Find the helpers in the chaos

By Jessica Coleman
Staff Writer

Pieces of crumpled metal and shattered plastic lay peppered across the highway. A highway sign had been knocked into the ditch by the red pickup that now sat alongside it. All I could hear was the pounding of my own heart in my ears and my daughter, aged 8, screaming.

When the world came back into focus, I reached instinctively for my daughter Georgia. I looked up, and saw that my Kia Soul was resting in the median of Highway 59. It felt like we’d been spinning forever, but in hindsight I don't actually know if we even made a complete 360.

We would not be making it to the zoo that day.

It wasn’t what Georgia was yelling that struck me first. She was shrieking “I’m so scared. Call Daddy!” It was what she wasn’t yelling. I guess it hit me that she was yelling that she was afraid, and not “Oh it hurts, Mama, it hurts!” In that split second, that gave me some relief. I gasped, realizing I had forgotten to breathe since the impact.

It is fascinating and amazing how many thoughts and emotions one can throw together in a few seconds. Less than a minute before I took that breath, I had been happily driving down Highway 59 toward Victoria with my daughter.

We’d just come from there, but before we went to the zoo we had to take our pygmy goats Barnaby and Spot home.

They’d been part of a petting zoo that morning, and we all had a great time. The goats had spent the morning carelessly leaping around on hay bales and receiving ear scratches from gleeful children, and then we’d gone and admired the wildlife at the Riverside Park duck pond.

Georgia had asked me to cancel my plans Saturday night and spend the evening with her so we could continue our wonderful day, and I had. Everything pointed to this being a fantastic Saturday.

I saw the truck too late, which is odd since it is that red you can’t really miss. I’ve always called it “look at me” red.

Right past El Toro, the course of our day would take a veer to the right, and then a spin across the highway.

It is some kind of miracle no one was hurt badly. I’m pretty sore. Georgia bumped her head, but was checked out by EMS at the scene and is fine (I know, because I asked her how she felt every 14 seconds on Sunday, and her response was always some variation of “Gah, Mom, I’m fiinnneee”).

People stopped to help us, some of them, even letting Georgia sit in their vehicle and drink a bottle of water while I spoke to first responders.
It is truly when the worst things happen that you see the best in people. Even the gentleman in the red truck was pleasant and helpful, and even brought some levity to the situation.

I have an anxiety disorder and was circling dangerously close to panic attack territory, and everybody was so calming and kind. Everyone who responded – it felt like a hundred people but was probably closer to a dozen – was professional, capable, and compassionate. They found the perfect balance between allowing me to calm down and taking care of business.

Everything that needed to be signed got signed, and I didn’t feel like paperwork was being shoved in my panic-riddled face without concern for my well being, as can happen in situations like this. But no. In this situation, everybody who responded was a flawless balance of professionalism and empathy. It is a difficult thing to accomplish.

Now, I’ve been in fender-benders before. I’ve even been in an accident before where I could have been seriously injured, but never at highway speed. I had the cruise control set at 75 miles per hour. Let me tell you, at 75, you have very little control over what your car does if you swerve too sharply, and when you find that your only real option in a split second is to swerve sharply, really all you’ve got left is hope. It was truly terrifying.

I’m, as can be expected, sore. I’m still a little anxious and I think my next vehicle, assuming the Kia is totaled, will be something a little bigger. More than anything, I’m grateful.

I’m grateful that no one was hurt badly. I am grateful we were wearing our seat belts. I am grateful that Jackson County first responders are full of equal parts knowledge and heart. I’m grateful that the man in the truck wasn’t rude or mean, but kind and friendly. I am grateful that my amazing friend Regin Hilgart came out to give me a ride home. I’m forever grateful for my husband Brian who calmed my baby girl when she needed nothing other than to hear her daddy’s voice.

One of the heroes from my childhood, Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, passed along some wisdom from his mother once. He said, “always look for the helpers.”

When tragedy or chaos rears its head, I try to remember that there are people who make those situations better.

Today, I am grateful for the helpers. Thank you. Thank you so, so much.

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