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The following is an excerpt from Turbulence:

After my shift at the restaurant downtown, I stepped into the empty parking lot and the door slammed behind me louder than all the plates I’d broken that night. I was a bad waitress.

I started walking to my car and felt the cool night air blow across my face. The breeze carried a whiff of garlic and oregano. Pulling the elastic off my ponytail, I let my hair fall and caress my shoulders. Pausing for a moment, I tipped my head back until it was almost parallel with the ground and stared at the shimmering sky, stars bright and mesmerizing.

When I began walking again, I heard footsteps behind me, hitting the pavement simultaneously with mine. My skin turned to gooseflesh. An overwhelming fear mixed with tension spread through my body.

My purse was slung over my shoulder and a blue apron tied around my waist held a lot of money in tips. Okay, a decent amount of money; I was, after all, a bad waitress.

I was afraid to look behind me and so continued moving, becoming more nervous with every breath. Searching my bag for my keys, I felt a small tube of lipstick, a brush, and to my surprise, a few pieces of lettuce. I checked the pocket in the front of my purse. No keys. My feet hit the concrete harder with each step and my hands shook like a plucked guitar string. I checked inside the bag again and finally felt cold metal in my palm.

The other person’s footsteps became louder, closer. After unlocking my car with the remote, I swung the door open and jumped into the driver’s seat. My heart throbbed as I started the engine of my Jetta and peeled out of the parking lot without looking back. Pushing the pedal to the floor, I sped down the street to the highway entrance.

After pulling into the right-hand lane, I began to loosen my grip on the steering wheel. I was driving slower than the speed limit of sixty-five miles per hour when two cars sped up the road behind me. One was driving much too close to my left, not letting the car behind me pass. I started breathing fast. The car behind me collided with my rear bumper, jolting my car forward and into the passenger side of the other vehicle. My car spun like a top and my hands squeezed the wheel.

The pressure from spinning pushed my back against the seat, fully extended my arms and caused my body to tighten. My car rammed into something and I heard another crash, felt another jolt, and then the right side of my car rose off the ground. I screamed.

“Oh, shit, holy shit.”

Everything seemed to happen in slow motion. As the right side of my car rose up, the left side hit the ground. I covered my face with my hands as my body was flung to the left and my head bashed into the side window. Then my seat belt tightened and pulled me back.

Glass shattered everywhere. I felt my entire body turn upside down for a split second before being pushed into the window again. Everything was silent, and I had the sensation that I was falling.

I was. So was my car. It had flipped over the guardrail and was plummeting into a ditch between the north and southbound sides of the highway. I closed my eyes and held my breath. Seconds later, the driver’s side of my car smashed onto the ground.

Then, silence and darkness. I’m alive, I thought. I can’t believe it. My body was numb and all I could smell was burning rubber. In the light from my cell phone, I saw that my hands were covered in blood. Was I really injured but just couldn’t feel it yet?

What I could feel was a stinging sensation behind my left ear. I touched it and felt more blood. I realized then that I had to get out of the car.

I turned on the interior light, made sure my cell phone was in my pocket, and unlocked the doors. Because my car was still on its side, I had to grab onto the passenger door to pull myself up, and then stand on the side of the middle console to fling the door open. I couldn’t get it to stay propped, so I climbed farther up onto the side of the seat, and on bent knees pushed the door ajar and hopped out. Trees surrounded me. I saw the gray guardrail in the distance, and ran up the hill to the highway, as fast as my body would allow.

When I reached the top, I saw that the break down lane was clear. I couldn’t believe that the cars that had hit me didn’t have any damage. I was shocked that they had driven away and that no one else had pulled over. I screamed for help, but was alone.

I began to cry, and reached for my phone to call 911. When I looked up, I saw a woman running toward me, flailing her arms in the air.

“Are you all right?” she asked, but didn’t give me a chance to answer. “I saw what happened from a distance. I think the other cars just drove off and left you. I called 911,” she said. “They’re on their way. Was anyone else in your car?”

“No, just me.”

“I’m so glad that you are okay. An ambulance will be here any second,” she said.

