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When Worlds Collide
November 21, 2000


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November 17, 2000
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Every so often, I need a reminder of just how... open this journal is, and how it changes the way I might communicate with the world. Having picked the journal back up last week, on the fifteenth, I opened myself up to new discoveries about the nature of the Journal. And, in a way, about the nature of experience itself.

You see, in the November 15 entry I detailed the reasons I was gone from journalling for so long. Primary among them was the car accident I had. I'm sure you all remember that and if you don't, I have a link to it so you can find it easily enough.

Well, over the weekend, November 19 hit. Now, if you read the November 19, 1999 entry of the Journal from last year, you know that November 19 is kind of my resonating day. Things happen on the 19th. Things converge. It's a day of pausing, of considering, of refreshing, and a day when new worlds open up or old ones hit me.

Sort of like an automobile collision, if you think about it.

I received an e-mail on November 19. I'm going to quote from it with permission of the author.

From: [Censored to protect the innocent]
Date: Sun, 19 Nov 2000 22:18:21 EST
Subject: Glad you're OK (now)(for the most part)
To: journal@annotations.com

I was the other driver in the car accident you had.  I e-mailed you way back in September but I think that I screwed up and didn't send my note to the right e-mail address.  In any case, I simply wanted to send my best wishes for your full recovery.  Was distressed to learn in your November 15 entry that your injuries were/are in fact worse than what the police, EMTs, and insurance company described to me.

I was stunned. Flabbergasted. Now, I didn't know of or remember an e-mail from her, but it might have been during the week when I was high as a kite. But what stunned me was taking the abstract experience -- an automobile accident -- and suddenly hearing from someone else in that same experience. Really, from the other person in that experience.

You see, I've thought often about her without knowing anything about her. Wondered if she was all right. Wondered if she were resentful. Wondered what she thought of it all. But I didn't know her name and I didn't have any information, and I didn't know if she'd ever want to hear from me.

Hearing from her was, as I said, stunning. As well as hearing that she was distressed about my injuries, and that they were more extensive than she'd been told. But more on that in a moment. To continue:

As you noted in your entry, I emerged unscathed from my mangled car-- and actually didn't even have a split lip, although my lips hurt a great deal where the air bag hit me.  I would vigorously dispute any allegation that I was speeding, but that is neither here nor there.  The important thing is that things could have been a lot worse, and I was thrilled to learn that you are alive, well, busy, and recovered.

On the matter of her speeding, I have no reason to dispute her. I had been told she was speeding by rescue workers and then again at the hospital, but never spoke to police officers about it. (In fact, the police never contacted me at all, though I called them the day after to give my name if they wanted to discuss the accident with me.) I'm satisfied with the outcome of the accident, so I have no reason to argue or even believe otherwise, and certainly no reason to dispute her. I never even saw her car, remember.

In fact, I have to wonder if they didn't tell me she was speeding for the same reason they apparently told her I wasn't injured. In the wake of a highly traumatic accident, isn't one of their responsibilities putting the victim's concerns to rest? We were both victims, so they were careful to relax us as much as possible. I wasn't seriously injured -- not in danger of death, not maimed -- so why burden her with the details. "Oh, he's fine. Don't worry about it."

On my side, they may have figured that I'd feel better if I thought she were speeding. Or they may have figured that "everyone speeds through that intersection" so it was safe to believe she was. Or they may have seen the really catastrophic damage to both cars (I haven't seen her car but she describes it as "mangled") and decided that she must have been speeding without really coming to a scientific (or forensic) conclusion.

I don't know. And more to the point, it doesn't matter. As she said in a followup letter:

I didn't mean to sound defensive about the whole speeding issue. I was more concerned that you might bear me some ill will. Thank you for putting my mind at ease on that point! (I hate strife.)

See, I understand that. I understand it completely. It's exactly how I felt, you see. I've been wondering if this unknown woman in this accident hated me, and it's bothered me a lot.

It's a natural reaction, I suppose. The fear of righteous wrath. The fear that someone out there deeply resents you. She felt it and I felt it, and in communicating we both feel infinitely better about the whole affair. She knows I don't bear her ill will. I feel she doesn't bear me ill will. And without recrimination, we can both move forward with our lives.

And that's a part of the process. I mentioned flinching in traffic in my entry. She's had the same reaction. In her words:

Also, I know what you mean about flinching in traffic. I have to deal with that same God-awful intersection virtually every day! I heard that there were two other similar accidents in that same intersection the day we had ours.

