In the summer of 2018, we were headed southbound on I-40 between Conway and Little Rock, hurtling down the highway among a throng of cars crammed together. There was an awful lot of traffic headed in the same direction for this time of day. I expected most of the traffic to be headed westbound as all the people who worked in Little Rock commuted home at the end of their shifts. That day, there were more cars than usual headed back the other direction alongside us.
Vacation Bible School had been going on every evening that week. I was leading the 10-year-old group each night, and three of the boys were participants as we engaged in all the fun activities. The fact that it was back in Little Rock made it an adventure in timing. I worked in Little Rock during the day, drove home to grab Isaac, Oliver and Jude and head back into the metro every evening of VBS. Isaac sat in the front passenger seat of my blue Honda Civic and Oliver and Jude were in the back.
The Civic’s name was Belinda Blue, or just Belinda for short. I’ve mentioned before that cars have names. If you just pay close enough attention, your car will tell you its name. I often joked that Belinda was the daughter I never had. I kept her clean and shiny, both inside and out. She was the car I bought to commute back and forth to work, and to drive all over the state when I engaged in various work activities. I had needed reliable transportation with good gas mileage and not one single thing about her disappointed me. She had carried my mother and I to Montana and back just the month before.
We drove along with all the other cars in the three lanes of traffic headed eastbound. I was in the far-right lane when we first noticed the erratic vehicle up ahead. “What is that car doing?” Isaac asked. “I don’t know, but I don’t like it!” I responded. A gold Chevrolet SUV was in the center lane several car lengths ahead of us. It began swerving sharply back and forth, weaving in and out of lanes. It was as if all the cars noticed it at the same time. Everyone moved over, giving them room. We allowed more distance between us and them and the cars in front of them sped up.
The SUV warbled over into the right lane ahead of us. I moved to the far-left lane to follow the other cars going around them now that they were over to the right. The speed of traffic had been steady between 75 and 80 mph before the SUV had gotten crazy. We had all slowed to about 65 to create space between us. When we got into the left lane, I sped up to 70 to get around them quickly.
My eyes were on the road ahead of me as we passed them from two lanes away. Whatever problem was happening in the other vehicle at that time, I would never know. Suddenly, their problem became my problem when in a flash I saw them barreling toward us. The front end of the SUV made a sudden and hard impact with the passenger side of my car.
The next few moments happened quickly in real time but passed very slowly inside the car. As soon as the hit happened, the car was filled with the chorus of all three boys screaming. When the front of the SUV hit my car, we started spinning. The driver of the SUV had hit the gas right before the impact so once my little car spun out of the way, the SUV traveled into and across the large grassy median stopping right before entering the westbound traffic.
Meanwhile, we spun for 42 years. It was probably closer to 5 or 10 seconds. Once we had begun the spinning, I had no control over the car. I tried to no avail to control the it, my hands gripped the wheel. We made several complete spins before coming to an ungraceful stop in the median close to the edge of the road, near a sign.
For several long moments after we were no longer moving, the boys still screamed. I turned and looked at all of them, prepared for the worst. Everyone was conscious, and mostly okay. “It’s okay!” I said, “Guys, it’s okay, we are okay!” I told them. They stopped screaming. Oliver was gulping air like a fish out of water, and there was a small amount blood dripping down his chin. Jude was crying but appeared to have no injury. Isaac turned to look at me and I saw blood near his ear on the side of his face that had been facing the window. All the airbags on the passenger side of the car had been deployed. There was glass all over the front seats and floorboard of the car. Isaac’s window had completely shattered. Both of us had cuts on our legs from the glass.
We sat there catching our breath for several long moments. I saw movement out the corner of my eye. It was a man who was in the gold SUV. “Are you guys okay?!” he said. “Yeah, I think we are okay” I replied. I wasn’t sure what to say to him. Other cars began to stop, drivers getting out to check on us. Other people called 911 and an ambulance showed up with medical personnel to check us all out.
Oliver had bit his tongue, but it had already stopped bleeding. They had to remove a piece of glass from Isaac’s ear, but other than that we were fine. My chest was hurting from the seat belt, and from the rear-view mirror hitting me there when it flew off the window during the impact, a detail I wouldn’t even remember happening until days later.
All in all, we were very lucky. We walked away from that crash with only minor injuries. I was so impressed with how my little car handled it that I got the exact same kind of car after that. Unfortunately, blue was not available anymore. The new one would be black. His name would be Jack, in case you were wondering.
One day sometime later we were headed back to Little Rock when Isaac said to me, “There’s the misspelled sign!” I looked over at it and said, “I never even noticed that it was misspelled before, how did you notice that?” He laughed and said, “We sat there by that sign forever when we wrecked, Mom!” He was right, we had sat in that spot for over an hour and I had never even noticed it.
If you’re ever headed eastbound on I-40 near Maumelle, look for the misspelled sign. Oh, and keep your eyes peeled for swerving gold SUV’s.