September 18, 2012 was, by all accounts, an unmemorable Tuesday. I’d recently started a fancy new job at a fancy new magazine, and my day began the same way it always did: I took the crosstown bus to my office on Varick Street, picked up breakfast, and headed into work. What I didn’t know then, was that in 12 hours, I would be strapped to a stretcher and unconscious, in the back of an ambulance on my way to the emergency room.
The workday was nothing out of the ordinary. I had a few meetings, started pitching story ideas for the upcoming Winter issue, and helped nail down details for a big photoshoot we had in the works.
I had plans that evening to go to dinner with two friends, so we picked a place (The Smith on 11th & 3rd) and decided to meet there at around 7pm. We shared an appetizer; then I ordered a Greek salad and a glass of wine. Ordinarily I would have had more than one drink—if you know me, this should come as no surprise—but I needed to be up early the next day for a breakfast meeting with a publicist.
It was a pretty low-key dinner—just a nice catch-up session with girlfriends. I honestly don’t remember what we talked about, but for some reason I do remember my exact outfit: I was wearing a cute black-and-cream sweater, black skinny jeans, and a new pair of Frye motorcycle boots that I got during the Nordstrom anniversary sale that summer. I wanted those damn boots for so long and was so excited that they were finally mine.
After we paid the bill, we left the restaurant and I headed downtown with a friend who was going in the same direction. It was a nice night, so we decided to walk instead of taking a taxi. I was one block from the restaurant—on the northeast corner of 10th and 3rd—and stopped to wait for the crosswalk signal to light up. Once it did, I proceeded to cross the street.
I can remember that moment with such clarity, and yet, everything that followed was a complete blur. As I crossed the street, I looked over my right shoulder and was suddenly blinded by a pair of headlights speeding directly toward me. Before I even had time to react, I felt the impact of the car (which I now know was an SUV) slamming into the right side of my body, then tossing me to the concrete like a rag doll. The entire thing happened within a matter of seconds. Headlights, impact, concrete.
Apparently in traumatic situations, the body releases endorphins, which stops pain signals traveling to your brain—and that likely explains why, despite being in a lot of pain, I don’t remember feeling anything, if that makes sense.
“You have no idea how lucky you are to be alive. Most people we see here…aren’t so lucky.”
As I laid on the concrete, I’ll never forget the blood-curdling scream that came from the driver when her car screeched to a halt. She jumped out, assuming she’d just killed someone. I can still hear her voice in my head to this day. She was shrieking hysterically, hovering over my body and repeating the same thing over and over at the top of her lungs: “AY DIOS MIO! AY DIOS MIO!” (I knew she was saying “Oh My God” in Spanish—and I wanted to tell her that I was, you know, not dead—but I couldn’t seem to get the words out. I was probably in shock.)
The moments that followed are blurry. My friend was OK, for the most part. The car ran over her foot and struck her right arm, but she was coherent enough to help me. I’m pretty sure someone who saw the whole thing called 911. The police arrived and started interviewing eyewitnesses. When the paramedics got there, they instructed me not to move. They lifted me carefully onto a stretcher and strapped me in, then wrapped a brace around my neck before rolling me into the back of the ambulance.
The ride to the hospital was also a bit of a blur, but I’ll never forget the look on one of the nurse’s faces when she saw that I was awake and able to move my toes. “You have no idea how lucky you are to be alive. Most people we see here…aren’t so lucky.”
At some point Matt arrived, and he spent the rest of the night in the hospital with me while I underwent brain scans, CAT scans, X-rays, and MRIs. It turned out that I had herniated a few discs in my back and was badly bruised down the entire right side of my body, but otherwise, I was OK—and for that, I was grateful.
The herniated discs ended up landing me back in the hospital five (maybe six?) more times over the next few years, and ultimately resulted in me having back surgery in 2014 at the age of 27—a total nightmare—but that’s a story for another day. I’m still not 100% healed and likely never will be. The back pain comes and goes, and at this point, I’ve just learned to live with it. It’s frustrating, but I try not to let myself get upset about it, because I always think about how much worse it could have been.
After the accident I took a little time off of work to recover. Physically, it sucked, and emotionally it was a bit of a roller coaster—I didn’t know whether to be happy that I was alive or furious about what had happened to me. I was confused by my emotions. I hated how out of control I felt.
I feared that for the rest of my life, I’d never be able to cross a street without crippling anxiety. Even the idea of leaving the house terrified me. I wondered if I had PTSD. (And, because I clearly have control issues, I would Google “symptoms of PTSD” so I could try and avoid having them.) My thoughts would send me into a temporary state of depression, and then I’d get mad at myself for feeling depressed, because…why couldn’t I just appreciate how lucky I was?
Despite having the amazing support of my family, Matt, and my friends, I internalized almost everything. Vulnerability has never been my strong suit. To be honest, writing this blog post is the most I’ve ever shared—with anyone—about what was going through my head at the time. Incidentally, “writing as catharsis” is a thing for a reason.
