Life Shattering

It recently occurred to me just how many of my readers (that sounds funny, I’m just going to refer to you all as “you all” etc.) I’ve known less than a year. I mean, yes, there are a few of you that have been around for a LONG time (Hi Skye! Hi Christy! Hi Paul!), but most of you have no idea who I am and where I came from.

In the comments yesterday I mentioned that I’d danced 22 of my 28 years. And I used the past tense. 22 years is a LONG time to be doing something to give it up, right? Well, there’s a story behind that.


That photo was taken at a pick up rehearsal for the show that would 3 months later get me a job offer … dancing professionally (and teaching in my spare time!), no audition required. A freaking DREAM job, if I’d ever had one.

That show closed, and we began to prepare for the next one. This time I was backstage, costuming and deck managing … and being the general cast mom and support system against the crazy director.

Somewhere in the course of rehearsals we got into the ritual of gathering a bunch of the cast and crew on Sunday nights for margaritas. Being the one with a 5 seat car and a generally higher alcohol tolerance than most, I was often the one shuttling people around. One Sunday in particular, we started early, and I had more to drink than usual. Being responsible, I decided I’d stay an extra hour or so to fully sober up before heading the 20 miles home.* The two others who’d driven with me decided to catch other rides.

I headed out about 10:30 that night, and started for home. Getting on the freeway (one I’d gotten tickets on in the past, and so was always diligent about watching for cops), I turned on the radio to discover the boy I was currently dating had cued up a cd for me. Smiling to myself over the thought of him picking out this song, I continued to drive.

About 30 seconds later, SOMETHING slammed into my car from behind. The force of the impact sent me spinning across 3 (thankfully empty) lanes, to hit the concrete divide along drivers side of the car. The jolting and tipping I, at that point, thought was the car going over the divide turned out to be the tires blowing out on one side of the car, and then the other. Once they had all blown, the car took off spinning again, this time hitting the guard rail along the passenger side, before spinning once more and stopping, in the same lane I’d started in.

The song I’d been enjoying not even a minute prior was suddenly not so amusing. I remember hitting the power button to make the radio shut up and having the presence of mind to turn off the car and take the keys out of ignition. The door was jammed shut, so I kicked it open, and ran over to the shoulder … at which point I collapsed, and realized I couldn’t stand back up.

I’d broken my back.

What they say about adrenaline doing funny things to you in times of distress is true. From the time the car stopped to the time I fell over on the shoulder, I had no idea I was injured. I ran, kicked, and jumped … all the while  having an injury that led to me not being able to stand. It also seems to have held off the shock, which definitely set in once I was out of harms way. Once it did, I got to experience first hand just how nasty shock can be. In my case, I started screaming uncontrollably. I knew I was safe, I knew I needed to stop, but I couldn’t. It took almost half an hour for the paramedics to calm me down, and once they did, I cried for the next 4 hours. It was completely out of my control.

The driver who’d hit me? He’d been in a little black car without the lights on, doing 95 to my 60.** Without street lamps on the freeway, I never saw him coming.***

He was blazingly drunk.

And other than needing his stomach pumped, was completely unscathed.

The incompetence I experienced at the hospital that night isn’t worth going into. It’s enough to say that the x-ray tech was the only medical professional I saw there who seemed to know what he was doing, or seem sympathetic.**** Luckily, the friend whose house I’d left not even 10 minutes prior to the accident was seeing a chiropractor, who offered to do an evaluation for free (and then demanded to treat me for the next year.).

The morning after, my dad mentioned he was going to go get what was left of my belongings out of the car. I decided I was going with him. My mother fought me on it, but I needed to see what I’d lived through.


It’s important to stress that you can’t see the extent of the damage to the car. The trunk is in the backseat (the white bag handles you can see in the first photo through the window? That bag was in the trunk). The driver’s side was crushed in about 6 inches … I’d kicked through the front door, but the back door required a crowbar. The passenger side was crushed in almost a full foot. The crack you can see in the first photo along the interior of the front passenger door? Not a design element. The suspension was ripped from the back wheels, all 4 tires were blown out, and my back bumper hung out on the freeway at the scene of the accident for nearly a month. Somehow, no windows broke.

