The following took place a few months ago, but I wanted to wait until all the insurance dust settled to blog about it.
The officer opens the back door to his cruiser and Daughter lowers herself onto the hard plastic seat. She looks up at me, and I close the door. Through the open window, I point at her. “This better be the only time I see you in the back of one of these,” I say and slide into the front seat. The officer from the Tallahassee police department starts up his car, and we pull away.
It all started two hours earlier. We’re in Tallahassee for the weekend. Five hours from home. Daughter sits in the passenger seat. I am driving. The other driver flies through a stop sign and crashes into our front end. The impact throws Daughter and me forward. My car comes to rest against the median. Witnesses say the other driver went into a tailspin. He lands two lanes away.
I look at daughter. A large white balloon has exploded from her dashboard. The airbag. I exhale.
“You okay?” I ask her.
She is clear eyed, sitting up straight. She nods and says, “You okay?”
“I’m fine,” I say, still clutching the steering wheel. “We’re okay.”
The remnants from a leftover McFlurry are splattered across the dashboard and me. I wipe it from my forearms and push aside the airbag. Cars fly past us on the three lane road.
“Let’s just take a minute,” I say.
“The car is smoking,” Daughter says. “I think we should get out.”
Smoke rises out of the airbags. Something is burning.
“Yes,” I say. “I think you’re right.”
Across the street, strangers wave at us to get away from the car. My door opens easily. Daughter crawls across the center console and we hold hands as we cross traffic. Once safely out of the street, I stand in a pile of red ants. They coat my left foot, but they don’t sting like I know they should. It must be the adrenaline. A stranger hands me his cell phone. I slip off my shoe and Daughter shakes the ants from it. I call Husband. We’re five hours away. He’s leaving now to come get us. Off duty first-responders check on Daughter and me. We’re sore where the seatbelt grabbed us. Daughter bit her tongue. Sirens whine and grow louder. An ambulance arrives. A paramedic tells Daughter to stick out her tongue. It’s okay. Pressure’s fine. Heart rate regular. The other driver walks away, too.
The tow truck takes two hours to arrive. The good folks at the HoneyBaked Ham café invite us in while we wait. They feed Daughter a ham sandwich. Strangers come inside to ask if we’re okay. A police office escorts me back to the car so I can take everything out of it. A few CDs. The title. Two MVP game balls earned by Son during post season play. A hopper full of tennis balls. Pens, pencils, loose change, a brush, Daughter’s hair ties. I shove it all in a tennis bag, knowing I probably won’t see the car again.
I write down numbers for a cab company, but after my car is towed away, the officer offers to take us back to our hotel. This is how Daughter takes her first ride in a police car. It’s my first time, too.
It’s smaller than I would have expected. Just like on television, plexiglass separates the front seat from the back. I tap on it and smile at Daughter. I take note of the hard plastic seat Daughter sits on. No upholstered cushions. Tape covers the small holes in the glass divider. Good details. A writer always needs good details. Not much leg room, and I have to open the door for Daughter because there is no handle on the inside for her to use.
“I wish I had my camera,” I tell daughter when we are safely back in the hotel.
“You are not going to blog about this,” Daughter says.
“Uhhh, yes, I am,” I say.
Many thanks to the good people of Tallahassee, the Tallahassee Police Department, and the folks at HoneyBaked Ham.