My GPS was taking me to the wrong Granite Falls. That’s how it started.

The Granite Falls I was traveling to was in North Carolina. It was the site of a town hall where I had an 8 a.m. economic development meeting to cover. It shouldn’t have been listed as a day and 18 hours away.

So I looked down to change my GPS and, as I was messing with it, I drifted off the road a little.

But it had been raining.

First I slid on the wet grass. Then I was hitting the brake — I thought I was hitting the brake — and I couldn’t understand why I was stopping. I was scared but, more than that, I was confused as I just kept careening faster and faster down a grassy hill.

I stopped when I hit the telephone pole. 35 miles an hour, and I split it in half. But I didn’t realize that then.

All I registered at first was the smell. Air bags, when they deploy, release a burning, chemical scent. I smelled that and I screamed.

First it wasn’t any kind of word, just a formless aughhhh from my gut. Not because it hurt, even though at some point, my kneecap crunched into my dashboard. Not because I was afraid, even. I was just so violently surprised. And that smell. I hated that smell.

I didn’t realize, at first, that my car was totaled — the whole front right side smashed in, the wheel turned entirely on its side.  But still, the first word I said was no. No no no no no no no.

I was saying no for my car. And that’s all I could think about — when the sweet old man in the house next door saw his power go out and came to call 911 and put a blanket over my shoulders. When the state trooper told me I was lucky to be alive. When I was strapped into a gurney and taken to the hospital. Tonight, when I lifted my knee brace and maneuvered myself into bed.

Everyone keeps reminding me that I’m lucky it wasn’t worse. And I know they’re right, I know they’re right.

But my car. My car. My car.

Because see, it wasn’t just a car. It was freedom. I waited so, so long for it.

I didn’t get my driver’s license until I was 22 years old. Getting in this car and knowing it was mine, driving down the roads near my parents’ house alone, knowing I could throw my stuff all over the backseat.

I loved the way it swung open the doors in my life in a way I’d never really experienced before. I loved the way it drove. I loved the way it smelled. I loved the cracks in the steering wheel.

I loved it, I loved it.

On Sunday, two days before my wreck, I’d spent hours cleaning it out. Then I took it through the car wash and wiped down the inside windows by hand, removing every last smudge. It felt so good to get into that clean, organized car the next morning.

Somehow that’s the part that hurts the most.

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