Sunday, October 11, 2009

albac, romania

As always, there are about eight other things I want to write about right now. I don't know what it is--maybe just that I was looking back through Romania pictures, thinking about the camps and the people--but I've been thinking about the accident. When we had our last STIM weekend a couple weeks ago I got the pictures one of our guys took and I was just looking through them, and it's funny. They don't look that bad. We talk about flipping over a guard rail and down a mountain because how crazy is it what happened? I don't think I believed it while it was happening, but looking back at the pictures--I mean, it's still crazy, but we didn't go crashing 200 feet down the side of a mountain. It was fifteen feet down, I think? Thirty from the road? We've all thrown out different numbers, but I'm thinking from inside the minibus where we landed to the road was about that much, and then five more feet down to the river.

I'd actually never been in an accident until this one. Once I was in a van at a camp and we almost collided with a drunk driver. He was going the wrong way down the highway, and we swerved so hard I fell out of my seat, and then we all turned around and saw this SUV behind us. I remember the way it rocked, upside down, one wheel still spinning and glass everywhere. I didn't see it coming--all of a sudden we were swerving and then we were looking behind us, and it's just like with the accident in Romania. We were driving and suddenly it got really bumpy and then the whole thing had already happened, it had already finished. I was already being picked up off the window of the bus and we were climbing out, already hardly believing it had happened. Five seconds, maybe? How long from the moment we went off the road to the moment we stopped rolling? I can't even imagine that. I happened so quickly that it might not have, especially considering how little we were hurt, except I still think about it and how big a thing it was.

I remember I was starting to feel carsick so I had my head leaned against the glass, trying to fall asleep. One of the Americans, Patrick, was sitting behind me and he was reading from some sort of Romanian phrase book and he sounded funny, some of the Romanians laughing at him, and I thought about pulling my camera out and filming it. I still wonder what that video might have looked like. And then Peter, because there weren't enough seats, was standing in the aisle beside us (us being the three smallest girls squeezed into two seats, me, Naomi, and Miha). I didn't remember any of this until afterward, until I'd gotten back from the hospital and we were all together again, minus Miha, talking about it, all the pieces being fit together. I'd forgotten that the driver was offering Peter a fold-out chair to sit on and he was asking if it was culturally okay to accept it.

So that's what happened. He was turned around, trying to unfold the chair to give to Peter and all of a sudden the whole bus was shaking and I didn't really think much, didn't really have any clear understanding of what was happening--which is weird, because for some people they saw the whole thing, knew what was happening the whole time--but I think I understood that it was about to get really bumpy. I don't if I figured we'd bounce around and then get back on the road and that would be it, and I say figured on purpose. None of what I thought was this explicit, and I don't think I thought anything at all so much as maybe I understood it, figured it. So the next second, the next thing I remember is looking up and in the windshield it was green, bright green, branches and leaves like tall thick grass. We went nose first, and it makes sense picturing it, remembering how it looked to see the whole windshield filled up from the bottom.

I think our back left side got launched up. That's what it felt like, but I don't know if that makes sense. We went through the guardrail, and maybe the left back tire got pushed up over it? I don't know, but it shot me straight up out of my seat, even though I had a bookbag that weighed about as much as I do in my lap. And I don't really remember falling either, although I must have fallen about seven or eight feet to the other side of the bus as we rolled onto the right side, angled downward. But I remember being on the window, my shirt pushed way up and my stomach showing, and it's funny the things you worry about. Peter had grabbed my arm and lifted me onto my feet but I was wiggling all around trying to get my shirt down. But as soon as I stood up, just standing there bracing myself, holding my forehead against the row of seats I'd just been sitting in, oh man the back of my head split open. I remembered hitting it then, when I'd been launched upward, before I'd fallen across, and let me tell you, I haven't had a goose egg that big since a twenty pound light fixture fell on my head when I was five.

