Random header image... Refresh for more!

The Thinnest Line

warning: this post contains a graphic description of an accident

There is a very thin line between what happened and what could have happened.


On Saturday, we were driving up to Pennsylvania, and a motorcyclist pulled in front of us on I-95.  He was shirtless and helmet-less.  He was probably in his mid-70s.

Josh asked if I thought that this man considered himself hot; if he imagined himself to be an older Matthew McConaughey.  I shrugged and said, “I’m not getting a sense that vanity comes into play with this.  He just feels like being shirtless, so he goes shirtless.  I don’t think he gives a shit–I think he’s just doing what feels good.”

For some reason, this man was remarkable enough to come up later in conversation with my in-laws and we all mused about the shirtless man and what would drive a person to ride their motorcycle without any ounce of protection in sight.


On Sunday morning, I swung by Two Buttons to get a bracelet for a friend, and while I was there, I looked for a necklace for myself.  I wanted something red–I imagined the perfect necklace would end slightly above the V of my shirt, and would be a series of red beads with a small, South Asian coin hanging from the center.  I couldn’t find what I wanted, but I threw a wrist mala into the purchase and a bangle for the ChickieNob.  As we were leaving the store, I saw the perfect necklace by the front door, and Josh and I decided that we’d return after our next stop to get the red beaded necklace.

After we visited his aunt, we missed the turn-off for the store, so instead, we ended up having lunch and saying goodbye to his parents, and then started back towards our house.  It was storming out, this strange rain which changed intensity every few seconds, so the windshield wipers were never right.

As we passed the store, we decided to go in and I tried on the necklace for Josh and the twins, who immediately announced it perfect.  We turned to pay and the Wolvog started whining about how he wanted to stay by the door.  I probably argued with him for ten seconds before giving up and moving over to the cash register.  We passed by the bracelet I bought for my friend, and impulsively, I grabbed one for myself.  Life, after all, is short.  And it should be filled with reasonably-priced, pretty things.

As the woman rung up the sale, I thought one of the tines on the bracelet looked broken and I paused for about 5 seconds to comment on it and looked at the display rack and then wave her on to finish the sale.  We exited out the store with my purchases and started driving again alongside the river.  The rain continued to fall.

I am usually fairly anxious when we’re in this area–it’s my location casualty–and my stomach had been in knots for the entire visit due to bad memories.  I slipped on the wrist mala, and I was fingering the beads while thinking about how horrific I always feel when we’re in this area, remembering how depressed I was during that first visit.  And that’s when it happened.

A deer ripped across a field, a blur of brown, and arced through the air in a flying leap, knocking directly into the motorcyclist traveling in front of us.  He was the last motorcyclist in a pack of 6 or 7 bikers.  His body and bike flew through the air, together for a moment, and then separating.  His body fell face down on the grass, his bike upside down about 2 meters away.  The deer landed and lay on her side for possibly a minute.  Josh swerved to the side of the road–there was miraculously a patch of grass where we could rest our car–and we both jumped out into the rain, racing past the deer and to the man who was not moving in the grass.

I called 911, and their first question was calmly inquiring my location.  I just stood in the rain, staring at Josh and the man in the grass, and screaming, “I don’t know.  I don’t know.  I’m not from here and we’re on this road and I don’t even know the nearby towns, what state I’m in.”  Josh read the signs and began to call back information and I relayed it to the dispatcher, and everyone on the line was calm, everyone was talking as if we were dry and well and inside a government building, just trying to get something taken care of.  Another man stopped and then another, and people called out their car window to me if we needed more help, if I was on with 911.  An ambulance was dispatched and I continued to stand in the rain.  The man in the grass became conscious and he tried to get up, the back of his shirt soaked in blood.  Josh stayed with the others who were trying to keep the man immobilized for the moment and I ran back to our car, where the twins were sitting silent in the backseat.

