Monday, April 16, 2012

Left or Right?

Good morning my friends. Have you ever had to make a decision? I bet you have. Seriously though; have you ever had to pick between two choices and then, after you did, the outcome of your decision was life altering? Even if it wasn't life changing, I bet something similar has happened. You make a choice, see the results and then you stop and think to yourself: what if? Well, here is a what if story from my life.

When I was 15, nearly 16 and old enough to drive, I began practicing my driving skills by using the car in the driveway (we had a very long driveway). I would practice parking, reversing and other simple maneuvers in order to be ready for when it came time to take my road test in a few months. Passing my beginners permit examination was a walk in the park. I am an ace when it comes to learning; especially from books. 

After I received my beginners, I was enrolled in a Defensive Driving course. The course lasted the full six months required before I could go and take my actual license examination. The course was extremely insightful and taught me a lot about driving, parking and how to take control of a vehicle should it lose control. One of the most important things I learned was how to straighten a car out that had lost control on ice. I remember every last thing they taught me in that class.

Over those six months I had many opportunities, both at class and at home, to practice driving. By the time to take my drivers exam came around I felt very confident in my ability to drive. Apparently I had good reason to because I was only marked for one mistake: I neglected to do a third and final shoulder check when I merged into traffic. Not bad for someone who six months prior was about as nervous as one could be about getting behind the wheel.

I got my license on February 7th, 1997 around 4:00pm in the afternoon. Yes, I remember it that well. I dropped my dad off at his co-workers house so he could play some cards and then I had the car, alone, fully licensed, for the first time in my life. It was a Pontiac 6000LE; a 1991 model. I want to share something about this particular car. It was one of the first vehicles designed with crumple protection; meaning that should there be an accident and the collision occurred where the front and back doors meet, the roof would only collapse so far thus avoiding crushing the people inside. This is important.

The first thing I did was go and pick up some of my friends. We drove around for a few hours and as it was a Friday night, I called and asked for permission to use the car to drive out to a dance club for teenagers called The Mink. I had been there many times with friends and I was extremely excited to be able to be the one to drive my friends there. I felt cool. I picked up one of my friends, Justin, from my neighborhood. We drove the 45 minutes out to Pubnico, this is where The Mink is located as well as the two other friends we would pick up that night, Luc and Gilles.

Now Gilles lived off the main road and Luc lived further down the main road than the side road to get to Gilles' house. We picked him up and then went to get Luc. Now, like any club for any age, there is a cover charge. At the time it was $5. As we were headed back towards the club, Gilles realized that he had forgotten his money for cover charge and asked me to stop back into his place to get it. Justin piped up that he had enough money and would lend it to Gilles. Now, being as they are both good people neither one wanted to put the other out. Gilles did not want to borrow the money because we were so close to his home and Justin insisted. As we approached the side road I brought the car to a complete stop, turned to them and said, "Ok. Left or Right?" There it is. That simple. Left would have brought us to The Mink; right would bring us to Gilles. I turned right.

You now know the very inconspicuous decision I made. What would have been the result if we had gone left? Who knows. I'll tell you what happened when we went right. About 250 meters up the road I came up over and down a small hill that curved to the right. I saw it before I hit it: a small patch of black ice shining in my headlights. Everything became like a television flashback after that; fuzzy on the outside edges, clear in the center; Spiderwebs by Gewn Stefani playing on my cassette deck. The car's rear end started sliding out to the right. Remembering my training I turned into the skid. For a moment, a very brief moment, the car straightened out and I thought, 'Oh my fuck that was close!'. That lasted maybe 1/10th of a second as the rear end then slid out on the left side; a slide I could not recover from.

The car crashed through the alder bushes, after crossing the center line, in the ditch on the other side of the road. As it cleared through the bush, it collided with a boulder the size of the car itself. Upon impact the rear axle of the car was smashed in half and the back windows of the vehicle shattered. The momentum sent the car airborne where it turned sideways. This is where the crumple protection is key. We collided with the first tree about eight feet in the air (there was paint chips embedded in the tree) on the passenger side exactly in the middle of the front and back doors. One quarter of an inch either direction and two of us would have been dead on impact; 1/4 of an inch. The car then swung around and slammed into another tree, drivers side this time, then fell the remaining six feet or so to the ground. When I came to, my first realization was that the music had changed; I was now listening to the radio. What an odd thing to realize. The time was just about eight in the evening; about four hours after I was issued my license.
The car, post-accident & Me

From here I will omit the bulk of the details as they are no longer pertinent to the story. We all four walked out of those woods. Gilles suffered a broken collar bone as his seat belt delayed in locking up. Luc received a number of cuts and gashes on his arm and hands from the glass shattering. Justin sprained his ankle in some bushes on his way out of the woods. I had not a scratch. Nothing. My mother believes her father, my grandfather, was watching out for us...it was his birthday and he had died not a few years before. Miracle or chance I do not know; I only know that I am here now.

And there you have it. Sometimes even the most simplest and easy of decisions can have life altering effects. I don't know what might have happened if I had chosen left; maybe something worse or maybe nothing at all; it is hard to say and purely speculative and not worth dwelling on. It is just very humbling to stop and realize that even the tiniest of decisions we make can have the biggest of impacts on our lives and our futures. With this in mind, that even a small decision can have staggering consequences, perhaps you will be more apt to do one small, kind act for someone today. That small decision could make all the difference in the world to someone.