m sliding backwards away from the semi.
I remember hearing squealing, seeing tire smoke, and thinking, “Please, don’t hit me” as I slid blindly across several lanes of traffic. I thought all those sights and sounds were coming from other people’s cars as they braked to not hit me. The tire smoke and squealing was actually coming from my car. I had no idea what was out there or coming at me next, the car was still completely out of control.
I was trying to look back over my shoulder, to see what was happening, but somehow in all the chaos I couldn’t get my bearings. I had a strange sense of relief though. I was so thankful to be away from that violent fire breathing dragon of a road monster, and thought, “If I can just make it across without anyone hitting me, I’ll just slide off the road into the grass and it will all be OK.”
That is not what happened. About that time I got jarred bad, and my whole body shifted right and slammed up against the center console. Then I was sliding, or rather flying again. I had slid hard into the ditch in the median, and it had kind of catapulted me back out the other side.
The next part of the wreck is not as clear for me, and had to be told to me from witnesses, and pieced together by the trail that I left behind. But from my perspective, all I knew is that I was sliding again. It felt like I was sliding for an eternity, but I still wasn’t scared.
I used to rip and tear up the yard on a go kart when I was younger. I’d slide around corners and do donuts with it all the time. Had this not been such a serious life threatening situation, this might have been a lot of fun and wouldn’t have been much different than my go kart riding days. But it was different, and I was about to find out just how much different.
As I was sliding, I caught a glimpse of the guard rail coming up fast, too fast. My heart sank. I may never be able to put into words the feeling of knowing, that as sure as the sun is going to set, I’m going to hit that guard rail broadside. I’m not only going to hit it, I’m going to hit it going way too fast. And in that split second before impact, I was well aware of the severity of my situation.
I can’t describe to you how humbling that moment was, it was maybe the most honest moment of my life. In the blink of an eye, I realized how frail I was, how fragile life is, and how I was completely helpless to control what happened next. The funny thing was I wasn’t scared, at all, but I did feel completely and utterly helpless, like if you were a tiny ant about to be squashed by a big boot.
I closed my eyes, put both hands on the steering wheel and gripped down, and I said, “God help me,” out loud and only to him and I, because that’s the only two people that were in that car. I braced for impact.
Now this is the strangest part of all, and the part I can’t explain, and probably never will be able to. I didn’t hit that rail. Later I would find out that I was most likely still in the air when I saw that guard rail approaching, at some point I contacted the ground and broke a wheel off. This is the point that I started flipping, and by some miracle cleared that guard rail and the big ugly post at the end of it.
As I sat there braced for impact, helplessly feeling small and alone, I had this wave of complete and perfect peace wash over me. And suddenly I didn’t feel so small or alone anymore. Now, my family would tell you, I’m a bit high strung. So, to be this calm was very uncharacteristic of me.
I felt the right side of the car dig into the ground (which would be confirmed later by the giant gouge it left in the Earth), and almost like a voice was narrating in my head, I thought, “It’s starting now”. I felt like I was swaying back and forth from side to side and gently being tossed around. I felt things hitting me, but it felt like someone was pelting me with wadded up balls of paper. I started to get scared, because I felt like it was taking too long, and then the peace flooded back in and the voice in my head said, “It’ll be over soon”.
Then all of the motion and chaos stopped. I slowly put my hands down which were somewhere around my head now, and opened my eyes. There was so much smoke I couldn’t see out. I started to panic knowing my car was on fire, and then the voice said, “Turn the key off.” It was at that point I realized the car was making a horrible noise and I turned the key off. By the time I had turned that key off, the giant cloud of dust I had kicked up had settled and I could tell my car wasn’t on fire after all.
I sat there for a second and realized I could move everything and nothing hurt. People were now rushing up to the car. I tried to get out of the car, but the doors wouldn’t open. The voice said “You need to tell these men you’re OK.” I looked up and smiled through the windshield and said calmly, “I’m alright, I’m fine, I didn’t hit my head, can you please help me out of this car, I just need to get out of this car.”
At this point I realized I didn’t know where my Dad was, or if he even knew I’d wrecked. What I didn’t know was, although he didn’t see the wreck begin he saw it from the point my car left the roadway and started flipping end over end multiple times. He said the little red convertible, with me in it, was flipping so high in the air that a man could have walked underneath it. He was ahead of me so he had to stop about and 1/8 of a mile away and backed down the shoulder to get to me.
He said there I was, car sitting right side up as it should be, and for about 30 seconds he could see a crowd but no one was moving, not in or out of the car, then he got close enough to see me look up and smile, and he knew I was going to be OK. I think the Lord had me do that just for him.
When they got the door open, I jumped out of the car and I said “That was God, I was over there” and pointed way far in the other direction where the wreck had started, “I said ‘God help me’, and now I’m right here” and pointed at the ground beneath me.
Now I know a lot of people think that God only does miracles for those that are the most devout. And while I think it’s important to be close to him and live right, there isn’t any criteria for miracles, except need. I wasn’t feeling super-spiritual or religious that day, I hadn’t had a quiet time either. I hadn’t read my bible that morning, and I hadn’t even been to church the Sunday before.
But I called out to Him, and if there was any one time in my life that I needed God to hear me, it was that time. And He did.
I can tell you most assuredly there isn’t a good explanation for why I’m here today telling you this story, except that the Good Lord allowed me to be. That I am sure of. That wreck changed my life, and I can never be the same again.
I don’t think there has been one day since my accident that I haven’t laid in my bed at night, and thanked God that I’m still here. And I’m just as thankful to be here on the bad days, as I am the good days. So many other things that I used to concern myself with don’t even matter anymore, like what I’m going to wear, the kind of car I drive, or how much money I make.
Life isn’t always easy, or pretty, or even how we want it to be. But it’s a blessing that we even get to be here at all. And coming to that realization has given me some of the best days of my life.
Hopefully this story will make a difference in your life by hearing it, the same way it’s made a difference in my life by living it. Thank you all for being such a blessing to me each and every day, and for giving me many, many more reasons to be thankful this coming Thanksgiving Day.