They had a few questions, and then they didn’t really speak for an hour.  The Wolvog was horrified that such a thing could even happen–he had seen the man’s body float into the air like tossed petals, and land on the embankment–and the ChickieNob seemed unsure of what she had seen.  Josh came into the car, drenched from the rain, and told me that while the man wasn’t speaking, he was responsive.  The impact had dislodged his dentures and blood was coming out of his mouth.  His back was probably where the deer’s body made contact.  He told me the man was probably in his late 70s; that his life had been saved by the helmet and the blind luck of landing on the grass; of the bike landing so far away from him.

The police asked us to stay and fill out a report since were the only ones who had actually seen the accident take place.  But at this point, the man’s motorcycle companions returned having realized that he was gone.  They went to wait out the storm under a nearby bridge.  They said they would return for his bike later on.  The police officer pulled up his car alongside our car and asked us to recount what had happened.  He wanted to know if the man had been driving well, if he had been speeding, if the man played any part in his own accident.

But the answer to all of those questions were no.

There was nothing this man could have done.  To give you a sense of how quickly this deer moved; the next man forward in their motorcycle pack, a man traveling only a motorcycle length or two before the other one, continued to ride away, oblivious that anything had happened.  The blur of brown was literally only visible to our car; the motorcyclist couldn’t respond because there was literally no time to respond.  He was riding slowly, carefully, in the rain.  And this still happened; even with doing everything right.

When the police released us, it was about a half hour or 45 minutes after the accident, and we continued to drive slowly towards home.  As we passed under the bridge, I looked at the man’s friends, and amongst them was the shirtless, helmet-less man from Saturday, shivering in the windy rain, his crazy, thin hair blowing behind him.

One second.

That was all that separated us from being the car tossed by the impact of the deer.  It could have been the red necklace or the extra bracelet or the whining of the Wolvog or thinking I saw a broken tine.  It could have been the pressure Josh’s foot delivered on the gas.  If our car had traveled one second ahead, I wouldn’t be telling you this story right now.  It is horrific to realize when you are so close to something horrible how thin a line divides what happened from what could have happened.

Seeing that man’s body tossed by the deer was one of the most disturbing things I’ve seen.  I have witnessed life threatening situations, but they were always couched within a moment of danger.  And this came when death was the furthest thing from your mind; when you are considering the lush greenery and the river and the wondering what you will have for dinner that night.  And then suddenly, with a blur of brown, life changes.  The scene changes.  It was so wholly wrong that it took several moments for my brain to catch up, even though my body reached for the phone and jumped out of the car as if on auto pilot.

I had to write this out of my brain.  I have been unable to get past the continuous loop of an image of the man sailing through the air.  The police officer told us the man would be okay, and I’m sure his body will be.  But I have no idea how you’re supposed to drive without continuously thinking of that thin line between what happened and what could have happened.


1 Keiko { 07.26.10 at 11:47 am }

First: I am glad you and your family are safe. What a haunting post. Not all of us have these moments where we can actually see the forked path of fate laid out in front of us. It’s like Project If: what if, what if, what if…

I’m sure you’re still processing all of this, writing it out as the first step. Don’t be surprised if your body processes this in the next few days: a headache, a tense back, an unexplained asthma attack. These moments can leave strange imprints on not just our minds, but our bodies as well. That said, I’ d be attentive to how this may have imprinted on the little ones too. Hold them close. Hold onto Josh.

I feel like a Shehechiyanu is in order… what greater of an example of being kept alive, sustained, and brought to this time.

2 My Reality { 07.26.10 at 11:53 am }

Seeing something like that always makes you think. I hope the memories stop haunting you.

3 jessica g { 07.26.10 at 11:54 am }

Wow…… amazing. I have chills all over and tears in my eyes.
It truly is amazing when you have those moments, when you realize how precious each day, and each minute are.

4 liljan98 { 07.26.10 at 11:58 am }

First of all: I’m glad you’re all ok. I completely understand the continuous loop of the images in your head and wrecking your brain about the one second that seperated you in your car from this happening to you.
Almost 4 years ago I drove home a car full of slightly drunk guys (brothers and friends) from a night at the disco, when a deer ran in front of our car. It was all happening SO fast and I didn’t even see it coming. Luckily none of us got hurt and the damage to the car was not too severe. I felt bad about the deer for a long while though. And I spent even longer to think about the tiny time frame in which all of this happened and what would have been if… If I had been there a fraction of a second later the deer might have hit the car on my driver side and we might have swerved off into the ditch with 70 kmph. Or if I had driven a tiny bit faster nothing would have happened at all. It really is such a thin line…

I hope the twins will not be too troubled by what they saw that day.

