Sunday morning. The phone next to our bed rings at 7:16. The ringer’s turned off. I normally sleep through a downstairs ring but I pick up.
Ace, who left for work at 6:45, informs me that he just got rear-ended on Highway 65. The cops are on their way. The guy who hit him is “plowed.”
“Plowed?” I ask. “You mean drunk?” On Sunday morning at 7:16 am.
Yeah, he’s drunk. And ten seconds later he jumps back into his huge red truck and leaves the scene. Ace was rear-ended. The truck has no front license plate.
“Are you okay?” I’m still trying to process what amounts to way too much information.
“I think so,” he says. He can’t shake the idea that he shouldn’t be okay. Ace was at a dead stop on Highway 65 at a red light. The truck plowed into him full speed, at least 60 mph. The impact imploded the back end of our 2011 Subaru Outback, sending a shower of glass along Ace’s neck, and pushing his car all the way across the intersection.
The cops arrive and we hang up.
Ace and I talk regularly about the risks of an hour commute each way, the nasty stretch of road known as Highway 65. Wouldn’t it be great if he could walk a few blocks to the clinic on Grand Avenue? We put him in a Subaru for safety and mileage.
I start gathering my thoughts and my car keys. 1) Figure out if Ace is actually injured. 2) Call the insurance company. 3) What to do about his work day? There is no automatic “sub” system in his hospital practice. If he can’t work, we have to find someone who can; It’s not like he can call in and say, “Hey, sorry. Please let my patients know I can’t make it in. I just had a near-death experience.”
He was at a dead stop, rear-ended full speed. Physics suggests he shouldn’t be okay.
Ace calls back. He needs to get to work. He gives me the address of the towing company. My dad and I leave in two vehicles.
We meet in the parking lot snowbank of Qwik Trip, across the road from the closed offices of the towing company. He stands next to the debris he salvaged from the car: a pile of reusable shopping bags, a window break/seatbelt slicer, Minnesota winter emergency supplies, two hockey sticks. I walk to Ace and embrace him, kiss him, tell him I love him. His eyes are wide. Imagine you’re all calm and casual, cruising down the street. A red Lamborghini screams alongside, fire arcing off the metal. Death catches your eye, cocks his head, coolly assessing. Nope, not this time. He peals off onto the open road.
Ace describes the man, how he staggered from his truck. “I’m sorry,” he slurred. “I just broke up with my girlfriend.” He could barely walk, but got back in the cab and took off. They apprehended him a few miles up the road.
“I’m glad they caught the –“ my dad hesitates, as if looking to see if my mom is present. “Asshole,” I suggest, as my dad completes the sentence with “bastard.” (sorry Mom) We’re both spitting mad.
As a physician, I believe in the disease model of addiction. My sympathy for the heartbroken man who could’ve killed my husband ended the second he stepped into his truck. Don’t turn your own disease into someone else’s tragedy.
“Take ibuprofen now,” I say, knowing Ace is hopped up on epinephrine. He’ll only feel the full effects of this at the end of his shift.
I ride home in my dad’s Subaru. He tells me of the time an “old man” pulled right out in front of him. My dad, age 15 and on a bike, was tossed up onto the guy’s hood. The driver, an Eau Claire “stranger,” put my dad in the car and drove him to the hospital, waited while the doctor checked him out, paid the bill, and repaired the bike.
Dad drops me off at home. My mom checks in by phone, reminding me that her father was rear-ended by a drunk driver in the dead of night on his way home from working overtime. She started waking up when her father was due home and staying awake until he arrived. Safe.
I call the hospital where Ace works and chat with the floor manager. Yes, they heard what happened. I describe the scene in more detail and ask her to shove some ibuprofen down Ace’s throat. “We’ll hogtie him,” she assures me. “And make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid,” I say. “We’ll try,” she replies.
Working after such an experience might be considered stupid. What can he do?
I spend the next three hours on the phone. The deputy who helped my husband supplies me with the other driver’s full name, date of birth (two weeks after Ace’s, including the year), license plate, and insurance name and policy number. I inform American Family Insurance that their policy holder is currently in the county jail. They will attempt to contact him for ten days to get his side of the story. If they can’t reach him, they’ll proceed with their own investigation and decide whether they’ll accept liability.
How could they not accept liability? We went to inspect our impounded car today and found the red truck’s front license plate – fully embedded in our car’s rear bumper.
At the end of it, I have a probably-totaled car, a huge unanticipated vehicular expense, a lengthy insurance investigation, and a living breathing husband.
In five years, maybe I’ll look at Ace and say, “Hey, remember when that drunk driver could’ve killed you on Highway 65 four days after 17 students and teachers were mowed down by an angry 19-yr-old with access to an AR-15? I’m so grateful that our lawmakers finally tackled gun reform as well as addiction treatment and support.”
A gal can dream.