Life is surreal.
“Surreal” isn’t a term I really like. When I use it, I feel like I’m dumbing down a process through which some major epiphany has granted me the power to move on with my terrible, horrible, no good, very bad life with a fresh, “up with people” perspective.
But if you had been in the neighborhood of 125th and Lenox in upper Manhattan at about a quarter to six this morning, life would have seemed pretty surreal to you too.
I was sleeping next to my girlfriend. She awoke in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. Everything seemed normal. She crawled back into bed next to me and we remembered that it was Sunday and that we really like snuggling together and talking under the covers during a lazy weekend. It helps us remember what matters, even if it’s just a moment in time.
Not five minutes after she came back to bed, a horrible sound of crunching metal and plastic erupted just outside the apartment. It seemed to rattle the bedroom window. I didn’t know what the sound was. I wasn’t awake enough to make sense of it until a horrible screeching noise followed. Rubber scraped against asphalt, and the squeal seemed to echo into eternity.
I think I might have said that twice. I said it once before we both sprang from the bed and ran to the bedroom window to see what had happened. Even now, the fucked up visual doesn’t make any sense without context. I said it again after I told my girlfriend that I had to go take a major piss.
Why I decided to go relieve myself at that moment is still a bit beyond me. All I remember is that I was nauseated, and I still didn’t understand what had happened.
I also recall my knees shaking like the leaves of a quaking aspen in the wind. I sat down on that toilet seat and put my head between my sweating hands. I might have stayed like that for minutes or hours. I didn’t really know or care.
Eventually, I stood up and washed my hands. Like some character out of the show Supernatural, I thought I smelled a Reaper in the air.
I was sure that death lingered close by, waiting to claim the lost soul of the victim of a freak accident.
“Jesus H. Christ!”
I got back to the bedroom and stood next to my girlfriend. She seemed more than willing to give me a blow by blow of what was going on out there.
“Nobody’s gotten out of either car yet.”
In all honesty, I don’t recall saying that last word. I don’t remember much of what was said after that. But as the haze and the shock of the accident seemed to lift from around us both, things started to fall into place. Out the window, on our side of the street, we only saw two cars. The first one was a silver Charger with its back turned to us like a wounded dog hiding its face. The second car was sort of sitting to the right of the first. It was a green SUV that didn’t appear to have been even been scratched, at least not from our vantage point. The only thing that seemed to have happened, in fact, was that the SUV was nudged a few feet out of its parking spot.
It made no sense. Such a horrible crash followed by a rubber screech that lasted for at least three seconds just didn’t do … what we saw.
But time ticked by. Some of the neighbors from across the street turned on their bedroom lights and peeked outside like we were doing. Thanks to them, I felt a little better about being some sort of voyeur. The cops were on the scene immediately. The fire department came minutes later. EMT’s never showed. That struck us as odd until we came to the most important conclusion.
I thought for sure someone was going to buy it. For about a nanosecond I was disappointed. I can’t lie. I’m a horror writer.
Then the stomach ache began.
About an hour later, all sorts of things had happened. The driver of the silver Charger, wearing a black shirt with green writing on it, angrily shouted into his cell phone that the car for which he was responsible was a “fucking wreck.”
“What de’ hell I’m ‘a do wid ‘dis shit?”
His friend, a shorter man with a grey tee shirt on, seemed to be the voice of reason.
“Look, dude, least you’re alive.”
And that was what mattered. When other details fell into place, we learned that nobody, in fact, was dead. A third car was apparently involved in the accident. That unknown driver may or may not have been at fault for the entire catastrophe. We never really got to figure that much out. A tow truck driver couldn’t even tow the silver wreck out of the way in one try. His truck’s hook lost its grip on the wreckage twice.
I grinned. And call me sadistic, but I was thankful I wasn’t going to have to figure out how to pay for THAT repair bill. The driver and his friend drank two cups of coffee purchased at the deli just below our window.
My girlfriend and I went back to bed. We didn’t fall asleep right away, of course. We talked about the accident. We talked about how our weekend was going before the crash, and how it might go afterwards. Things like money and job woes don’t matter as much when you’re thankful just to be in one piece. That lesson sinks in deeper when you’re with loved ones. The problems might not go away, but their importance in the grand scheme of the universe dwindles.
I just got through sending out something like 6 job aps. I took a break to watch a show. I thought about my latest submission of a short story to a magazine for consideration. My girlfriend’s out teaching a dance class. We still have lives to live and things to do to survive in this city. She still has to talk to her dad about her insurance costs, and I still want to start writing the latest chapter for my online serial. At least I know she’ll come home in one piece, and we’ll have an easier time figuring out how to scrounge up enough money for dinner together tonight.
There’s a cat purring in my lap too.
Surreal or serene? Take your pick.