I am an accident magnet. To be more precise? My cars tend to be accident magnets. At last count, I have been involved in four major accidents.
None of them were my fault.
For the first two? I wasn't even THERE.
Part One: Congratulations On Your Graduation?
When I graduated from high school in 1994, I was the proud guardian of a 1989 Dodge Colt. I was NOT the owner, as my dad frequently reminded me. When it came to this car, the good dad lendeth, and the good dad could taketh away. However, I was the only one who ever drove the car, so it was, for all intents and purposes, mine.
I loved that car. I loved that it was red. I loved that it was a stick shift. I loved that, despite its teeny little engine, it MOOOOOOOOVED. I loved that it was great on gas. (Looking back, I loved that gas was so cheap then... who knew?) Loved the car -- loved checking the oil, loved washing it, loved taking it in for service. I was besotted with it in all of its hatchback-y goodness.
LOVED the car.
So of course I drove it to the high school for graduation. (Please, like my parents were going to drive me there! I had to be there earlier than they did.) I parked my baby in the student lot like I had pretty much every day since the keys had been dropped into my hands, accompanied by the following speech:
(If it helps, you should imagine a very stern, somewhat terrifying, official Dad voice here.)
"This? Is NOT your car. This is MY car. You get to drive the car as long as you can prove that you are responsible. If I see or hear of you driving irresponsibly or recklessly? I will report this car STOLEN. I will have your insurance revoked and you will never drive again. You must TAKE CARE of this car for as long as you drive it. I expect to see it in the same condition when you get home as it was when you left the house. You will pay for gas. You will check the oil. Is that clear?"
"I don't know how to check the oil, Dad."
"You're learning that next," he said, grimly.
It had been a pretty smooth experience since then. And now not only did I continue to have my snappy red car, I was also going to graduate from high school. Ah life, I thought, you are so sweet.
What can I say about graduation? It happened. I managed not to trip and fall while accepting my diploma (which was a triumph in and of itself). I tossed my cap into the air at the right time. I didn't doze off during any speeches.
Afterwards, I threw my cap and gown in my car, and then boarded a bus for Project Graduation -- the all night, Don't Be Out Partying Irresponsibly, Party Instead With Your Classmates And Responsible Adults shindig designed to keep kids safe. It was fun. By the time we returned to the high school for breakfast, I was pretty tired.
I was drinking coffee when the violent thunderstorm started. "Man," I said, "I need to get home."
"Uh, Danielle?" I heard.
I turned around. My friend Matt was standing there. He looked unhappy. I was puzzled.
"I just said goodbye to you!" I said, laughing. "Just can't leave?"
"Nooooo," he said, "I did leave. I went out to my car and ... you drove the Colt over here today, right?"
"You need to come out here and see this," he said. "And maybe bring a teacher or someone with you."
My favorite English teacher was nearby and he heard us talking. "I'll come out," he said.
We walked out in the driving rain and thunder to see ...
... the remains of my car.
Some time between when I had left the high school and when Matt went out to the parking lot, someone had hit it so hard that it had been pushed out of the space it was in and into another space (you could see the burnt rubber that accompanied the skid). The passenger side was so damaged that the door wouldn't open. The moulding was ripped off except for a tiny portion that clung to the side and had a piece of the moulding from the car that hit it jammed underneath it.
The side mirror was gone.
One of the rims was missing.
My car was a MESS.
Matt and Mr Marier just looked at me. I was speechless and getting more rainsoaked by the minute. Mr Marier cleared his throat.
"Uh, Matt, I think you can go," he said. "We'll take care of this."
"I'm REALLY sorry, Danielle," Matt said. I nodded. Tears were beginning to mix with the rain on my face.
"Danielle -- " Mr Marier started to say, and finally I found my voice.
"My father is going to KILL ME," I mourned. "I told you about the rule! BRING IT HOME IN THE SAME CONDITION YOU LEFT IN! THIS IS NOT THE SAME CONDITION!"
"We're going to get struck by lightening if we stand out here much longer," Mr Marier said. "We'll go in and call the police."
"Good idea," I said. "And that will give me time to decide if I'm going to run away to Canada or if I'm going to head south. I hear Florida is nice. I could live on a beach there. Because I'm certainly not going home."
The cops were called. The cops came. I spent about 30 minutes trying to explain an accident that I wasn't present for.
Officer Friendly: So, can you tell me what happened?
Me: I left for Project Graduation and when I came back, that's what I found.
Officer Friendly: So, you didn't hit anything?
Me: Nope. I wasn't here.
Officer Friendly: I have this accident form. Can you draw a picture of what happened?
Me: I don't know how to draw "Parked" and "left" and "came back to chaos"? But I'll try?
The car was still driveable, so after the cops left, I thanked Mr Marier and ... limped home in my once snappy but now seriously wounded Colt. (You've probably surmised by now that my father did not actually kill me. He was really nice about it, actually.)
However, the experience would prove invaluable in 2001, when I had to -- yet again -- fill out an accident report for "parked car, left, came back to disaster".
Because now I would know how to DRAW that.