I had a great relationship with cars. They get us places, after all all. Until 1989, if I recall the year correctly. I had a favourite uncle. A man married to a maternal aunt of mine. He had a heart of gold and he and their firstborn daughter were my two favourite people in the whole wide world. He was extremely strict -didn’t want us dancing to Christian music even if it was just us laughing and moving our heads to the beat. He didn’t want my aunt wearing pants. (Our understanding of Deut 22:5 and what our founders wrote about modesty and femininity insist on the sexes sticking to ‘their’ style of dress-based on your culture obviously.)
And he loved God with all his heart. He was generous. My parents couldn’t buy treats for us but when they’d come to Cape Town from Transkei -now known as the Eastern Cape-he’d buy us Cornetto ice-cream. The one with chocolate and nuts. Enjoyed it so much! But he also cared about our NEEDS. He helped as many as he could.
One day in December as they were driving down to Cape Town, they got into a car accident. We had to find them…We knew some had died and the survivors were in different hospitals. The accident had occurred in a dangerous route between Prince Albert and Laignsburg. Not close to where we were. We were frantic.
A truck had smashed into them and forced the car off the road. My uncle had carried one child out the car before he murmured, “I have no more strength,” and he died. My favourite cousin and the baby and nanny had also died. Only my aunt and two cousins survived, with HORRIFFIC injuries-some permanent in nature or effect. (Think mild traumatic brain injury.)
I’ll never forget when we traced the car in some godforsaken scrapyard. It was crumpled, roof smashed in. But it was the blood that traumatised my childish heart as my dad wept, picturing where each victim had been.
At the funeral as we viewed the bodies, I prayed hard, asking God to wake my uncle up.
Later, with that same aunt in our car, a car smashed into the back of our car. Then another time as my family and I were coming home, sparks suddenly shot out from under a taxi coming down in the opposite direction and it lost control, smashing into our car with us unable to avoid it. Glass from my window at the back rained down on me, pieces found in the inside pocket of my school blazer the next day. Whiplash injuries for us. And fear of traffic for me. I didn’t trust that cars wouldn’t do something unpredictable.
One night, my dad having gone to a prayer meeting, we got a phone call. “Come quickly! Your dad’s been in an accident!” It was close friends. Friends who’d been there for him when my dad’s first wife had died. They’d heard a loud bang. It was my dad’s car right in front of their yard. He’d been driving along then noticed a drunk driver coming towards him swerving all over the road. He couldn’t avoid it, only praying, “Lord, help!” before the impact.
He’d been smashed head on, his glasses having flown to the back seat from the force. The car, a total write-off. He needed spinal surgery and had a broken arm too. Never again was his back the same. He’s suffered for years.
I was terrified to drive. I had one lesson in university, paid for by my future husband. As the instructor told me to turn left, a car rolled up to stop in that street. I asked the driver to let the car go first, as I wasn’t sure of distance yet and didn’t want to crash into the guy’s car. He refused, insisting I go. I over-compensated and smashed into the kerb, splitting the tyre.
Never went back. Not because of that, but because he didn’t listen to my fears. I was brand new! Let me learn to turn without the fear of damaging someone’s car. It would not have cost a thing to motion to the other driver to go first!
Finally, years later when I now had horrendous back pain and using public transport after shopping was too painful (bus stop not close to our home), I learnt again. Asking my husband to be my instructor seeing as we had a car was great!
It was hilarious! I was terrified still. These accidents traumatised me. But I once had a nightmare in which my husband had been stabbed and the ambulance wouldn’t come but I couldn’t drive so he died as I was screaming for help. That’s what forced me to face my fears. Oh boy. I was so SLOW on the road, but when turning at traffic circles and roundabouts, I unconsciously accelerated, making my poor family feel like they’d go flying out the car! I had the perfect instructor for my psychological needs. He doesn’t yell, so never fulfilled the stereotype of the husband who yells at his poor wife while teaching her to drive.
One day, as I was driving home after visiting my parents, a male pedestrian suddenly started crossing the road. I slowed down, hoping any car behind me would do the same. The guy stopped, stepping back, so I went ahead, accelerating, assuming he’d decided to not be foolish and cross when there are cars on the road and he’s not at a pedestrian crossing.
Silly man decided to try RUN just as I started speeding up! I hit him and he went flying up before smashing head first back onto the road. My poor children cried out, scared I’d killed him and would go to jail. They were eight and nine years old. I was scared stiff that he was dead as I shakily pulled to the side of the road and got out.
A lovely man came to me saying in isiXhosa, “Sister, I saw what happened. I saw it was his fault, not yours. Don’t stress.”
The guy’s head was bleeding. I was scared for him as he lay motionless and a crowd gathered. Someone phoned the ambulance. We waited. He lay still. The blood started congealing on the road. I started to walk to the nearby police station but I was warned (We were in my childhood township, Gugulethu) that if I did, the crowd would think I was running away and would attack me. Of course, I stayed put, and asked someone else to go ask the police to come.
The police came before the ambulance did. The crowd begged the police to take the man to the hospital. The police refused, saying his blood would stain their van. Someone phoned the ambulance again. They said the first time, none had been sent out though they acknowledged receiving the call for help!
By that time, the guy who I honestly thought was dead, started stirring. People moved closer. He tried to get up. They told him not to move. Then they started yelling at him!
“Can’t you see you’re hurt! Why do you think you’re in the street!? You’ve been injured! Stop getting up and lie down!”
