September 2nd, 2015-

I’m 16 years old again, and my hair is dyed, and I’ve never broken a bone. I’m driving to my junior year orientation. My mom has her legs on the dash, smiling. My window is half down, I’m enjoying the sun in the sky, and the breeze. 

I hear “oh fuck” in my mother’s voice before I see it, but when I tell you there was an hour of time to think and only a split second to react: I hope you don’t understand. I hope you’ve never had to experience something so earth shattering that it slows down your entire world. I see everything around me: the big ditch to the right that our tiny Jetta would flip over in, the empty oncoming lane, the car close behind me and the Jeep - over the yellow lines, coming head on. I try to turn my wheel, I try with everything I know to get into that empty oncoming lane, but before I have the chance - our collision stops the car. 

And I’m relieved, initially. I expected to be dead, in pain, hurt. But I can see and breath and for the first lifelong second I feel relief. 

And then I see my wrist. 

And then I see our car in front of me. 

And then I see my mom. 

And panic sets in. I talk to her and she responds. She wants me to find a phone to call someone, but our dash is smashed in and I see the purple from my cell but I just can’t get to it. 

People surround the vehicle, but for minutes - no one helps. We hear them say the car is on fire. I can’t open my door. I feel like we’re going to die, then my mom says it aloud. 

A woman gets my door open. I tell her I can’t undo my seatbelt and she cuts it. 

And they want to lift me from the vehicle but I yell their hands off of me, “I can do it!”, but I couldn’t. 

I try to step out of the vehicle but my right foot is stuck, and in that moment all of my pain sets in. I feel something from my leg but I can’t see it; and without blood I want to just shake it off. They cut my shoe off, my leg is free: I try to stand again. Something is really wrong with my leg. 

They lift me from the vehicle and lay me on the side of the road. I don’t want their help. The car is smoking, burning. Help my mom, help my mom, help my mom. I yell over and over. 

Her door can’t be opened. Her legs can’t be moved. She needs the jaws of life and I don’t want to drive away in an ambulance until I see her out of the car. 

But I don’t have a choice. 

There are a thousand ways my life changed after these 15 minutes. 

In little ways: taking a semester off school, seeing a therapist, learning to walk again, learning to balance homework and recovery. 

But I also learned what was important in life, what mattered to me and what was necessary for my growth. And every day I wake with this injury I learn those lessons again. I learn to slow down, to smell the roses. I learn to dance and cope with pain. I learn to prioritize my well being. I learn to lounge in the comfort of my vessel. I learn to take charge of my life. I learn that I am both soft and strong. 

I learn to balance. 

Three surgeries. Countless doctors appointments. 

The anniversary of this day reminds me most that I didn’t just learn to walk again, I learned to run.

-Ani Khēmeia