‘I shouted, ‘Help my mom! She can’t breathe!’ I saw a priest coming toward me, this was either a dream or we were dead.’

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“At the age of sixteen, I could finally drive and not have to suffer my mom’s erratic driving skills. She doesn’t use the signals (she told me she can’t multitask in the car); when she brakes, your face hits the dashboard even with your seatbelt on; and she double parks.

I had a white 1991 Toyota Corolla passed down from my brother. I remember one morning, before taking my mom to the doctor (I always accompanied my mom to the doctor), turning on the engine, but it didn’t start. I turned the key again and finally it started. There was a bunch of bird poop on the windshield because my car was parked under the giant magnolia tree in our front yard. I pushed the button for the windshield sprayer to clean, but nothing came out. I thought to myself how much bad luck I was having that morning.

My mom came through the front door, carrying a bowl of rice (she always eats on the run). She got in. Normally we had an argument about why she should put her seatbelt on, but that day she said her chest hurt, she had asthma, and the doctor was not far away. For some reason, I decided not to push her about the seatbelt.

It was a beautiful sunny day with clear blue skies. I usually went the back way through an old neighborhood to the doctor, but for some reason I made a turn that made me go on a main road. I was on autopilot. I turned to my mom and said, ‘Sorry, I forgot to go the other way.’ As I drove through a green light, I heard my mom scream in Vietnamese, ‘Oh my Jesus!’ At that moment, a black Cadillac turned into us, hitting us head on. I only blinked for one moment and saw death before me. Gasping for air, I turned to the passenger seat. A river of blood ran down the side of my mom’s forehead, and her eyes rolled, her body trembling from a seizure.

I remember whispering, ‘Don’t leave me.’ She barely whispered in Vietnamese, ‘I can’t breathe.’ Her body convulsed and her eyes turned white. I was in shock but held her head as people ran toward us, telling us not to move. I shouted at them, ‘Help my mom! She can’t breathe! She can’t breathe!’ Then I saw a priest coming toward me, and I thought this was either a dream or maybe we were dead. I blacked out.

When I woke up, I was in an ambulance with the guy that hit us. I cursed him and asked him why he was driving like that. I was crying hysterically at that point and the EMT was trying to calm me down. Thank goodness I was tied down with a neck brace or I would’ve probably beaten that guy.

I didn’t see my mom for three days. She was in a coma. I had a concussion, bruised forehead from hitting the wheel, a damaged spine, and a seatbelt burn across my chest.

When I saw my mom for the first time after the accident, I couldn’t recognize her. There were tubes, machines, and bandages all over her. She had thirteen rib fractures, and both lungs had collapsed so she was connected to two ventilators. Her face was completely covered with bandages and staples because her head had gone through the windshield.

The police told us that the Cadillac was turning left and hit a van, swerved into oncoming traffic and hit us.

I told my mom that it was my fault for not making her put her seatbelt on; I told her it should’ve been me. All she could move was her one index finger. She waggled it no. A few weeks later, she was able to talk and whispered to me, ‘I took all the pain. I took it all, so you could be okay and safe.’ She smiled while I cried and held her hand. It took a year for my mom to fully recover, and the first thing she did was sweep the house.

This experience changed the course of our relationship. I was no longer angry at her for all my childhood horrors. I thought I had lost her; I thought I would be all alone in this world. I finally understood just a tiny bit how my mom felt when she lost her family. I finally understood and felt her deep sacrifices.

I didn’t drive for about six months because of my PTSD. My mom told me I should try to overcome my fears because the accident hadn’t been my fault. Because of the enormous medical bills, we only received a small amount from the other driver’s insurance. After receiving that money, my mom said she had a surprise for me in the driveway. She had bought a used 1996 gold Nissan Altima for me. She told me, ‘You have to drive me to the doctor.’ I was so shocked. It took a couple of weeks, but I finally drove my mom to the appointment that she missed.”

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Thuy Rocco. Submit your story here. 

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