5 Somewhat Ordinary { 07.26.10 at 12:25 pm }

Mel, I’m so glad your family is ok and hoping the motorcyclist will be ok in the end. How are the twins handling this now? I’m sure this has really been something etched in their little minds.

6 jrs { 07.26.10 at 12:31 pm }

Oh my. That is so scary. I am glad you and your family are okay. I hope that motorcyclist will recover soon. You just never know what will happen in life.

7 Kir { 07.26.10 at 12:31 pm }

OMG I’m shaking, since I literally just wrote about something like this on Friday. How those moments just sneak up on you and make you rethink your whole life.

Oh Mel, I’m soooo glad you are ok…and that he is going to be ok.

Sending all the hugs and good feelings I can to you and the twins. HUGS< HUGS< HUGS

8 Twangy { 07.26.10 at 12:35 pm }

What a shock. Poor you, I am really sorry. As you say, it’s more the spectre of what might have happened that haunts you at times like these. It’s as if the illusion that we are safe is completely shattered.

9 Carole { 07.26.10 at 12:39 pm }

So very glad that you and your family are safe! Your story is a reminder that the universe is chaotic. Having almost crashed in a plane as a child (evasive maneuvers at 1000 feet) and a fuel truck (near miss, driver was asleep, only smashed the side and removed our mirror) –I am well aware of how chaotic the universe is and am consciously grateful for each day that I and my loved ones step between the almosts and the what ifs. I am oddly grateful for these scary reminders, lest I sleepwalk through the best times of my life. Sending you a virtual hug.

10 Delenn { 07.26.10 at 12:45 pm }

Leaving me gasping and tearful. Yes, what a fragile thing this life is.

11 Mrs. Gamgee { 07.26.10 at 12:49 pm }

I am so glad that you and your family are okay! I hope that you are all able to process the experience quickly and completely. Life is truly fragile…

Sending prayers for peace of mind and heart.

12 Lori Lavender Luz { 07.26.10 at 12:56 pm }

I actually whimpered when I read this.

It’s so odd to realize that there is always, ALWAYS a thin line. Most of the time we just don’t know it.

I can’t imagine how you ever get all that adrenaline out of your system.

XOXO, Mel. I’m so grateful for those bracelets and the necklace and the Wolvog and Josh’s foot.

13 A.M.S. { 07.26.10 at 1:02 pm }

Hugs to all of you. Those moments are always so frightening and they do take some time to process. Be good to yourselves for a few days as you deal with the after-effects.

14 Patience { 07.26.10 at 1:13 pm }

What an incredible moment- only one moment that can change a life. I can only imagine how this still plays out in your mind. Hoping that you are able to find some peace from this experience.

15 Justine { 07.26.10 at 1:16 pm }

Wow. How scary for you. (I live not 20 minutes from Two Buttons, and I know how harrowing that stretch of road can be, even *not* in the rain.) These are the moments I have to believe in karma … in contrast to what Carole just wrote, I feel like there has to be purpose and order, a reason you weren’t just a second ahead. I’m glad that the motorcyclist is going to be OK.

16 HereWeGoAJen { 07.26.10 at 1:16 pm }

Oh heavens, Mel, how scary! I am so glad that everyone is okay.

17 Katie { 07.26.10 at 1:21 pm }

Wow. Just… wow. I don’t even know what to write. How incredibly horrifying for you and your family. But I am so glad that you are all okay.

18 serenity { 07.26.10 at 1:30 pm }

Hugs, sweetie.


19 jill { 07.26.10 at 1:31 pm }

So glad you and your fam are ok and glad you were there to help and dial 911 for that man. I agree, it’s crazy how thin that line is.

20 Angie { 07.26.10 at 1:32 pm }

Oh, Mel, my goodness. Terrifying. I am always so amazed at the risks people take with motorcycles. It disturbs and upsets me to see them on the road without protection.

