She was stuck inside her car, which had flipped onto its side.
I wanted to give her flowers that morning, flowers that grew on the grassy highway median. Small, white flowers. Flowers that were thin like tiny, delicate dresses.
I wanted to give her flowers, place them in the palm of her hand. I wanted to hold her hand. I wanted to say, Look at how beautiful the flowers are.
But instead I said, Breathe through your nose, and she did. She was stuck inside her car, which had flipped onto its side, and I was standing on the outside, looking in. The windshield was shattered into the shape of a spider’s web—so glittery in the sunlight. Her seatbelt held her body firmly in place. The blood on her arms and hands dripped almost too neatly and the red was too clean, too bright. The woman was in her mid 20s, like me. Later, I would learn we have the same name.
When she started breathing through her mouth again, her breaths were so hard and fast her body shook. She let out heavy, sharp sounds. I told her breathing through her nose would help. I told her we could breathe together. We tried and tried.
My feet hurt, she said. My legs hurt.
You can feel your feet, I said. That’s a good sign.
They’re going to chop my foot off, she said.
It’s going to be okay, I said.
The Florida sun pulsed onto my back. From where I was kneeling, I could feel the whole world moving, turning on its axis as clouds passed by. I could feel the plans of this world, the neat time-blocks we structure our lives around. 9:00. 9:30. 9:45. There was a whole other world inside that car, a world I didn’t know the rules of. A policeman hovered over me and asked the woman what her name was.
Ashley, she said.
The policeman said, to me,
Keep talking to her. And I did. I told her she was alive.
And you’re going to keep being alive, I said. Her breathing grew softer. She smiled.
I looked at her face and saw everyone I had ever loved.
I saw everyone I had ever stopped loving.
I saw everyone I had ever missed.
I saw everyone who had pulled onto the median earlier, standing around the wrecked car.
I saw myself pulling over, following them.
I saw myself seeing the car. Not the accident, not the motion, but the stillness, the aftermath.
I saw myself before all of this happened, driving to my office at the University of Central Florida, getting ready to grade my students’ final creative writing portfolios.
I saw myself one week ago, not knowing what to do, after a friend told me one of our writing mentors got killed in a car accident.
I saw myself driving to yoga, days ago, needing some sort of strength. I heard Kelly, the instructor, saying, 80 minutes in Down Dog. You never know what life will give you next. I heard Kelly saying, Breathe through your nose so your body does not go into panic mode. I heard her saying, If you can’t hold yourself up, how will you ever hold up anyone else?
I saw myself living in the plans I’d created, months later, leaving my career and home for months of spontaneous travel— some sort of a sudden adventure.
I saw myself, a single 24-year-old woman, needing something.
I saw this woman, inside this car, needing something, too.
Is it bad? She asked.
No, I said. I did not know if that was the truth or a lie.
I wanted to hold her hand, but I couldn’t move. Cars rushed past us from both sides. The roads looked like veins and the cars blurred into petals, blooming. We were both in the middle of something strange and delicate and bright.
Ashley is a writer and photographer from Orlando, Florida,
whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in Pindeldyboz, SmokeLong
Quarterly, Breadcrumb Scabs, and Gone Lawn, among other journals. Keep
up to date with her readings, publications, and travels here: