You know how sometimes Life tries to quietly teach you a lesson and you ignore it? And then Life tries a little louder to teach you that lesson and you swat it away like an annoying fly? And THEN Life yells REALLY REALLY loudly and gets all up in your business and you get all “Oh, N-O you didn’t” and continue to ignore it? And then, finally, Life is left with no choice: Life hits you hard with The Brick Wall.
The Brick Wall can come in many forms and is different for every person: a life changing event, a person or an idea, maybe. For the most stubborn of us, Life sometimes has to play the bully and shove your face into that Brick Wall so hard that you suffer abrasions to your cheeks, you wet your pants and cry like a school boy. And, while the humiliation of such a school yard act by Life smarts, if you are lucky, while you are inhaling the scent of mortar, you have an epiphany.
My Brick Wall came in the form of a head on collision when I was 17 weeks pregnant with Fruit Loop #2.
Yes, you read that correctly. Head on. 17 weeks pregnant. Yep, Life came at me like a seasoned prisoner greets a newbie because I was just too stubborn to listen. And, ironically, Life sent me an actual brick wall. More on that later….
I know it may seem hard to believe, but, I wasn’t always the hilariously funny, America’s Favorite Mom type that I am today (hold your snickers, please). In fact, I was kind of a bitch. Kind of a Big Fat One. I had a sense of entitlement and an attitude to boot. In my head, the world kind owed me just for the mere presence of my existence. Life was along for MY ride, not the other way around. I took much for granted, material goods defined me and looking back, I was a lousy friend. I was the quintessential spoiled brat. I wanted the very best of everything because, well, I was me and I deserved it, dammit.
Sigh. I could go on, but I won’t, because I can’t even stand me in that paragraph. Suffice it to say, I wasn’t the nicest of people most of the time and it’s a wonder that my closest friends and husband stuck with me.
Flash forward to a gorgeous spring day in April 2005. Blue skies, not a brick wall in sight. I was returning home to Pennsylvania from visiting my very ill grandfather in Massachusetts. As I was cruising down I-95 in Connecticut, music blaring, the driver of car in front of me slammed on his brakes and I was much too close to stop. You know that whole 3 car length thing they teach you in Driver’s Ed? Turns out, that would have been more helpful than the bumper’s distance I was following behind him. His brakes went red, I slammed mine on, swerved my wheel and hoped for the best.
The car slammed left into the guardrail (because, of course, I was in the fast lane) and did a 180 spin so that I was then face to face with the driver behind me. The car then continued it’s turn to the left and headed straight for the, wait for it, cement wall barrier (okay, there weren’t actual bricks but I am allowed a little poetic license, no?). I hit that barrier head on at close to 50 mph and the car came to a stop on the shoulder of the road. The air bags did not deploy and my trunk, the actual trunk of the car, had somehow been sheared off and was laying in the slow lane. The hood was completely up over the shattered windshield and the engine was spewing. And, as all of the chaos ensued around me, I sat there, dumbfounded. Pregnant, alive and dumbfounded.
Amazingly, I walked away from the shattered remains of my car with only seat belt burns and a wicked case of whiplash. And that tiniest of Fruit Loops? She was 17 weeks strong, healthy and no worse for the wear, no thanks to her mother.
Now, you are waiting for that happy ending where I wake up the very next day and am the Mary Poppins who swallowed Snow White, right? Not so much. I had faced death straight in the face and truth be told, it scared the ever loving bejesus out of me. I escaped with my life but I had no idea what that meant and it felt like an incredible responsibility. People like me were supposed to go out and dedicate their lives to solving world hunger because they got that precious second chance, right? People would say, “you still have work to do here” or “God wasn’t ready for you yet” and I would think, “Holy shit, I can’t screw this up”.
Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, reinventing yourself doesn’t happen overnight, either. It took months to process what had happened to me and lots of introspection to find the deeper meaning. Some days, it was about catching myself before I rolled my eyes and snarked at the Starbucks barista for getting my latte order wrong. Other days, it was about realizing a deeper truth about myself and swallowing the even harder part of admitting it to myself. Mostly, it was about forgiving myself for being a total bitch and making a pledge to just try to do better every. single. day.
Very rarely am I in the car and don’t think of that day. Very rarely do I look at Fruit Loop #2 and not think, “Oh my God, what if….” (and, if I’m being brutally honest, I marvel that she doesn’t have shit for brains thanks to me). I have forgiven myself of my past and while I’m by no means perfect, I’m pretty damned satisfied with what Life has handed me. And I’m always quick to pay attention to the bricks that Life throws at me before they become brick walls because, frankly, peeing your pants is embarrassing.
Oh, and, PS: if you were in the 4 hour back up on the Merritt Parkway on that day in April 2005, I sincerely apologize. For your inconvenience, I’ll gladly send you an autographed box of generic, in no way related to Froot Loops, cereal….