Posted by: gdevi | October 6, 2010

Scaling down fear

We live rather high up on a hill and it has been raining continuously today all day. When I picked up D and we were driving home, you could tell the car was sort of hydroplaning. Dayani then told me, mama, I want you to buy a Volvo. I am afraid your car might slide down the hill. Okay honey, I said. We’ll think about it. I’ve had this Volkswagen now for 11 years–it runs fine and I feel bad about getting another car. Cars can hear what you say, okay? Remember Christine? I asked her. Be careful what you say in front of a car kiddo! We both laughed; we see Christine everytime there is a rerun on the telly. (This is true though; Nic has an old Del Sol and she has dubbed that car Chris because the dynamic here is female driver and male car. Chris can hear things and does not like anyone else being in that car, Nic says; not even Michael. One day, I was stuck at school without my car–something had happened I forget now–and anyway, Nic offered to drop me home. So we go to the car and Nic tells me, Gayatri, Chris does not like me giving rides to anyone. And we laughed. It was spooky, we got in the car and Nic put the key in the engine and turned it. Nothing. She tried again. Nothing. That car died right there. How’s that for a Big Fish story? Krish had to give rides to both of us.) I have been in a car accident only once and man once is enough. It was 1993; I was in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Last day of the Fall semester–sometime in mid-December. All-encompassing winter with snow snow and more snow and ice. Anyway my friend Carol wanted to take me to her house for lunch–she used to make the best pasta salads!–so Carol is in the driver’s seat, I am in the passenger seat, and Carol’s two young daughters are in the back seat. We leave the University and then we are going down the Columbia overpass past the University stadium on your left and then suddenly the car started sliding down sideways. We are on top of that overpass and we are literally now sliding sideways down towards oncoming traffic. I could see cars coming towards us; it was absolutely scary. The kids started crying and Carol was just numb. I had no idea what was going to happen to us. I thought, how interesting, I came all the way from India to die in a winter car accident in Grand Forks on the last day of a very good Fall semester. Isn’t life strange? This was all  I could think of. Carol was frozen in the seat and the car just slid and slid down that street. It was amazing then it slid and slid and then it turned around and went and hit one of the lamp posts in front of the Grand Forks Clinic. This was the passenger side so I felt this horrendously painful impact to my head and shoulder and legs and then just like in the movies the window on my side shattered into a million pieces. The kids were crying horrifically now but nothing happened to them thank God. Carol was thrown across the steering; she had hit her head and was not moving. I told the kids not to cry and started to wake Carol up. By then since we were lucky to have this accident in front of a hospital they immediately came out with stretchers and got us all out of the car and into the stretchers and took us in there. None of us were seriously hurt; the kids were completely fine, Carol and I had serious whiplash and the right side of my body was in severe pain. They kept us there for sometime under observation and sent us home with aspirins or something. The police also gave Carol a ticket for damage to public property; the lamp post was badly hit. Carol’s car was totaled. Anyway what was most interesting was this: that night and for several nights after that, every so often I would jump up and sit straight up in my bed with this involuntary flashback to this incredible fear of dying in that car accident. It was pure fear; I have never experienced anything like that before or after.  It was completely involuntary, physical, and not rational; I could not control my fear at all. I would sit up shivering and shaking in my bed sure that any one of those oncoming cars would have hit us and we would all have died in some scrap heap. The second night it happened I knew I couldn’t be alone so I called my friend and teacher Michael Beard and Victoria and they came and got me and I went and stayed with them. I slept in their house for a week or so until I stopped jumping up blasted with this soul-shaking fear. What fascinates me now is that it was pure fear, and the memory of that fear, each time anew, completely physical. Now I cannot even recall that fear however seriously I try to; it is completely gone.  This limbic system, isn’t it, in the brain is an amazing thing.

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