When I went back to work it was particularly tough. I’d only been at my job for a month or two, and I wasn’t super close with any of my colleagues yet. I didn’t want special treatment or attention—I just wanted to get back to my life before the accident. Imagine being new at a job, disappearing because you got hit by a car, then rolling into the office and trying to go about your business like nothing happened…suffice to say, it was uncomfortable.
There’s no guidebook that tells you how to handle that kind of situation—I certainly didn’t want to recount the details of what had happened every time someone asked, but it also seemed weird to be like “Oh me? I’m good! How are you? What did I miss?”
I really don’t like sympathy or pity and I hated knowing everyone felt bad for me. That, for some reason, was the worst part.
On my first morning back, I walked into the building and ran into one of our sales executives in the lobby. She obviously knew what happened (because everyone knew what happened.) The look in her eyes when she saw me…UGH. It was a look that said “oh my God you poor thing”—which I so desperately wanted to avoid. I felt sick.
She opened her arms to give me a hug and I immediately burst into tears. The idea of having that same interaction with every other person in the office was too much for me to handle. I just wasn’t ready. So I went home, and emailed my boss to tell her that I needed another day.
My second attempt at going back to work was still emotional—I had to excuse myself to cry in the bathroom on more than one occasion—but eventually things started to feel normal again. (Normal except for the fact that I was heavily medicated on painkillers.) Plus, I needed a special contraption and cushion on my chair so I could sit comfortably for long periods of time, which made me feel like an 80-year-old woman, but was kind of hilarious.
Now, you’re probably wondering what happened to the woman who hit me. We filed a lawsuit and she was found at fault—she had, in fact, blown through a red light and was speeding when she hit me in the crosswalk.
Going through the legal process was incredibly painful and emotionally draining. There were meetings with lawyers, mounds of paperwork, calls with insurance companies. I was forced to retell (and relive) the story over and over again. When I was questioned by her lawyer (or maybe it was her insurance company, I can’t remember) I had to deal with annoying, condescending questions like: “Is it possible that because you were wearing dark clothes and it was dark out, she didn’t see you in the crosswalk?” NO. “Are you sure you saw the crossing signal?” YES. For the 1,000th time, yes.
Between all of that, plus the physical therapy and doctors appointments, I felt like the accident had become my full-time fucking job. And it certainly wasn’t a job I ever wanted or signed up for.
As I healed and went through the legal nonsense—which dragged on for like two years—I cried a lot. I also spent a lot of time being angry at a woman who I would never see again, and whose face I couldn’t even picture if I tried. (You better believe I attempted to find her on Google, but her name is pretty generic, so my searches never amounted to anything.)
While I was recovering from my surgery in 2014, I remember fantasizing about showing up to her apartment in my back brace and telling her what she’d put me through. I was 27 and using a walker, for Christ’s sake! Of course that wouldn’t have accomplished anything—and I never would have actually done it—but that’s the kind of crazy shit that goes through your head when you’re in a situation like mine, I guess.
The anger, in hindsight, was probably just a coping mechanism. It felt better knowing that I could blame someone every time I found myself back in the hospital or hobbling to a doctor’s appointment in pain.
Ultimately, with time, I just started to let go of it. It’s crazy to say this, but I truly don’t have a single ounce of anger or ill-will toward the woman who plowed me down with her car seven years ago. How could I possibly feel bitter when I have so much to be grateful for?
Sometimes I actually feel bad for her—imagine how traumatic it would be to hit someone and then have to live with yourself knowing it was your fault? That’s a hard fucking pill to swallow.
Oh, and one last thing. As much as I wish I could end this story by telling you that I walked away with millions from the lawsuit—I didn’t. In fact, I didn’t get shit. The woman who hit me had terrible insurance (or as my lawyer called it “the worst possible insurance”) and I basically ended up with enough money to cover my hospital bills and my legal fees. There was about $1,000 left over when all was said and done. I used it to pay for the taxis I had to take to and from work for a month because I couldn’t walk.
Sure, the money would have been nice, but what I’ve learned is that in life, things rarely come wrapped in a perfect bow the way we wish they would. And honestly, I don’t think I would be in the place that I’m in today—and have the perspective I do—if I hadn’t gone through all of it, money or not.
Before I was discharged from the hospital after the accident, the nurse brought me my belongings in a plastic bag. I pulled out my clothes first, followed my boots…and OMG I was so fucking furious! They were scuffed and dirty and almost looked like they’d been run over by a car or something. I told Matt that I planned to sue for damages, pain & suffering, and a new pair of Frye boots. (Spoiler alert: I never got them.)
I thought about throwing the boots away because keeping them felt like a bad omen, but my mom told me not to, so I decided to put them in storage. Last year, I took them out for the first time, and you know what? They looked cool as hell. They were beat up, but had way more character than they did when they were new and fresh out of the box.
They’d been through a lot. And they were perfectly imperfect because of it.