May 12, 2010
It had been a wonderful trip. We had gone to San Diego to celebrate my aunt’s graduation from college, and celebrate we did! There was a big party, lots of late-night talking, and plenty of dancing and laughing. Honestly, when you get my mom and her four sisters (who are all best friends) together, there is bound to be some hilarity – someone even fell off the bed in a fit of hysterics. Seriously.
Ty had stayed home to work, so it was just my mom, Noah, and me. It was Noah’s first car ride in the forward-facing seat, and the drive out had been rough. He wasn’t used to facing forward and spent a lot of the trip being nauseous and throwing up with all the new movement.
Exactly five years ago today, we were headed back to Arizona.
We decided that it was best to leave late and drive though the night so that Noah could sleep, and hopefully skip all the puking.
I was 22 weeks pregnant, and as it was past midnight, I had been getting tired while driving. It was my mom’s turn at the wheel. Noah hadn’t even woken up during our stop, so we made it quick.
I had just fallen asleep, when in my dream-like state, I heard my mom yell, “Oh God! Oh God! Oh God!”
The next thing I remember, I woke up to Noah screaming in the back seat.
I don’t remember the impact.
I looked up in front of me and saw a wall.
In the middle of the desert?
What the hell happened?
“Mom, are you okay?”
“I’m trapped, I can’t move my legs.”
You’ve got to get Noah.
As I turned around in my seat to unbuckle Noah, time stopped.
I saw tall headlights barreling down on our car.
Is that a train?
No, it can’t be a train, can it? Where ARE we??
Right behind Noah’s head.
Oh Jesus, please don’t let that be in our lane.
The truck slammed right into the wall.
In the other lane.
Upon impact, the truck exploded into flames.
Almost instantaneously, we were hit on my side of the car with the cab of another semi-truck.
The wall. It was a truck. How did that happen?
Wait, this is going to keep happening over and over. More cars are going to come. And the next time we won’t be so lucky. The next one could be in our lane.
The next one will crush us.
After fumbling around with the car seat straps, I finally pulled Noah free from his seat.
Is he hurt?
I don’t see blood.
He’s moving okay. I think he’s okay. How is he okay? Maybe there’s something internal.
Internal…what about the baby?
Oh, Jesus, please let the baby be okay.
Focus. You have to go.
I pulled him in the front seat and tried to open my door.
I had to push the grill of the truck off of our car with my door to get it open.
I looked back at my mom.
“Mom, we have to get out of here.”
“I’m stuck. I think my legs are broken.”
But we have to go. I have to get Noah out.
In that moment, I made the hardest decision of my life.
I looked in my mom’s eyes, and I made the decision to leave knowing that she might not be able to get out in time.
“I’ll be back. I have to find someone to help me get you out.”
Clutching Noah to my chest, I climbed out of the car.
My foot landed in a growing puddle of diesel fuel. I could smell the second truck burning.
I have to get her out of there before this catches on fire.
I started running toward two people climbing out of the cab of the first truck – the wall.
In that moment, I realized two things:
1. I didn’t have shoes on. I’d taken them off to get more comfortable while I slept. I’d just walked through a field of broken glass. My feet were bleeding.
2. Something was wrong with my left foot. I kept falling sideways every time I stepped on it. I looked down to see that I was standing on the outside of my foot – my ankle was broken.
Keep moving, Hayley. There’s no time. Figure it out later.
Panic rose in my throat.
I ran to the man and woman who had made it out of the truck and were now sitting on the ground clutching each other. The driver of the second truck was stumbling toward them from the wreckage.
“Help! Help! My mom is stuck in the car. Please, she can’t get out. You have to help me get her out!”
In that moment, my panic turned to hysteria as they all refused to help.
No? What do you mean, no? How will she get out?
I can’t put Noah down.
More cars are coming.
He has to stay with me.
More cars are coming.
Move. Get her out.
How can I with no help and with Noah?
From behind me, I heard the most glorious words.
“I’m out! I’m right here!”
Flooded with relief, I turned around to see my mom lying in the puddle of diesel fuel pulling herself by her arms.
At just that moment, a car screeched to stop just behind ours.
The driver ran from his car and lifted my mom out of the puddle and carried her to me.
We were safe.
Finally, we were safe. Together.
We huddled together and watched the wreckage burn in the middle of the night.
Click here to Check out Part Two!