I have no doubt, this car saved my life.

It’s been 4.5 years since that accident. The first year of it was spent healing and rehabbing, but there, of course, were unavoidable consequences: first and foremost, my back will be messed up for the rest of my life. There is a block of scar tissue about 4 inches across, just chillin’ in my lower back. Thanks to this, I do not have the range of motion in my back or hips that I used to have. I (decreasingly, but they are still there) have “bad days” and get muscle spasms that have nothing to do with how I’ve slept. I had to turn down the dream job due to the fact that I COULDN’T WALK (I think I cried harder when I got that offer than I did when I found out how badly I was hurt). Due to the other driver not having a LICENSE, much less insurance, 90% of my medical bills came out-of-pocket. Which means 1. I’m broke and 2. my credit is shot. I had to re-learn to walk, and now do so much heavier and slower than I once did.

I can’t dance.

My friend Jenna once referred to the accident (and a similar one that she’d had) as a “body shattering accident”. Over the years I’ve come to think of it as more LIFE shattering.

But, we pick up the pieces and we try to move on.

Next year is the 5th anniversary of it all. Five years is a LONG time. By then, hopefully, I’ll have run my first race. And just maybe I’ll find a way, though I’ll never dance at the level I’d trained so hard for, be able to find the speed and joy of it again … in another way.

But on January 21, 2012, I intend to celebrate.

Who’s with me?

* It must be noted, my blood test came back with my blood alcohol level at .003. I was VERY sober.

** I usually drove closer to 75, but was paranoid about getting another ticket. It’s a cruel irony that had I been going my normal speed, I probably would have just smashed the car and been fine.

*** Due to my accident, the city council voted to spend the money and install lamps along the freeway. It’s made a huge improvement in accidents along that corridor.

**** X-rays of my back had to be taken with me laying on my left side. As my left side had been crushed against the door of the car, this was VERY PAINFUL. The x-ray tech was a quick and gentle as he could possibly be in both shooting and positioning me, and held my hand and wiped my tears while I continued to cry. I still wish I knew his name, but I have faith karma will come back to him in a lovely way some day.

9 Responses to “Life Shattering”

  1. I am left without words. But I wanted to say something. People love to say that there is a reason for everything happening but I don’t believe that. Sometimes awful things just happen and you are the one that can make the best of it, not fate. I’m so sorry.

  2. Wow, I had no idea that this had happened to you. Goodness gracious, Sarah! I will TOTALLY celebrate with you on January 21, 2012.

  3. Oh my god, Sarah. There are no words. I can’t even imagine. I was a ballet dancer. Of the almost did it as a career kind. And I “retired” (as I like to put it), for my own reasons, on my own time. And yet there are still some days when my muscles just ache for it. I cannot fathom what it would be like to have had that taken from me. You are amazing. You are so motherfucking resilient. I want to hear all about your plans to celebrate.

    (And PS – I don’t really know the extent of your injuries, and I could see how it might not be of interest to you, but if you ever have any interest in dancing again–whatever that may look like–I am behind you 200%. I’m super passionate about how dance is a such unfair love to have in that it’s so difficult to do it “for fun.” But, I think there’s definitely room for improvement in the field, and I’ve been lucky enough to experience some wonderful studios that cater to “ex-dancers” and “casual dancers”, so I know it’s possible.)

  4. Wow. Just wow. What a terrible experience, and good for you for overcoming it in such an amazing way. I hope you have an awesome celebration in January! Will be cheering you on!

  5. I’m so sorry you had to go through this, but absolutely amazed at what a strong person it has made you. I will absolutely be celebrating with you come January.

  6. Like many others, I’m just totally shocked. You are a resilient person. It’s incredible that this happened and how you are now to the point of celebrating.

  7. Oh, Sarah. I’d never guess this from knowing you. I’m so glad you shared, and I’m so sorry this happened to you. You in that first photo takes my breath away.

    HELL YES for celebrating. Big hugs.

  8. Sarah, oh dear. I had no idea. And after I wipe a few tears away, I will planmy celebration outfit for January. Sparkles are in order for that as well.


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