I once saw a post-accident scene. A man was thrown from his car. The car was on top of him in the middle of the Turnpike. And that image I could not shake for a long long time. I developed a fear of driving…anyway, not important, just want to say that don’t be afraid or embarrassed to go talk to someone about this. When I did talk to my therapist about it, he said it is incredibly common for people to develop a kind of PTSD response to witnessing something so disturbing. And often people think they should know how to handle it, but end up having symptoms they do not relate to seeing an accident. Sending y’all love.

21 annacyclopedia { 07.26.10 at 1:37 pm }

Oh, Mel! I’m so sorry this happened. I know that feeling of being shaken to my core and having what could have been and also what was on a repeating loop in my brain. It is so scary and so hard to get out of that loop. I hope writing gives you a bit of respite and that all of you can find some peace as you process this.

22 Tigger { 07.26.10 at 1:41 pm }

My mother often used to remind me that when I lost my keys, or couldn’t find my shoes, or got stuck behind a train…perhaps that was God’s way of keeping me safe. Perhaps if I had left the house those few minutes early there would have been an accident. To this day I try to remind myself of that – the fine line of what could have been – and try not to get upset.

*hugs* to you and Josh and the kids. It’s going to be…difficult…to help them deal with this, as well as your own self.

23 Suzy { 07.26.10 at 1:43 pm }

Oh goodness. So thankful you are okay. I’ve always believed that things happen for a reason, like being delayed by something for a few seconds.

So glad you’re all physically okay.

24 kristi { 07.26.10 at 1:43 pm }

What a story I kept reading to make sure everyone was ok and am so glad you are. There is no doubt life can change in a second.

25 N { 07.26.10 at 2:14 pm }

These are the kinds of things that float through my brain.

I am so thankful that you guys are okay, and I hope that man will be, too.

26 StacieT { 07.26.10 at 2:38 pm }

Tearing up here. Such a haunting story and not something any of you will likely forget.

I am so glad you are all okay. So glad that whatever it was that kept you away from the deer allowed you to be safe.

Sending love your way.

27 m. { 07.26.10 at 2:54 pm }

I used to think deer were cute. Bambi, right? No. They are harbingers of lice and lime disease and death on the goddamn turnpike. But you can’t be angry at a stupid deer can you? So where does the rage and fear and shock channel itself? It looks as if you’ve managed to massage it gently into gratitude. Damn, Mel. I am still shaking from your story. So glad you and everyone are ok. So sorry the twins (and you) need to process this. I am thankful for whatever/whomever guided you through the danger.

28 Mic @ IF Crossroads { 07.26.10 at 3:21 pm }

Oh Mel. Oh Mel. ((Hugs)) how absolutely horrible.

About 3 years ago I had something very, very similar happen to me and the Mr. We had just driven into Austin, Tx for a move. It was our first hour in town, we were looking for our apartment complex. And then suddenly, right where we were supposed to turn, I witnessed a silver truck turn right in front of us and instead of hitting us, he hit a man on his bike in the lane next to us.
I cried and cried as the man lay on the ground, all scarred up from road rash, writhing in pain. It was horrible to witness, and the main was just in so much pain. It could have been us, but it was him. That night while watching the news we learned that the man on the bike had died. The man who hit him was drunk.
The entire time I lived in Austin I hated turning at that intersection. It haunted me. And then the last day there, before we moved back to DC, I was rear-ended at that very same spot. Thankfully I was fine, but I’ve never been so ready to get the hell out of town.

I’m so happy you and your family was okay. And I hope the man on the cycle is okay too.

29 Tara { 07.26.10 at 3:47 pm }

What a terrible experience. I am so grateful that you, your family & the biker will be okay.

I had a similar experience with a deer last fall. I drive a Civic & was speeding along the highway to work…a large pick up truck came up behind me & I changed lanes to allow him to pass & as I did, I saw the brown blur pass in front of me & the pick up hit it head on. Luckily there were no injuries (aside from the deer) because the pick up was the larger dooley style & took the impact but I couldn’t help but realize that just a split second’s difference & it would have been my little Civic that made impact & I would have been seriously injuried or worse. I still see the events in my minds eye as clearly as if it had happened yesterday.

