Everything was white that winter night. The white van we rode in. The white snow that turned the world white until nothing else could be seen. The white headlights of the transport truck coming towards us as we started to roll over. I should have been thinking so many different things in that moment before I died. I should have been thinking of all the little things that made up the life I was about to lose in a second. But my thoughts were blank as a shade of white.
It was the day after Christmas. My dad and I were driving up north to my uncle’s house for a few days. We would eat roast beef smothered in warm gravy. We would blast country music through his large historical home on Georgian Bay. We would play Rummoli and my Aunt Karen would win as usual. There would be empty beer cans on the dining room table and empty trays of meat and potatoes on the kitchen counter. We would laugh loudly, argue good-naturedly, and fall asleep to the sound of uncle Donald playing one last song before bed.
As we drove a light snow began to fall. The gleam of headlights and tail lights flowed endlessly on like red and white rivers through the dark hills. The highway was full of people just like us, driving to visit family for Christmas, or coming home to them. My dad turned up the radio as one of his favourite songs came on.
“I can’t understand why she walks like a woman and talks like a man.” He sings loudly.
I join in for the chorus, “Lola, Lo Lo Lo Lo Lola!”
I laugh as my dad sings all the other words perfectly wrong. He is my best friend and the most wildly weird person I know.
Another song comes on I drift into familiar worries. I worry about going back to school, and that essay I was supposed to write, and the test I should study for. I can’t enjoy the moment because I’m always worrying. The snow outside falls in heavier drifts now, and my dad turns the wiper on a faster setting. I force myself to pay attention to the moment instead of thinking so much.
When I pay attention however, I notice my dad is pale and uncharacteristically quiet.
“Dad?” I ask tentatively.
“It’s okay. It’s just getting harder to see through all this snow,” he says quietly. He squints ahead into the falling snow.
“Maybe we should pull off the road,” I suggest.
“No, no. We’re past Barrie now, we’ll keep going.”
I start feeling nervous. All I can see is one set of tail lights in front of us. The flow of other traffic lights are no longer visible. I keep thinking we should stop, get off the road and have a coffee or something. But my dad drives for a living. Maybe he knows more than I do. Maybe there’s no reason to be afraid.
My dad’s face tells me differently though. His face shows that he is afraid.
“What? What is it?” I ask, as he looks frantically left and right. The wind swirls so much snow through the air I can’t see anything at all. I’ve even lost sight of the tail lights in front of us.
“I can’t see which way the road goes. There’s a divider, but I can’t see which way the lines are slanted,” he says quickly, looking for headlights, tail lights, anything that can help us see which way to go. Left or right. Left or right.
A gust of wind blows a gap through the whiteness. It’s just enough to see the tail lights ahead. They’re going to the left. My dad cranks the wheel left and we follow the lights.
After that it all happens at once.
The tail lights flip in my line of vision, and my stomach drops. Our van is rolling over, I realize. And we’re not on the road anymore.
Then, in a nightmare, blinding lights shine through our van. A transport truck is behind us and it’s headlights are approaching at a hundred miles an hour. It followed us left. It’s huge, and bright, and terribly fast. Our van isn’t moving forward, but the transport keeps coming. I’m scared and cold and everything is so white.
Instead of blank thoughts that night, I should have been thinking about all the moments that I’ve had in my short life. I should have been thinking about all the little things that made my life so big. I should have been thinking about everything that was about to disappear, fast as a sudden storm, into the white.
Like the bright orange paddle boat my Grandma rides in. How I’d catch sight of the orange dot across the bay and know Grandma was coming home.
Or the red brick of my Uncle’s house lit up by candle light on hazy summer nights.
The purple flowers my mom plants in our backyard. The brown soil we’d get under our fingernails when we planted them together.
The perfect blue of the lake from my dad’s favourite picnic bench over the bluffs. The perfect stormy blue, wavy blue, pale blue of all the lakes I’ve sat by and swam in.
The shades of flickering red in my fire place on a cold winter night.
My friend’s wise green eyes. My Grandma’s beautiful turquoise eyes. My dad’s dark brown eyes.
The yellow of my friend’s hair in the sunlight before he died.
The green trees in the park where my parents would take me on picnics as a little girl.
My pink walls, lavender walls, turquoise walls in all my bedrooms over all the years.
The myriad of colour through stained glass in my friend’s old bedroom, where we had sleepovers under cozy green blankets made of fleece.
The red canoe my cousins and I flipped, before we got older and went our own ways.
The little rainbows on the walls after a storm, shining through our hanging prism. How they’d land on our faces, decorating us with all the colours of the rainbow.
There was only white now. No red, no yellow, no blue or green, and certainly no rainbows. The only thing I thought was that it wasn’t fair. All I thought was that my dad and I were going to die, and it wasn’t fair.
Then, at the last second, the van stopped rolling.
The transport blew past us an arms length away. We were lodged firmly in a snow bank. Everything was still. I looked at my dad and he looked at me. He reached over and opened the door. The older man in the car in front of us got out if his car. The driver of the transport walked over to us. All four of us just stood there among the headlights and looked. We just looked. We looked at the van, half flipped over. We looked at the transport, stuck in a drift next to the van. We looked at each other, covered in freshly falling snowflakes.
When the tow truck arrived they called police cruisers and ambulances. The snow had cleared, and blue and red lights surrounded us. I sat in the heat of a police car as they pulled the van out of the bank. The police officer talked about the miracle of it all. How the van could have rolled just a little more into the truck, how the truck could have steered a little more right and hit us, and even how the highway could have been un-divided, causing us to drive into oncoming traffic.
Everyone there was amazed by it all. As they opened the doors of our van and helped me back into it I was amazed too. The engine started and my dad drove us away from the scene. We couldn’t believe we were driving away. We had glimpsed the other possible outcome so clearly, we couldn’t believe we lived in this reality.
Since then we have gone on to eat roast beef and gravy at Uncle Donald’s, blast music, laugh and argue, and fall asleep safe and warm. I look at all the colours around me and notice them more than I used to. I still forget to enjoy the moment all the time, but I’ve gotten better. The white sky turned to blue, and my hair blew in the winter wind as the wheels drove us steadily north.
By Ashley Foy
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