That new car smell: on seeing someone’s death

by Angela Perez

I saw someone’s death today.  I’m sure of it.

Earlier today, my insurance agent called me and said the company was ready to settle and I should go ahead and get everything out of my old car and take the tags off.  At lunchtime, I drove over to the salvage yard where my wrecked car had been towed after my accident last week.   As I pulled up in the rental car behind my old Nissan Versa, I started to feel emotional.  That old car was the first new car I ever bought and I bought it around the time my brother, Big Tony, died.  I bought that car when I was dating a man I almost married but, thank God, had the sense to run far, far away from. That car had taken me to my new home in eastern Oregon and then brought me (with my new dog Tater in tow) back to the East coast to Washington DC and finally back to Raleigh, where I recently decided to finally settle my wild, unruly ass down and buy a house.  To commit.
I realized as I was sorting through winter coats and all sorts of books stuffed in the hatchback that somehow, I needed this accident to happen.  To get rid of this old car and buy a new one to go with my new house and my newfound adulthood.  I mean, that’s part of what being an adult is, being able to commit, right?
Despite my lovely revelations, as I sorted through expensive art magazines I had forgotten I even had, I was feeling a little bit sorry for myself.  “Jesus,” I said aloud.  “this new car is going to blow all the money I was going to save from my mortgage.”  You see, my mortgage is exactly HALF of the rent I was paying.  I had been imagining all of the dollars building up in my bank account (namely so I can put in a salt water swimming pool in my back yard.)  As I was mumbling and wallowing in self-pity,  I chanced to look at the wrecked car directly in front of me.  The black Subaru Outback had been brutally smashed in the front and was was crumpled up to the windshield, the hood had somehow popped up and sheared through the windshield.  My God, I thought, shuddering, whoever was in that accident is probably dead.  Probably never even knew what happened.  Or if he or she did, I could only imagine the bloody hell of that scene.
I then looked around me at all of the other wrecked cars spanning the salvage yard, sullenly staring at me, all representing various tragedies, losses, and heartaches.  There were endless horrific mangled hunks of metal that once were gleaming brand new showroom cars.  I felt my heart catch in my chest and I began to cry.   I cried for all of the people who weren’t lucky like I was last week.   I thought back to that moment as my car smashed into the back of a truck and how in those miliseconds all I had time to think of was “OH SHIT”  and how that was probably the last thought that ever ran through the heads of so many of the people who had once driven these cars and then they only knew darkness or worse.
I walked around the yard and looked at each car.  As I came back to my car, one of the men who worked in the garage came out and asked me if I wanted any help getting some of the heavier items out of my car.  I told him no and thanked him.  And then I said, “I’ve just started to realize how hard it must be to work here.  Everything out here, every car that comes in represents new pain, a new tragedy.”
He nodded his head in grim agreement.  “I’ve been here a year,” he said, “and it’s always hard.  No one who comes to this place has had a good day.  And seeing some of these wrecked cars and knowing how awful some of these accidents must have been, well, it does, it gets to me. There’s a lot of blood in some of these cars.”
I felt my insides restrict and shudder.  “I’m sorry to even bring that up,” I said.
“No, no need to apologize,” he said, “you’re right.  There’s a lot of bad energy here.”  He turned to head back to the garage.  “Holler if you need me,” he said and sauntered away, looking not at the cars around him but directly at the ground in front of him.
I gathered up the last of mostly junk left in that old Nissan Versa, stashed it all in the trunk of the rental car and hauled ass out of there, holding back more tears, and feeling more grateful for being alive than I have in a long, long time.

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