He spoke! Relief! “But the road is hard! It’s not comfortable.”
Now, I wasn’t very close because I was scared the crowd would turn on me. I was already shocked by the unhelpful police men. And angry that the ambulance was taking so long. As I observed from a safe vantage point, the people closest to him started reprimanding him. “Just listen to us! We know what you need! Why do you think your head is sore…And wow, you stink! You stink of alcohol! Look at all the trouble you caused with your drunk self! Why were you drinking?”
Talk about a turn of events! Now HE was in trouble! As the ambulance finally arrived, my husband did too. After that, I was scared of pedestrians close to the road for a while. Terrified they’d stumble in front my car, or that they’d suddenly decide to cross without warning.
One time, as we were driving from a youth camp we’d spoken at, a truck approached us, coming in our direction carrying a huge green jojo tank. As we got close to each other, the tank tipped over. We reflexively ducked our heads, as if that would save us! But it somehow (We feel an unseen hand did it.) was pushed back up again. We looked in the rear view only to see the tank tip over and FALL ONTO THE ROAD, in our lane.
Some years ago, I drove to Durbanville. As I parked in the parking lot, I smelt something odd, but thought nothing of it. I went, collected what I’d ordered and went back to the car. As I approached, I saw smoke! My car was on fire! I phoned the insurance company, I phoned the fire brigade, I asked a man pushing trolleys to bring an extinguisher. And phoned my husband. I was so calm that people couldn’t tell I was the owner of the car. Those who know me know I’m generally calm. But one sweet lady assumed I was in deep shock, and that that’s why I wasn’t acting panicky or crying or anything, so she went to the shop to buy me a sugary drink. She was very sweet. But I don’t know what people expected me to do. Why cry over a car? At least I wasn’t hurt! Onlookers thought I was so calm that they assumed I was just an onlooker too.
Fire expert found that the fire started while I was driving. Scary! Would explain the strange smell too?
More recently, I was stopped at a red light and watching through my rear view as a car came behind me. It wasn’t slowing down! As if the driver could hear me telepathically, I yelled in my head, “Stop! Stop! You’re going to smash into me!”
I couldn’t move forward as there were cars coming through. As if in slow motion, I saw her coming. I saw the shock on her face as she indeed, DID smash into me. The impact so strong that her tiny sedan pushed my 7 seater vehicle forward.
Whiplash again!😩 The driver also expected strong emotion. This time, she was surprised and shocked that I wasn’t yelling at her. Truly amazed! She said she came out expecting me to be angry at her as it was clearly her fault, and she’d damaged my car and hurt me. But I was smiling! And asking if she’s ok. It didn’t make sense to her.
Then, there’s the time this year when my husband took a sedative thinking it would work much later. Without telling me! By the time I asked him when he’d take it and he told me he already had, it was too late. (Before a dental procedure.)
I told him to stop the car so I could drive.
He laughed at me.
Told him again to get off the road and let me drive. Instead, he got up close to the car ahead of us, and said with creepy grin, strange voice and laugh, “Why? Are you scared?”
Yes. Yes I was.
I begged. I yelled at him for the first time in my life. But he wouldn’t stop the car. His sedated self was cocky. He swerved into the lane next to us. He overtook the car he’d almost smashed into without checking that there was no traffic behind him in the lane he used.
He sped up, swerving all over the place. We narrowly avoided a bus shelter, he drove through a red light. And all the time, ignoring me as I begged him to stop.
The car on my side, scraped a barrier on the edge of the road, far past the yellow line. The entire side from front tyre and hub caps to back, was grazed. I honestly thought we’d roll.
I said to God, “Seriously!? After all the car incidents I’ve had, THIS is how I’m going to die? Why did you bother saving me all the other times?”
As he turned left, he smashed over into the MyCity lane on the right, over the little barrier then back to the left, smashing into the kerb and bursting the tyre. The impact caused the car to slow down and that’s when I jumped out, hurting my ankle in the process. He didn’t even notice I was gone.
I phoned the police, terrified he’d kill someone. I walked in the direction of the dentist, not sure if he was really headed there, or if he’d just keep driving. I was sobbing without tears. Terrified. Worried someone would be hurt. Worried he’d overturn the car. Sad about my children because we were meant to have taken them to World of Birds after the dental procedure but I didn’t know if the car was even drivable.
He was there, in the parking lot. Door open, slumped over. Then tried to get out the car but was staggering. I was angry. Scared. And scared I wouldn’t be able to support his weight. I phoned the surgery and asked them for help.
Here’s what I’ll say. When he’d sobered up and jogged down that route the following day, he got home and said, “Now I understand why you were crying when you were telling the children what happened. The route was long. There were ditches, lamp posts, bus shelters I could have hit. I could have rolled the car into the River. Or smashed you into the cement safety barrier. I almost killed you. I understand why you’re traumatised. You could have died!”
I could have died! And again, when he thought of how damaged the car was, how I needed to get a new tyre in plus the trauma, he didn’t know why I still helped him keep his appointment. He said he’d have postponed the appointment, sent me home to sleep it off, cried, and then sorted out the car.
What can I say? I defy expectations? Why not? He was useless to me. I couldn’t drive the car home yet. Might as well keep the appointment. Though I cried when we walked him in and told the dentist what had happened.
Cars. I had flash backs for a long time. And I still feel scared when he’s driving, despite knowing he’s not sedated this time. But the fears I have are real and abiding and I fear getting into a car with my husband.
I’ll tell you why, later.