I got a DUI on July 10, 2010. By that time my drinking had reached the point where it was a concern (and becoming an annoyance) to the people in my life, but this was the first time it had drawn the attention of outside parties. In addition to local law enforcement, the outside parties included firefighters, paramedics, emergency room doctors, surgeons and nurses because I obtained it in rather spectacular fashion.
I’d gone to one of my favorite dive bars to hang out with friends and see a band we all liked. They played once a month doing mostly rock covers from the 70s and 80s, including a killer rendition of Heart’s Barracuda that I just loved. My Ex (who, with a great deal of thought and creativity, I chose to refer to as Mary in Recipe For A Break Up) had always been the designated driver in our relationship, but since she had run off with Jane (another thoughtful and creative name change) less than three weeks earlier, this was my first night out where I had to drive any considerable distance on my own.
Aside from being sans D.D. and knowing that my ability to moderate my intake of adult beverages was somewhat wanting, I was also terribly tired that night. It was a Friday and I’d gotten up early for work after not sleeping well the night before … or the night before that or the night before that or the night before blah, blah, blah, etc.. It had been just eighteen days since my seventeen-year relationship crashed and burned; and aside from the expected emotional toll something like that takes on a person and the normal disruptions to their regular routine, I was exacerbating the situation by throwing alcohol and drugs at it. So, as a consideration to those of you who may not be fluent in Obvious, I’ll just say that I was in no shape to be doing anything that night but going home and going to bed.
And it’s not just in hindsight that I’m aware I had no business being on the road that night. The signs were all there, as gaudy and glaring as the neon ones flashing at me from all four walls of the bar from which I couldn’t stay away. I simply chose to look the other way whenever one popped up:
Sign #1 – My Facebook status update when it occurred to me that I was too tired to go out: “I’m wondering how my best intentions will stack up against my natural instincts…”
Sign #2 – My Facebook status update when it occurred to me that I didn’t care if I was too tired to go out: “Know better, doing it anyway!”
Sign #3 – The short exchange between my friend Jim and I when the band broke into Barracuda five minutes after I walked into the bar: Jim – “Hey, your favorite! Good thing you made it!” Me – “I know! I’m so tired I shouldn’t have come, but just hearing this is totally worth the DUI I’m probably gonna get on the way home!”
Sign #4 & #5 – Two people were concerned enough about me that they offered to let me sleep it off at their house and bring me back for my car in the morning. I turned them both down because they were leaving too early and I was still having fun, i.e. drinking.
Sign #6 – My Facebook status update when it occurred to me that I was probably too drunk and too tired to drive, but also too nervous about sleeping on the street in my car at 2:00am: “Houston, we have a problem!”
According to Google Maps, my house is almost exactly forty miles from the bar where I’d been drinking. The point at which my alcohol indulgence and lack of sleep converged was approximately thirty-eight miles from said bar. Those in the know agree that most car accidents happen within five miles of home because once they’re in their comfort zone many drivers let down their guard; and, while it was definitely the lesser of three evils, this was also a factor in what happened to me. I’d been fighting to stay awake for much of the drive and as I approached the off-ramp I remember thinking “oh thank God!” and feeling a huge sense of relief because I knew I’d made it and I relaxed. Big mistake.
The next thing I remember is a jarring thud. I could tell that the car was still moving but it was dark and I couldn’t see anything. The sensation was almost like flying, or falling. I was also immediately aware that I had no control over what was about to happen, only that it was likely to be very, very bad. I didn’t think the words “I’m going to die” or “This is it,” but there was the realization that I might be experiencing my last few moments of life. I’m relating these thoughts and feelings to you in a linear fashion; but in actuality, between jumping the curb and slamming into the concrete block that eventually stopped my forward progress, there wasn’t time to think that way. It was more like getting hit by a thought grenade … that also happened to be packed with a heavy load of terror shrapnel.
Again, for those not fluent in Obvious, despite feeling that I might be about to die, I did not. I did however shatter my right ankle (the doc theorized I may have tried to hit the brake, my foot colliding with the floorboard when it was jammed up into the driver’s seat leaving my knees uncomfortably around chin level) and tore up my left leg requiring a number of stitches. I also had the delightful experience of having an airbag prevent me from impacting the steering wheel. Which, while very likely saving me from more devastating injuries, I can only describe as taking a hard, well-placed punch to the face while someone simultaneously fires a large-caliber weapon next to your ear. The accident was very loud, the aftermath almost completely silent.
Since it was around 3:00am and I was off the road in a bit of a ditch it took some time before anyone noticed me there. I remember a man finally shouting to me from the middle of the street (he seemed hesitant to come too close, maybe he was afraid of what he might see) that he had called for help. Soon the street was filled with an army of emergency personnel and a variety of vehicles with flashing lights. A tarp was draped over me while firefighters used the jaws-of-life to pry the door open in order to extract me from my crumpled little car.
I took my first ride in an ambulance and laid half-naked on a gurney in the E.R. where, while a doctor kneaded my ankle, grinding the bones together and refusing to giving me pain meds until he determined I had neither head trauma nor internal injuries, a CHP officer administered a breath test and informed me that I was under arrest for driving under the influence. He also said he’d decided not to take me to jail, which I thought rather generous of him considering the doctor had just told me that I’d be going into surgery as soon as a room opened up.
That accident scared the fuck out of me. The idea that I could have been killed was bad, that I could have hurt or killed someone else was infinitely worse … and a very real possibility. I was incredibly lucky that I fell asleep/passed out after leaving the freeway. It has a wide, open median that I easily could have drifted across and into oncoming traffic. I was also fortunate that it was so early in the morning and I live in an area where the streets roll up around 8:00pm so traffic was light. I knew there was no way I could live with myself if I ever hurt an innocent person or took a mother/father/child away from their family. I didn’t promise to stop drinking, but I swore that I would never drink and drive again. That DUI was my wake up call and it would be my last.
Until April 15, 2012 when I got my next one.