Events like these are not something we forget…take care & again, I am so glad you & your family are okay.

30 Heather { 07.26.10 at 4:13 pm }

I think this sort of fits in that big karmic circle of lifeishness. There is a thin line between us all…what leads one person to another…(as in your Monthly IComWeLeave)…we are all one small click away from potential greatness, or disaster.

however, in the big picture here, I’m glad you got that all out of your brain or it would haunt you for a long time. Hug everyone extra tight…and I’m sending a hug your way too.

31 queenie { 07.26.10 at 4:18 pm }

Funny you should write this on a day I’ve spent in a security seminar being warned about all of the ills that could befall me abroad. I’ve been contemplating this very subject all day. The reality is that luck plays a much bigger role than any of us would like to admit, because to admit that would be scary. I am so very glad that you guys were very lucky this weekend.

32 MLO { 07.26.10 at 4:34 pm }

I am very glad that you and yours are ok. Deer account for many more serious motor accidents – and other dangers – than most people realize – until it confronts you.

33 Orodemniades { 07.26.10 at 4:40 pm }

Funny, one of my mom’s neighbors – in his 50’s, just sold the house he’d been fixing up for years, met and married the love of his life last year – died a few weeks ago in a motorcycle accident. He lived in NH, y’see, where the don’t have a helmet law, and though he was obeying the speed limit, the teen girl in front of him who indicated right and turned left as he passed her car – well. His wife, who was sitting behind him – with a helmet – watched him die in the middle of the road from head injuries.

The teenager has not been charged.

And as I was driving home late last night with Mr Oro beside me and the Chieftain half asleep behind him, we crested a hill and there was a doe in the middle of the road. I was able to stop in time, but the irony is that I had only a few minutes before told Mr Oro how much I hated driving during late twilight, because that’s when the deer and the moose tended to cross the road…

I’m really glad the deer missed you.

34 Sarah { 07.26.10 at 5:24 pm }

This post gave me flashbacks to a Sunday at the end of January, when a lady hit the gas instead of the breaks and drove up the sidewalk of a drugstore right into my husband. He literally jumped over the hood of her car, missing having his legs taken off at the knees. One second of hesitation and I wouldn’t have a husband right now…or at least, wouldn’t have one that could walk. It is perfectly frightening to think how much your life could change in just one second.

I’m glad you and your family are safe.

35 Sunshine { 07.26.10 at 5:40 pm }

I had one of those moments recently myself, albeit less dramatic than yours. I was stopped at a red light at a busy intersection. When the light turned green, I didn’t go right away. I don’t really know why, I just didn’t. I waited about 5 seconds before going, which I usually don’t. About 2 seconds after my light turned green, I watched a huge tractor trailer blow through his red light, through the intersection probably going 35 or 40 mph. I shudder to think about if I had gone as soon as my light turned green. What could have been, indeed.

36 Rach { 07.26.10 at 7:45 pm }

We had a car accident on Friday just gone.

If I’d have been going a few miles faster (which is possible as I was building up speed) we (Guvnor & I) would have been injured alot more than we were. If we’d have been on his motorcycle, we’d probably be dead.

I thought about it alot on Friday evening and since, if we’d have stayed at x spot for a second longer, or y longer, we wouldn’t have been right there for the accident to happen.

But we were and because we were, we currently don’t have a car and my neck is that sore it’s immovable without causing pain.

However I’m a big believer that everything happens for a reason, I’m unsure what the reason is behind our car accident on Friday but in time it will reveal itself…..it always does.

As a rider, I’m glad to hear the motorcyclist is ok but I had to ask, especially as no one else has….how was the deer?

37 MAK-now { 07.26.10 at 8:07 pm }

Thankfully, you and your family are all right. I can’t even imagine how terrifying that must have been for all of you. I had a week of accidents just this past week, and as horrible as all 3 events were, they didn’t come close to the unnerving experience you had. I’m glad you’re ok.

