I got in a car accident last February, in Texas, while down there for job training. I was in a rental car, driving back to the Air Force Base one night, when a driver headed the other direction on the interstate lost control, flipped three times, and came across the median.
Leading up to the accident, I was cresting an overpass, and saw a bunch of drivers that had veered into the ditch off the right shoulder. I moved into the left lane to get clear of them, and looked off to my right to see if everyone was okay. Just a quick glance, less than two seconds. The cops would later suggest that I got "red herring-ed", that the drivers who went into the ditch did so purposely because they saw that guy lose control and swerved to avoid him, and I was the unlucky guy who came by a split second later and noticed them, instead of the car that tumbled across the median and landed in my lane, perpendicular to the direction of travel. As a result, I didn't see him at all, and I slammed into the passenger side of his car at 75 miles an hour.
After the air bags went off and both cars came to a halt, I got out and rushed over to the other car. There was one man in the car, and he wasn't wearing a seatbelt. His legs had ended up on the backrest of the driver's seat, while his upper body ended up in the backseat, with his head between the rear A-pillar on the passenger side and the backseat, arm hanging out the window. I checked for a pulse and waved the fire department over as soon as they got there; the car was too smashed up for me to get him out. I watched as the Burkburnett fire department used the Jaws of Life to cut the roof off the car and fish him out. They loaded him up on one of those boards and hauled him away in an ambulance. That was the last I saw of him.
As a result of that accident, I ended up with some scars on my left hand from when the air bag went off, and was on crutches for two months due to some minor tearing of the ligaments in my right hip. I was treated and released from the hospital the following morning.
The other guy was pronounced dead at the hospital. He left behind two kids, a son and daughter, about my age.
The reason I tell this story is, in the aftermath of the accident, despite the Texas Department of Public Safety, the EMTs, and even the man's own family telling me it was not my fault, I still believed it to be. If I hadn't of glanced over at those other cars. If I hadn't of switched lanes. If I hadn't of taken the long way home. If I hadn't of gone off base to eat that night. If, if, if. It didn't matter that the accident was not my fault; I still hit him, and that meant I killed him. At least in my mind. After I got my replacement rental car, at night, I'd drive back to the scene of the accident and bawl my eyes out, constantly apologizing and cursing myself for my role in what happened.
It took a lot of convincing to make me see how nothing I could have done in that scenario could have prevented the accident. As one of the psychiatrists mentioned, even if I did avoid him, he still flipped his car three times (from what Texas DPS said), and he wasn't wearing a seatbelt. He may have been gone even before I hit him. There's no guarantee he was alive when I hit him, per what she said.
One of the biggest things that helped me see the light was an encounter I had at the Burkburnett police station, a week later. I had to go down and get a copy of the accident report for my first sergeant. As I entered the station, a lady appeared behind me. I asked the receptionist for the accident report, this is where and when it happened, etc. She checked and said the report wouldn't be ready until DPS signed off on it, but gave me a reference number and told me to come back later. As I was leaving, the lady who followed me in grabbed my arm, gently, to get my attention. She asked if I was the other driver in that accident, and after I said yes, she introduced herself.
It was the other driver's sister.
As soon as she said that, I steeled myself for the worst, "Oh, here it comes". I thought she was going to rip me a new asshole, and I suddenly felt about two inches tall. I just wanted to roll down under the floorboards of the police station and die.
That isn't what happened, though. She wrapped me up in a big hug, and told me while sobbing, "It wasn't your fault. Please don't beat yourself up. It wasn't your fault. He would never go for the way you're beating yourself up. He was a good guy, and we miss him, but we don't blame you at all. We can't move on until you heal up too, so please, you need to forgive yourself, too."
I didn't get there overnight. And I still flashback and have problems with it sometimes. But I've forgiven myself, like she asked me to.
Lauren is absolutely right, here. She said it perfectly to Michelle, a few pages back. Sometimes, it is nobody's fault, and pretending that it is, especially if you hold it against yourself, is just going to tear you to pieces.
Damn man, thanks for sharing. It's that kind of thing that is the absolute worst. Where nothing you could have done could change things, but for whatever reason you keep blaming yourself. As Mr. Twist said, I'm glad you are getting better and forgiving yourself. That's a long-ass road to travel.
@Gibson Twist: @Leesil11: Thank you both. I just saw Peter's lines on this page and immediately empathized. It's real easy to feel the way he does, and I wouldn't wish that kind of pain on anybody.
Hopefully, somebody who's going through a situation like that reads either this chapter, or that comment, and it helps them out. It'd make me happy if it did. Like the old saying goes, "To those that don't know, no known explanation can sway you; to those who do, no explanation is necessary."