I remember the sneeze and then looking up at a red light. My right foot jumped to the breaks as my arms gripped the steering wheel and braced for impact. The thud of my blue car hitting a suburban unforgettably rang through my ears. I don't recall the air bags deploying because my face was numb from their explosive power, but the smell, burnt and putrid, enveloped my senses. I could feel wet beneath my nose and I reached up to touch what I expected to be blood and was surprised by what I found. Snot. From that distracting sneeze. I could hear my sons cries and my daughter began babbling in shock. I whipped around to make sure she had kept her seat belt on. She had, thank heavens! I began panting and panicking, shaking like a chihuahua. If it weren't for that horrid smell, I might have not believed it was real. I crashed. I crashed the car with my babies in the back seat.
I remember crying. I couldn't stop. Through violent heaves and desperate sobs I kept repeating, "My babies! My babies!" Even though both we safe, unharmed, and quiet once I pulled them out of the car. I was overwhelmed by guilt and shame, and the tears reflected the inner turmoil causing a great deal of nausea. The other driver tried to comfort me and told me he wasn't mad or hurt. But I was hurt and mad. Hurt with dislocated ribs, bruises, and a busted lip, and mad at myself because, although I didn't crash on purpose, I was to blame.
The following days were difficult. When my eyes would close the first thing I would see was the side of that tan suburban. Then there was that thud. I couldn't stop hearing that thud. Andrea kept talking about it. Hourly, I'd hear her telling bear about the sneeze, the crash, and my red teeth. It pained me to hear, but I let her talk and process and cope. Through all of her retellings I began to see immense bravery that surrounded my daughter like a protective armor. She must have got that from her father.
I was not brave. The thought of driving again sent me into a shaken and panicked state. Even riding as a passenger was traumatic. Every bump and flashing light turned me into a white-knuckled cling-on, gripping at the dash like it was my lifeline. Sometimes I would cry, and Paul would softly reassure me.
Two days after the crash I knelt beside my daughter's bed and asked her to pray. Unprompted, she began. She thanked Heavenly Father for the things she loved: Grandma Gragraw, the supermarket, bear, vitamins. Then she petitioned Him for help; not for herself, but for me. She asked Him to help me remember Jesus and be calm. As tears rolled down my cheeks she ended her pray with one final request: Help me take care of my mommy. My daughter was not only brave, but wonderfully loving. In that moment I knew I would be okay because I had faith in my Heavenly Father, and I had faith in Annie's faith.