But everyone was getting out and I couldn't think except that my head hurt and that I had to climb, and where was my bookbag, and then the absurdity, the improbability that I was standing on the windows of a minibus I'd just been riding in. I don't know--this is what I mean when I say how it happened so fast, and I know that's what people always say, but I was disbelieving it, I was gaping at the unbelievability of it before I even made sense that it had happened. I think back on how I couldn't really think, how after I got out, I wandered around with one flip flop on and the other one that had broken in my hand. I wanted to lie in the river because it was so hot, because I couldn't think and all I wanted to do was lie in the river. But I was worried about my shirt coming up, and as I was climbing out, who knows how I had the presence of mind even to think this, but I asked the Romanian who had appeared from nowhere and was pulling people out--cum? How, in Romanian. And then of course he proceeded to tell me how in Romanian and I had no idea what he was saying but it's so funny to me how we are, what we do. You never really know, I guess, and you surprise yourself what you're thinking.

So that was it, mostly. I wandered around, one shoe on, one shoe off, dazed probably the right word for that. I remember it was hot. Sitting against a building in the sun with my head down and then when I stood up I realized I had sweated through my shirt. Standing with my feet in the river, seeing blood on the back of Kayla's neck, Patrick hugging me, Shannon mouthing to me how bad the gash in Miha's leg was. Aidan with his head down reading his Bible, Lindsey praying with Shannon, hugging Miha and hearing her ask me, why, why did this happen? and wondering that that question hadn't occured to me. And all these Romanians from who knows where, standing in the road, by the minibus, at the top of the ladder they'd put down so we could climb up from the river. I was gone, already taken to the first hospital, when everyone prayed and sang together, but I was barely thinking at all and it hardly occured to me to pray.

I'm looking at these pictures now, thinking back on all of it, and it wasn't bad at all. It was crazy, and I've never had anything else even remotely like it happen to me. The feeling of being tossed around in there--I didn't realize it until afterward, but it was like the time I fell off the third story balcony, or being blobbed. Or being tossed around inside a wave, just flipping and feeling things collide with you until you stop. Your body and momentum and no control at all, but it's only a few seconds and it's over before you can even be scared--so that said, mostly I'm glad I didn't see it coming.

What a miracle, I think. I've said before, but we were in the middle of nowhere, and we crashed right in front of the only place with people for kilometers. And a hundred meters in either direction--you know? But it wasn't bad at all, and really it wasn't even too big of a deal. We all climbed out, all a little bit shaken up, a little bumped and bruised, but then we got to see the generosity, how hospitable these people were, strangers, to a group that mostly didn't even speak their language. I don't know why. I never really did think about it, to be honest. It happened and it was crazy and we got to see some things that were pretty amazing, and the next day, all together, apart from the soreness, you might not have known that eighteen hours before the minibus we flipped down the side of the mountain. Who knew?

It was hot, today. Humid hot, and I thought about sitting in the sun, the way the asphalt burned my right foot, the one without the flip flop. The way the women at the top of the ladder spoke to me in Romanian and all I could say was mulţumesc mult and suntem bine (or suntim, I can't even remember now), and wanting to lie down with all my clothes on in the river. Seeing a car in front of us crash off the road and down the hill while we rode in a police car to the first hospital, the way the dust floated up where the car had been, seeing the man get out, completely unhurt, just standing there in a cabbage field. And then thinking about the name of the city the second hospital I went to was in--Alba Iulia, White Julia, and how all the way there with siren blaring and us flying around cars and people turning to look, the countryside sort of rolled away, not really green like in the mountains, but lighter colored, the way grass starts to look in the winter.

I don't have pictures of any of this, but I remember it all exactly how I saw it, the dust in the light, the white-green leading up to Alba Iulia. And I still remember parts of the minibus the way I saw it all, but I've got pictures now, and my memory is starting to shape itself around that. So all of this, the rest of it--I'm writing it to remember it this way. And the minibus:

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