38 Vee { 07.26.10 at 8:55 pm }

Oh how terribly scary Mel. It’s sounds like the deers are much like our Kangaroos which cause so many casualties. It is suggested to not ride at dawn or dusk in kangaroo zones because this is the time they are most mobile.
Max was a very safe motorcycle rider, he never weaved in and out of traffic and was never one to speed but out of the blue he was T-boned by a car whose driver didn’t see him she left with many broken bones held together with rods and pins and and had a year off work recovering. I suppose he was very lucky!
I am glad the rider is recovering and you are all safe. But I imagine that image will take some time to fade.

39 Toni { 07.26.10 at 9:48 pm }

I’m so happy your family is OK and I hope that man is as well. This story was absolutely gripping. I can’t even imagine witnessing something like that. I hope writing it helped calm your nerves a bit.

40 wifey { 07.26.10 at 10:32 pm }

oh wow. Absolutely haunting.

I once witnessed a man get hit by a car – he went flying through the air, separate from his shoes – and bounce off of a telephone pole. I called 911. I was shaken for weeks.

I hope the kids process this in the best possible way.

41 Calliope { 07.26.10 at 10:50 pm }

Oh holy shit.
The tapestries of our lives can be so complex. I am so so so glad that you guys are ok and that you were able to assist the cyclist in need.

42 mash { 07.27.10 at 3:54 am }

I’m so glad you are safe.

We live in a world where we think life is guaranteed as long as we eat healthily, drive safely etc. It isn’t. It can be taken in a split second, as you saw. And that in itself is actually empowering – it pushes us to live.

I once met a guy who was fighting in Bosnia, and he said that the only guarantee there is in life, is death. It wasn’t a morbid thing, his eyes sparkled and he was full of the intensity of joy of life. I’ve never forgotten that, and have had so many reminders in my own life!

43 Mina { 07.27.10 at 4:43 am }

Glad to hear you and your family are safe. But I am so sorry you had to go through this, and that the children saw that.
I had two car accidents, both of them damaging to the cars, but thankfully without casualties. And sometimes the replay in my head and I have remained with this urge to rewind the last 5 seconds – if only I could just go back 5 tiny seconds, everything would be fixed… But it cannot happen this way, can it? 5 seconds and all is changed and you cannot take it back.

I hope the kids will be able to talk it out with you.
Big hugs!

44 christine { 07.27.10 at 8:20 am }

I think about that thin line all the time. 5 years ago my tire exploded, I hit a semi, and flipped 4 times on the highway. I was fortunate enough to hit the semi on the very back wheels so that the impact slowed my car but did not drag me under. It was horrific and life changing, so that thin line is all too real for me.

45 christine { 07.27.10 at 8:20 am }

Forgot to add that I am so grateful you and your family are safe and sound, albeit shaken up by what you saw. I am also thankful the biker is okay!

46 LJ { 07.27.10 at 8:27 am }

Holy moly, I am so glad that everyone is okay. I’ve been in some close calls, and seen others get into brutal accidents, and it’s something that sticks with you. Scary stuff.

47 Dora { 07.27.10 at 9:58 am }

Oh, Mel! So scary! Just last weekend riding in a car with Sunshine and my mother, we were admiring the pretty deer by the side of the road. Lori’s right, the thin line is always, always there.

48 JJ { 07.27.10 at 10:13 am }

Good grief. These moments definitely “stick to your ribcage”…Im like you–those moments stay with me long after they’re gone–its the “what if…”
Im so glad your family is ok–and thankful for whatever caused you all to remain out of harms way

49 a { 07.27.10 at 11:10 am }

Wow. What a traumatic experience. Glad to hear that you and your family were not hit – and so sorry the guy on the motorcycle was.

50 Baby Smiling In Back Seat { 07.27.10 at 2:55 pm }

What always got me are the thin lines that we never know about. We narrowly evade trouble a dozen times a day and have no idea.

Well that used to get me, until my own thin line experience last year, which you know about. Mostly I don’t think about it, because when I do, I start crawling out of my skin.

Hoping that the twins are able to process the experience without too much fear for what the future may bring. You too.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
The contents of this website are protected by applicable copyright laws. All rights are reserved by the author