March 4, 2010
Tonight I’m in a support group for my psychology class at Sonoma State University and it’s my turn to share a traumatic experience. I’m hoping it will be more therapeutic than the fruitless one-on-one therapy sessions that I’ve done with a psychiatrist in the last few weeks.
I’ve agreed to talk about the car accident with the seven other people in the group, on one condition: I will not stand in front of them and spill my sad sob story all over the linoleum floor. I will keep it together; there will be no crying, no feeling sorry for myself, no blabbering on about my suffering. I will be pragmatic and talk about the episodes I have while driving, and the excessive hours that I spend in the gym to numb the emotional pain I feel from the car accident.
People in the group will probably ask questions, and I will try to be transparent with my answers, because all I really want is to confide my thoughts to someone who will listen. So I will. I’ll tell them about how surreal life was that first night after coming home from the hospital — how I sat around with friends watching TV, and how it all felt so normal, but uncomfortably so—everyone was calm and relaxed, all the while I was a smoldering ball of emotion.
Why were they not crying, or yelling, or blasting heavy metal music, or doing lines of cocaine, or punching each other, or doing anything besides watching some stupid sketch comedy show?
I will use my time in front of the group to talk about how I froze up in the DMV hearing and could have had my license taken away. I will confess to the group that I just quietly sat in the hearing reliving the accident in my mind. I was too distracted by crunched metal and broken windshields to say more than a few sentences. But now, in front of this group, I will open up. It’s an opportunity to talk about everything I’ve been holding inside, everything I’ve been wanting to say but haven’t been able to. This is, after all, what these groups are for — the airing of dirty laundry, the uninhibited venting of internal monologue and, of course, the desperate search for validation. That’s why I’m here, at least. I’m here for every second of this handholding, soul-searching group therapy session because I want to, maybe even need to, do it for myself.
But I refuse to lose my composure like the guy before me. He is a large man, probably in his mid-twenties with a thin and patchy brown beard. The more he talks about his trauma, the more uncomfortable it gets—uncomfortable for him, uncomfortable for the group, uncomfortable for the inanimate objects in the room. His story is wavering and vague, something about his childhood, something to do with his parents, his dad. He pauses and tries to talk more, but only tears come out, lots of sniffly man tears, then more ambivalence.
My goal for the next half hour is not to become that guy. I will stand up, confidently, with my stack of notes and speak candidly. I will mention the physical pain of being in a serious car accident and the mental anguish of not remembering what I was doing in the moments before impact. Was I driving over the 65 mph speed limit? Did I look in the rearview mirror before I crashed? Was that why I didn’t see the car stopped in front of me? I will try to answer these questions and talk about how the small discrepancy between the speed limit and how much faster I thought I was going put me at fault on the official accident report.
The truth is, you don’t know how fast you were driving, but you put yourself at fault by saying you were going 70 mph. You’re lucky the District Attorney was busy with capital crimes; you could have gone to jail for vehicular manslaughter.
I will also discuss how sickening it is to attach monetary value to a life, how the deceased’s family deserved much more than the $30,000 my insurance paid out, and how if I had just bought a better policy they would have received more money, or so the claims adjuster said. I may tell the group how that same claims adjuster hired a private investigator who, contrary to the Highway Patrol’s report, deemed me not to be at fault. Then I will talk about the emotional roller coaster the accident has made of my life—the turmoil of thinking it was my fault. I will express the empathy I feel for the man I killed, and how, despite recalling other facts about the accident, I can’t seem to remember his name.
Maybe you don’t want to remember his name.
Before I finish, I will talk about how I often vex myself by calling it “my accident,” when I wish so vehemently to surrender all ownership of the incident. I will be insightful, introspective, but not prolix, and the people in the group will give me lots of hugs and handshakes. I will feel better, relieved to have purged myself of all the emotions I’ve been harboring. Then I will move on with my life—my new car, my job, my final year of college and, of course, my fitness and bodybuilding aspirations.