I dialed Mom. “I was in an accident,” I said. “A bad one. My car flipped over.”

“Are you okay? Did you call an ambulance?” she asked.

“Someone did. I’m so scared.”

“I’ll be right there. Where are you?”

I told her where I was, and when I hung up the phone, I noticed that the woman I’d been talking to had disappeared. I stood alone by the guardrail, and heard the passing cars crush glass and other debris from the accident.

Finally, an orange and white ambulance stopped a few feet away. Two men jumped out and rushed over to me. I looked up at the stars that night one more time before stepping into the ambulance, still in shock that I was alive.

Mom arrived with Steven, my stepdad. I saw them through the steamy ambulance window and asked the EMT to open the door.

“Sorry, guys,” he said when he saw them. “There’s only room for one more.”

“I’ll go with her. Can you meet us there?” Mom asked Steven.

She hugged me and her eyes filled with tears.

“Oh, Ash, I’m so sorry that this happened. You just can’t catch a break, can you?”

Before we left for the hospital, a police officer walked over.

“Lucky you had your seat belt on; otherwise, you may not have made it,” he said.

“She always wears her seat belt,” Mom said, smiling with only one cheek.

The ambulance ride seemed to take hours. I hated lying on the stretcher and wanted to sit upright. Each turn seemed tighter than normal and each stop abrupt. Every inch of my body ached.

Toward the end of the ride, it finally registered: I was on my way to a hospital. I hadn’t been to one for quite some time and never wanted to go back. I hated the smell, the food, and the memories. I’ll never forget that April in 2002, and all that had led up to it that year. Maybe it wasn’t just that year. It could’ve been my entire life creeping up on me like a bad dream.

Either way, it was a part of my past that I’d always wished I could change.

I left the hospital in one piece, but my entire body was bruised and sore. I had to get stitches behind my left ear. Each time the needle pricked my skin, a stinging pain would rush up my lower back and into my neck.

Almost as painful was when the nurse pulled the glass out of my hands. The shards reflected the hospital light, helping the nurse find them. With small tweezers, she parted my skin and removed the particles.

After all the glass was gone, the nurse stitched up my hands and wrists. I had only a few deep wounds, but the backs of my hands were badly scratched. The hundreds of tiny red cuts looked like streets on the map of a busy city.

I was anxious during the ride home, even though I was sitting in the back seat. I was certain that I’d need a break from driving for a while.

A few nights after my accident, I had a nightmare that prolonged my driving strike. In my dream, the crash happened the same way, except I didn’t survive. As I dreamt, I watched firefighters and police officers rescue me from my car with the Jaws of Life. I saw them carrying me out of the ditch on a stretcher, and watched Mom throw herself onto my lifeless body.

The nightmare skipped on to my funeral and I heard my brother, Joey, reading my eulogy: “My sister was always there for me. I miss her already. She was such a large part of our family’s foundation that without her, I’m afraid we may fall through the cracks.”

The nightmare ended with the vision of the newspaper headline the day after my accident: “Twenty-year-old female killed in hit-and-run crash.”

I knew that my fear would only grow the longer I put off driving, so one brisk morning, I sat behind the wheel and turned the key. Hearing the engine rev made my body quiver. I hesitated after taking my foot off the break, anxious about accelerating.

After taking a deep breath, I pushed the gas pedal. I felt as though I was driving again for the first time. Coasting along my street, I felt the smoothness of the road, saw sunlight peering through tree branches, and suddenly became comfortable again behind the wheel. I wasn’t ready for the highway yet, but knew I could work my way there.

That accident was not the first turbulence that my life had felt, and it wouldn’t be the last. As I reflect on my past, it shows itself in the form of a slide show, one image projected after another. Once one memory pops into place, another slides in and pushes the old one aside.

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Note from the author coming soon...

About Ashley

Ashley Troutman has a bachelor's degree and a Master of Fine Arts degree from Southern New Hampshire University. Ashley works as the Managing Editor for Cambridge Editors and the Leads Editor for The New Hampshire Writer’s Project. She currently writes for The Somerville...

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