I'd heard the same thing, truthfully. It's a downright dangerous intersection, and I'm deeply glad I don't have to deal with it every day. In fact, I almost never have to go in the direction I was going the day of the collision. But when I do go through it, I feel a clutch around my heart even now. To have to travel through it, in the same lane that the accident occurred, daily....

I feel guilty, really. I feel like I should buy her a cup of coffee and a cruller and tell her I'm sorry. The flinch isn't a pleasant feeling. I know. A few days after the accident, I was riding with Mason in his car. We came to an intersection. We had a stop sign. The other lane didn't. And I could see an oncoming car, on the same side as the accident happened. One well over a quarter mile away -- clearly far enough that Mason could have made it. So he started across.

And I squealed "Nooooo!" and grabbed his arm and he hit the brakes. And we waited the twenty or thirty seconds for the truck to pass. And I hyperventilated and shivered, and Mason was very soothing with me.

I imagine she's felt the same things. The same flare of panic when a car suddenly enters her field of vision. The same compulsive need to wear her seat belt. Maybe she even replayed the accident over and over in her head, trying to remember every detail while trying to forget them.

Days after the accident, I started having nightmares about car crashes. Not violent ones. I was never hurt. But the accidents were always humiliating. Ludicrously so. And of course, there were the drugs. The foggy mind. And pain.

Well, she may have been uninjured, but I'll bet she was plenty sore for days. I'll bet she was shellshocked. I'll bet she's undergone the same process of recovery I have. And that's too bad.

That's not the amazing thing, though. Quoting once again:

You may absolutely quote me in your journal. It just so happens that I had stumbled onto your journal in "the Diary Registry" a couple of weeks before the accident. (I am an avid journal writer, and enthusiastic reader of other people's journals.) I initially read yours because of your location in Wolfeboro, but as I read, I began to enjoy your writing for its own sake. What a stunning coincidence that I should "encounter" you so soon after having read your journal.

"Stunning" is a good word for it.

Here's someone who... well, knows a lot about me, depending on how much of the journal she's read. I was a part of her digital world. Part of the internet landscape, with the same reality and the same lack of reality of all the rest of it. I was User Friendly, or CNN.com, or Salon, or Sluggy Freelance.

And then, with an impact neither of us will ever forget, I was real. As real as the crumpled front end of her car. The digital world became the real world. And she noticed my absence from the digital world and it concerned her. And then I posted, and returned to the digital world, but returned with a story that she was a part of. And with her e-mails to me and mine to hers, an entirely different perspective opens.

It's fascinating, if you think about it. The virtual becomes real. I turn out to be a real person behind these words. Amazing.

I've had a similar experience with this. You see, until the 19th, the automobile accident... well, it was mine. An experience I had. Oh, there was another person -- one I worried about -- involved. But I never saw her. I never saw her car (heck, I thought I saw a flash of blue, when she was driving a grey car). In a way, she was a metaphor, not a person. The whole thing was a part of my past. My automobile accident. It formed the kernel of a story I've been working on. But with that e-mail, it became a shared event. The metaphor became a real live person. The other driver turns out to be a real person behind the experience. Amazing.

I even have to be careful with the story I'm writing. Before, if the other driver became a character, it could be wholly created out of my imagination, serving any story point it needed to. Now... I need to be conscious of the real other driver. She needs to know that character isn't based on her, but is just a character in a story that grew out of a life experience. My fictional world needs to be separate from the real world, and she needs to be confident in that.

I mentioned the letter to Eileen at work. She got thoughtful. "You know," she said, "I followed a wrecker on my way home from work that night, and it had a grey car with a smashed in front end. That must have been hers." She then snickered. "She knows my name, doesn't she? She knows about me, and Mason, and Fran and Van, because you write about us in your journal. That's so strange." Another collision of worlds -- Eileen saw the mythical other car in my accident, and Eileen is part of what the other driver read about in the journal.

It boggles the mind.

I haven't identified the other driver in here. I didn't get permission to do so. I don't think she'd mind but I'd rather be sure. That's a part of the bridge between reality and the journal. It's hard to know what the boundaries are. Similarly, it's hard to know what questions I can ask her about her perspective. There's so much I'd want to know. So many details. What did my car look like to her? Did she stop cold with the impact or get knocked into a different direction? Who did she talk to? Who helped her through the reactions afterward? What was it all like?

But at the same time... how much would she want to discuss it? I'm sure she wants to put it all behind her, and it's unfair to ask her. She needs to be able to move on, the same as I do.

One thing's for sure. This communication will help with that. I feel better already, and it seems she does too. And that's a good thing. Far better than a collision.

In other news, horrible things have happened to my face, but they're not related to automobiles. More tomorrow.

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