32: Nightmare Ride

32: Nightmare Ride

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles Happen

Nightmare Ride

For safety is not a gadget but a state of mind.

~Eleanor Everet

I gasped when I woke. My chest heaved, and beads of sweat dripped down my face. The television flickered in front of me. As the living room came into focus, I lay on an unfamiliar couch, staring at photos of faces I did not remember. Where was I? Then I remembered. After putting the kids I was babysitting to bed, I had curled up on the couch to relax. Their parents were due home around 11 p.m. that Tuesday night, and I had two hours to kill. I must have dozed off.

It had only been a dream, but it seemed so real. I had been driving down the familiar backcountry roads in Concord, North Carolina, when my eyes went heavy and I fell asleep behind the wheel. As my car hit the embankment, I screamed and suddenly jolted awake. But the fear of those last moments continued to grip me.

Besides a little fender bender, I had never experienced a real car accident. I opened my eyes wide, knowing I would have to make the drive home soon. I needed to be awake.

By the time I left the house that night, I was on high alert. The road was dark as I drove, but I wasn’t taking any chances. I watched every movement around me, trying to stay awake.

I wasn’t even supposed to be there that night. Babysitting was my sister’s job, but she had a date, and I was on fall break from college. I needed the money so I took her place. Now, I wasn’t so sure.

“It was only a dream,” I muttered to myself as I rounded the bend and turned onto the next country road. “It was only a dream.” But as soon as the sentence left my thoughts, my real nightmare began.

As I approached the ninety-degree curve ahead, I cautiously pressed the brakes. A friend had shown me the short-cut route to my home just two days earlier. It was very tight, and in the darkness, I slowed to feel my way around the curve. After the turn, the road would be straight, leading me home to my nice, warm bed.

Suddenly, the headlights of an oncoming pickup truck blinded me. I closed my eyes and braced the steering wheel. My car was barely moving, but I heard the squeal of brakes skidding across the asphalt. Something slammed into my door, cracking glass and throwing it across my seat. I felt my body spin with the car.

When everything stopped moving, my fingers tightened around the wheel. My shoulders shook as an eerie silence filled the car. I shook my head but time passed slowly as if in a fog. This time, it wasn’t a dream. The sound of running footsteps approached the car.

“Are you okay?” A strange man looked at me through the window. A second man stumbled near the back of the pickup.

I nodded, unable to speak. I tried to open the door, but the driver’s side was crushed inward, stopping just inches—about the width of a large hand—from my side. Behind my seat, the remains of my back door stretched into the center of the car. I unbuckled my seatbelt and crawled out the passenger door, still not completely comprehending what had just occurred.

Neighbors began to pour out of the surrounding homes, asking how they could help. After calling my mom, I turned around to look my car—the new car I had bought just three months earlier. It sat crumpled in a dirt lot off the side of the road. The windows had shattered. My punctured gas tank sprayed fuel like a water fountain.

My knees began to buckle as the reality settled in. I could have been killed or at the very least, seriously injured. Instead, I stood in shock. No broken bones. Glass covered my hair and jacket, yet I didn’t have a scratch on my entire body.

The police soon arrived and arrested the two strange men from the white truck, who had been driving drunk after a company party.

In the days that followed, I experienced a lot of pain. I had muscle spasms in my neck and shoulders. The muscle relaxers my doctor prescribed upset my stomach. Every night I woke screaming from new nightmares—recurring ones that would plague me for the next year.

Later that week, my mom showed me the photos taken of my now junkyard-bound car. “The appraiser said it was a miracle that you made it out alive.” She gave me a hug that could only come from a grateful mother. “Someone was looking out for you that night.”

Yes, God was looking out for me. The dream I had earlier in the evening could not have been a coincidence. It made me more cautious than normal on the road. A split second slower and the impact of the crash would have cut my body in two. Two seconds later, I would have been hit head on. Either way, the end result would have been disastrous.

Eventually, the muscle spasms ceased and the panic attacks abated, allowing me to reflect on that fateful night. What if I had not agreed to babysit? What if I had chosen to take another way home? What if… the questions were endless, and I had no answers.

The Nissan dealer had told my parents that the manufacturer had installed steel reinforcements in the driver’s side door. Why did I suddenly remember that? The smell of gas and alcohol made my stomach lurch for months. My dreams were full of swirling blue and red lights in the middle of the night. The fear that gripped me as I cried in my mother’s arms the entire way home stayed with me for weeks until my dad convinced me to get behind the wheel of another car.

Most of the pain and fear from that night eventually dissolved. But one thing will never leave my memory—the width of a hand that held back the side of the car that crumpled around me. Yes, God was looking out for me that day and every day since. Only now, I recognize his presence more and trust him to take care of me in all circumstances.

~Carolyn Bennett Fraiser

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