“Me First!”

The last thing I remember hearing was the “click, click, click” of the left turn signal when he hit us.

The back seat of the Karmann Ghia was cramped so I sat sideways, with my legs across the bench seat. The instant we collided – as our car turned left – I clearly saw the yellow and black State of Florida Highway Patrol car and the trooper’s hat. My last words were, “Oh my God!”

I don’t remember the terrible noise of the impact, but I remember the silence.

The car came to rest in a wet Florida ditch. That’s where I became aware of being alive and intact, although I couldn’t see clearly. “Where’s my glasses?” I thought as I groped around the seat. My head felt different too. I couldn’t believe it — my blond wig was gone.

The silence continued. No one said a word. I began to feel panicky because I couldn’t see. Worse yet, on that hot Florida day, my hair was plastered to my head from wearing the wig, and I knew I looked awful.

Finally, I found my glasses and saw that the entire back window of the car had popped out. I don’t remember crawling out the opening, but I vividly remember crawling around in the tall, swampy sawgrass, looking for my wig.

Parting the sawgrass, I saw cars stopping on the highway. People were running towards the smoking trooper’s car. What relief I felt as I saw the shapeless blond wig lying in the mud between clumps of weeds. Quickly, I shook it, shoved it on my head, stood up, and hurried back to the ruined little Karmann Ghia to see how my friends were.

“Ginger! Annie! Are you okay?” I cried through the open car window. “You better get out of the car,” I said as I tried to open the stuck door on the passenger side. As I tugged and tugged on the door handle, I kept repeating, “You have to get out. The car might burn.” Ginger just glared at me as I raved on. I had no answer when she accused me of caring more about my wig than them. Changing the subject I again inquired about their injuries. I know we were all in shock!

Minutes later, after the trooper put out the fire in the engine of his patrol car, he slowly sauntered, in his knee-high, black leather boots, over to our car. Peering over the crushed roof of the Karmann Ghia he angrily asked me, “Did ya’ll have your seat belts on?” Not waiting for a reply, he demanded of Annie, “Why didn’t you have your turn signal on?” Stunned, the three of us argued with him that the turn signal was on – that it was clicking loudly.

Florida Highway Trooper in the 1960s

Florida Highway Trooper in the 1960s

Finally, the trooper asked us, “Is anybody hurt?” Still unable to get out of the car, my friends began to complain of their injuries. Then as the ambulance people made their way towards us through the mud and weeds, the trooper turned and left us without even trying to open the jammed car doors. We thought his behavior towards us was quite peculiar.

In retrospect, what made two people in crisis act so selfishly that day? Could it have been the shock or trauma? Or, perhaps it was a character flaw that we were unaware of until an emergency brought it to the surface — an unfamiliar, dormant “me first” attitude. I’ll never know for sure, but I have my suspicions.


Postscript:

I wrote this essay when I was in college in 1999 in English class. By the way, it’s a true story – 100% true – and took place in field service. I changed the name of one of the women in the car but left out many things that happened after the accident because the assignment was to write a short essay with a limited amount of words.

The driver of the car I was in was turning left off a highway in West Palm Beach, Florida, into a housing development. The police estimated we were going 8 miles an hour (from the skid marks on the pavement); the car that hit us was doing almost 55 miles per hour as he passed us hitting us on the driver’s side as the driver turned left. We found out later that he was on his way home to have lunch.

Carlton's car after the accident on February 21, 1970

Carlton’s car after the accident on February 21, 1970

This is a photo of the damaged car. We think at one point we turned completely over although none of us afterwards had any recollection of that happening; but the car came to rest right-side-up. The driver and front-seat passenger had their seat belts on. I didn’t because of the way I was sitting on the bench seat in the back.

The accident happened on February 21, 1970. Thankfully, our injuries were minor. The car belonged to “Jack Carleton,” a JW doctor in the congregation we attended. He has been at the Watchtower Farm in Wallkill since the mid-1970s.

The reason I was wearing a wig that day was because it was an extraordinarily busy week for me, what with the circuit overseer with us that week. I was pioneering and it was easier to put on the wig (which I rarely wore) rather than worry about fixing my long hair, and getting my child and husband ready for meeting at the Kingdom Hall for service on that Saturday morning.

Joe and our four-year-old son, Lance, went out with the CO. Joe was the congregation servant. I was with a group of woman who accompanied the CO’s wife. She was in another car and calling at homes on the next street over in the housing development that we were assigned to work.

(By the way, my grade for this essay was an “A.”)


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