The first time it happens, laugh it off. Marvel at the four foot scar carved into the side of your station wagon, fresh like surgery. Praise God there are no visible scars on your husband’s truck and watch happily while he shows you the Bob’s Burgers clip of Tina hitting the only car in the parking lot while her father’s teaching her how to drive. Over and over and over again. Wait two months.
Hit another parked car, this time a stranger’s in the grocery store parking lot. Don’t escape the scene like you used to woulda done when you were young and wild and drunk. Accept a hug from an acquaintance who saw the whole thing and listen while she tells you about the time she knocked over a motorcycle at church. Feel better…for a second. Leave a note AND page the driver of the black SUV at customer service. Exchange information. Note the miracle of having, not only insurance but a current insurance card. Feel like you are play-acting the role of responsible adult. Accept the kindness of friends and strangers who emerge from the the woodwork to tell you about the times they’ve had run-ins with stationary objects, ditches, trees, other seemingly stable forces of nature. Listen to two voices in your head: the one who finds you delightful and charming and the one who wants you dead. Cry for the next two days. Call yourself an idiot, wonder what’s wrong with you, how you could be so dumb, why anyone likes you anyway, full body sobs that take your breath away.
Share at a 12-step meeting what a fool you are, still crying, shaken. Feel confused when a woman with spiky silver hair and kind blue eyes comes up to you afterwards and says, “Oh honey, I’m a perfectionist too.” Say back, “but I’m not perfect enough to be a perfectionist.” With a house and a body and a history like yours, how could you be?
Three days later, appear on the news to talk about an organization you and people you care deeply about have worked really hard to create, an organization you are passionate about, that touches the heart of everything you know to be true. Feel the overwhelming support of the community that raised you, to whom you are now trying in some way to give something back. Outside of the green room and the bright lights and the cameras, in the warm glow of the day, feel carried by connection and belief and creativity and support. At a celebratory breakfast, heart still pumping with the adrenaline of live TV, glance at your phone and do a double-take at a screenshot of yourself in the outfit that looked so charming that morning in the mirror. Is that really you? Feel your stomach curl around the sinking knot of shame that spreads through your middle like hot spilled milk. Cringe. Breathe. Tell yourself to stop it right now, that you’re a feminist, that you’ve already dealt with this shit, that you know better. Listen to the two voices fight it out and stagger back as the loudest voice wins. Cry for the next two days. Call yourself a fat cow, wonder what’s wrong with you, how you could be so shameful, why anyone likes you anyway, full body sobs that take your breath away.
Call your mother and tell her how you feel. When she asks, “Do you blame me for this?” say, “you and all of western civilization.” Nod and laugh and cry when she says, “Honey, remember when everything in your life used to turn to shit? It’s not like that anymore. These days, you’re falling up. The only person left who hates you is you. Maybe what you’re really afraid of is success, of loving your life, of actually letting yourself be happy.” Laugh and cry and cry and laugh when she sends you the cheesiest, worst, most beautiful video in the history of the world two minutes after you get off the phone. Watch it again. Turn it up.
Pull the survivor out of the car, lay her on the stretcher. Show her the damage, real and imagined, the body of the car, still intact. Whisper, pray, beg, coddle, tease down the knowledge locked in your head as it makes its way through the jungle of what you think and know and believe to your heart. Hold your own hand, bandage your wounds. Take steam baths. Don’t save the good salts for later. Try on the eyes and brain and words of everyone you know. Write it out again and again. Blindly stab the ghosts, swaddle the babies. When the voice gets loud, get louder. Wake up laughing. Notice how beautiful it is to be happy, instead of the other way around. Get back behind the wheel; drive in a different direction; avoid impact. Treat yourself the way you would treat anyone you were learning how to love.