At the interstate entrance ramp, I craned my neck sharply to the left. I looked to see if my lane was clear while merging with oncoming traffic. I’ve never trusted rear-view mirrors. Whole vehicles could be hidden within their blind spots. That distrust was instilled by my father; and it was a very valuable lesson to learn. Over the years, I’ve had several near-misses from not practicing what I was taught and only glancing at the reflection. It pays to verify what is actually behind you.
This particular time however; I immediately regretted wrenching my head so forcefully to the side. I felt an excruciating jolt of pain shoot up my neck. Obviously I had pinched a nerve from the awkward, tilted angle. With one hand I massaged my neck; while gripping the steering wheel with the other. By cranking up the radio, I hoped to distract myself from the pain as I made the short drive home.
Off in the distance, I saw the malignant sign of stationary vehicles and brake lights. There were countless motorists stretched for as far as the eye could see. All three lanes were stopped. I groaned at my bad luck. Interstate gridlock of this type could possibly mean a huge delay; on what would ordinarily just be a 20 minute commute. The usual culprit for those all-too-often occurrences, was either road construction or a traffic pile-up. In either case, the congestion of one or two blocked lanes forces the motorists to funnel themselves into the remaining clear lane. Such bottlenecks cause rubbernecking and stupidity in alarming numbers.
After what seemed like an eternity, my lane crept forward enough for me to spot the source of the highway chaos. There was an intense accident involving an overturned vehicle in the median. The mangled wreck had rolled over several times and struck one of the concrete pillars that supports the highway overpass. Despite the fire damage and crumpled sheet metal, I could tell it was the same make and model as my own vehicle.
I’m not proud to admit that my first thoughts were about the extremely rare, classic car. Only later did my conscience kick-in and feel sadness for the life which the accident had claimed. As usual in these matters, the rubberneckers were out in full force. They hoped to catch a quick glance of the deceased; as the attendants removed the body from the twisted debris. Admittedly, my own morbid curiosity was piqued as well but I wanted to avoid the distracted drivers. I didn’t want to join the poor sap on the morgue gurney.
I tried to fight the desire to gawk at the wreckage but the compulsion was just too strong. When I got close enough to smell the lingering fumes from the ruptured fuel tank, the twisted carnage was almost visceral. The first four numbers of the license tag were visible through the smoke. To my utter amazement, they were the same as my own! The last two digits were unreadable but I was still dazed from the unlikelyhood of seeing another rare car like mine.
When I considered how unlikely the chances would be of seeing an identical colored classic car with the same first four tag digits, I started to panic. Suddenly the A/C in my vehicle was totally inadequate. I felt like my skin was burning off and my head reeled with searing pain and unexplained fear.
As inappropriate as it was to stop so near the horrible accident scene, I had to pull over and calm down. By this time, the emergency workers had freed the victim from the wreckage and were dragging the gurney up the hill. They seemed in no hurry to get him loaded in the back of the ambulance. It was a clear sign to all onlookers that he had already exited this world. I felt an empty, dead feeling in the pit of my stomach. Everyone has to die eventually but to pass away all alone as he had, would be a terrible way to go.
My bystander sympathies faded immediately when the corpse’s arm fell out from under the sheet. His wristwatch was also identical to mine. All the frightening implications hit me at once. I felt my life-force slowly begin to drift away. I was the deceased and I was witnessing my own body being loaded into the ambulance. The radiating pain in my neck wasn’t from craning it too hard to see the merge lane at the interstate on-ramp. It was broken and I had burned to death in the accident.
A long line of cars continued to drive past the scene of my death. Some of them were solemn and respectful of my passing; while others pointed and cringed. None of them were aware of my lonely presence beside them. I’m trapped in a repeating loop that spans from the freeway on-ramp, toward the endless procession of taillights on the interstate. Soon it will begin again and I can feel sorry for the poor soul who lost his life, until I realize again that it is me.