I had just days before turned 18 years old. I was blissfully in love and planning to fly from my home in NJ to my grandmother's house in Mesa, AZ so that I could spend some time with my boyfriend, who was in Mesa visiting friends. We had been dating pretty seriously, and I felt that a proposal was on the horizon. I was working as the manager at Rinaldo's Dry Cleaners, but that day, because of my trip, my mom had worked for me, and I just needed to pick her up so she could drive me to the airport. I got into the car, and put the key into the ignition. And then I thought, I should make one more quick trip to the bathroom, so I jumped out of the car and ran into the house. I only mention that because since that day, that very decision--to take the time to go to the bathroom--has become the sliding door of fate in my mind. Those two minutes changed the course of my life, or at least the way I think about the course of my life.
Jumping back in the car, I headed the two or so miles over to the dry cleaners to pick up mom. My head was in a million places. Mostly distracted by love and plans for life. I was driving behind a large white moving-type truck, in a sedan (which, incidentally belonged to my dad's business partner who was out of the country), when we stopped at a red light at a highway intersection. The truck driver and I were in the right hand lane, stopped for some time at that light, which I couldn't see because the height of his truck obstructed my view. But when he started to go, I did too. He turned right, I proceeded to cross the highway. And everything went into slow motion.
Out of my right eye, I could see a van barreling toward me, and I thought, "She'd better slow down! It's a red light!" But by the time she slammed on her brakes, it was too late, and she came careening right into me, taking off most of the front end my car and then her van flipped forward, somersaulting--over and over, knocking down the streetlight, breaking the concrete divider, and as I watched, throwing the driver from the windshield and sending her many feet through the air to land in a heap in the middle of the road. It was all instantaneous, and yet terribly drawn out, as I sat and watched it all happen in front of my eyes. I was still sitting in the driver's seat of my car, in shock. Traffic in both directions had come to a stop, with cars jutting out left and right as if the stop had not been smooth. Clearly something was wrong here, but I couldn't understand. I didn't know what to do. Out of my right mind, I remember thinking that I had a flight to catch in Philadelphia and I just needed to go down the street to get my mom. But the car wouldn't start, obviously. The door would barely open. But I managed to squeeze through and start walking. In the middle of the highway, with sirens now blaring and onlookers standing on corners. I walked to the pizza place ahead of me to use their phone. That was when I heard the terrible news.
The driver of the van, the woman in the bloody heap, had not run the red light. I had.
. . .to be continued.