I've seen people that have died, hours or even moments after it had happened, but until today I had never been face to face with someone who died right in front of me.
My family and I were on our way to Wal-Mart and we heard that sound that is so common to automobile accidents, that unmistakable squeal of wheels that continued into this horrendous crunch and ended with a woman flying through her windshield. The sound of glass shattering and a person flying through it was like nothing I had ever heard before, nor do I want to hear it again.
I don't remember any screaming, I don't think there was time. It's cliche, but true as "it all happened so fast."
My husband is a rare breed in that he pulled over. He's also of the dense breed in that he tried to command me to stay in the car. Emphasis on tried. Smart enough, however, to know when I'm not going to listen when there are more important things to tend to.
He headed towards the car while I went towards the woman. The chances of her surviving were slim. I knew this, even as phrases like "spatter pattern" and "point of impact" crossed my mind, and yet, there was still this internal drive to see and yet, somehow, it was more than that. A desire to know. Know what, I wasn't quite sure at the time, but I do now.
At least I think I do, looking back on it. Because, against all odds, she was alive. Barely, and even then I knew she wouldn't last until the paramedics arrived. I took off my vest and put it over the top of her head. At least, I think I did. I don't really remember. It's strange, how in times like this I just automatically did what I'd been trained to do during my years as a Red Cross Volunteer.
I do remember, however, holding her hand. This too, was automatic, but at the same time different. One person reaching out to another, instinctively. I didn't squeeze, I just held. She tried to say something, I think it was "thank you." but it could have been something else altogether.
I wish I could say she died peacefully, but I can't, because before she did, her body declared a revolt and seized up on her. Arms and legs flailing, head jerking and then a loud SNAP. Her neck broke, her eyes glazed and all was still. I knew she was gone.
I didn't hear the ambulance arrive, though I'm sure they came to the scene with sirens blaring.
I answered their questions, the paramedics' and the police officer's. Yet, I still feel guilty, helpless, as if there was something more I could have done. My head knows it wasn't my fault, but my heart still aches for the woman I never knew.