But at odd moments, I get this flash of sudden darkness, the jarring sense of being thrown forward then back, the acrid smell of smoke, and everyone in my family screaming at once. My wife screaming for her kids over and over, and the kids just plain screaming.
Two weeks ago, we were on our way out to dinner. About a second after we stopped at a red light, a driver hit us from behind. Based on what our car looked like after, I'd guess she was going about 40 mph. There was no screeching of brakes, nor were there skid marks on the road behind us. We're still waiting on a copy of the police report for more detail on what she might have been doing that led her to slam into a column of cars on a busy road at 5 pm on a Saturday.
That moment, all I knew was that the car was filled with smoke, and I had to get the kids out. My door wouldn't open at first. I threw my shoulder into it, and it still didn't budge. It turned out to be locked. Unlocked it and got out onto the shoulder. Went for the back door, couldn't get it open. Realized it was locked, too. Unlocked it, and got my daughter out. She's almost four, and was completely hysterical. I give her a quick extremities check. No visible injuries, seems to just be scared. She says she's not hurt. I set her firmly on the shoulder as far from the car as I can while keeping her in view, and tell her to stay there. I see Christie coming out the passenger door. She looks unhurt, but scared as hell.
I run around to the driver's side rear door. Locked. Shit. Should have thought of that. Back around to the passenger side, crawl across my daughter's seat to get to my son. He's one, and is still in a rear-facing car seat. I get him unbuckled, and am cradling him close to my body when I realize that the car has started moving slowly forward. Holding him firmly with my left hand, I lunge between the seats to put the car in Park. It won't go all the way, but it does go into Neutral, and stops rolling. That'll do.
I climb out onto the shoulder, and my daughter is crying for me to pick her up. I have my 1-year-old in my left arm, and my 4-year-old in my right, standing close enough to Christie for us to put her arms around us. The four of us stand there, trying to make sense of what the hell just happened.