It was cold. That much I can remember.
I can’t be sure it was December exactly but it was the final days of Autumn. The leaves were sat in colourful piles either side of the road, vibrant against the the grass that was brushed white with frost. We were just driving then. I’ve forgotten where we were going but this stretch of road felt endless. My mum was driving, Dad had fallen asleep in the passenger seat, along with my older brother Kyle beside me. I can’t remember their faces exactly, but we’d be driving a long time now, Kyle was snoring but it wasn’t bothering me or Mum. Her eyes were glued to the road, I guess looking back even she was tired too.
There’s so much I wanted to forget that day, but now I’d give anything to see the back of my mum’s head, memorise the icy clouds of Kyle’s sleeping breath or the colour of the shirt my dad was wearing. Little things I never saw back then.
As it turns out there was an enclosed dirt track hidden behind a thick coppice. The trees weren't very tall but they were still fresh with yellow leaves packed so tightly there was no way we could’ve seen it coming. Maybe there was a sign, I wasn’t paying particular attention. Our tiny silver car was no match for the eight-wheel tipper lorry that just happened to be working construction that day. The driver was probably tired too. Our little car didn’t stand a chance. That was the moment that ingrained itself inside my eyelids, the moment I will see forever in my dreams.
Being suspended in the air, seconds from death, was the most simultaneously life-affirming and soul-shattering experience. It was unreal. I could see the debris from the crash still falling through the air as though time itself was holding it’s breath. I looked down, my hair flowing above me as I saw the lorry driver frozen with his hands tightly on the steering wheel below me. He had a little toy swinging from his rear-view mirror, maybe he had a family he was hurry back home to as well. There was blood dripping down from my face but it wasn’t mine. It had probably splashed me after my Dad was crushed against the front glass along with my Mum. Their airbags were popped by the flying shards while we were lifted by the sheer force of the impact, up and over the lorry. Perhaps to a different pair of eyes it could have been majestic, like a gymnast gliding through a perfect flip. Kyle was sat behind Dad, he got caught in the initial impact and was crushed between the seat and the window. I don’t remember either of them ever waking up during the crash. For some reason I felt relieved, like it was just me and Mum together at the end. As if that day was a secret just for us to keep forever.
I can’t remember when I started holding my breath, but after what felt like both a second and a lifetime I felt the pull in my chest, my lungs gasping for air. Sometimes I think if only I’d been able to hold it a little longer, it would have held us frozen another moment, that somehow in that surreal glitch in the universe’s perfect circuit, I would have been able to save them.
I sensed a darkness coming for me too as the last thing I saw was my mum’s hand reaching out for mine. And then finally, on that frosty autumn day against the endless stretch of road, the void took me.
Her hand was warm.
They told me afterwards that our car had actually been going over the speed limit, I told them that my mum was probably just in a hurry to get home and get some rest. That we’d just been driving for so long that the mere idea of home felt like a dream.
I didn’t tell them how she kept looking into the rear view mirrors even though we’d been the only car on the road for miles. Or how her fingers kept tapping on the steering wheel, tap-tap-tap… A thing she only did when she was nervous. I couldn’t tell them that, I mean it never even occurred to me at the time. How could it? We were just on our way home.
It’s only after, that I started second guessing what happened. Thinking maybe, just maybe, there was something else at play that day. Like a little voice telling me to just hold my breath and then everything would be OK.