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  • Excavation of a Car Crash
  • Christine McSwain (bio)

Accident Data

incident date: November 18, 2015     incident time: Approximately 8:26 p.m.

no. of vehicles: 1               no. killed: 1

roadway surface: Blacktop

accident type: Vehicle/pedestrian

accident description (detailed): Vehicle traveling south on divided highway at estimated speed of 55 mph struck 25-year-old victim (pedestrian).

witness reports: Driver ran the traffic light, struck victim while in crosswalk. Victim rolled onto hood of car causing blunt force trauma to head and neck. Driver braked upon crash. Victim landed directly in front of car, face up. Driver of vehicle exited vehicle, called 911. Paramedics arrived approximately 8:34 p.m.—performed CPR on victim with no result. Driver treated for panic attack and shock. Victim taken directly to hospital. Both driver and victim sober at time of accident. Phone data extracted from driver does not indicate distracted driving. Victim died on impact.

official cause of death: Blunt force trauma to the head and neck. Declared dead on arrival at 9:02 p.m.

next of kin informed: Yes—Mother [End Page 191]

Immediate Cause

I was beneath blankets, heavy with dreams and tangly hair, when your mother called me. I remember how she told me exactly, her voice heavy with the burden of repeating. It's a memory I have buried, never once excavated, but one to whose burial mound I compulsively return to ensure its interment.

"What do you mean?" I asked, a gut impulse to the word "killed," a word I could feel on the roof of my mouth—the coarseness of "K" and the trill of "L" against the backs of my two front teeth, the way "-ed" burrowed beneath my tongue. Of course I knew what she meant. Of course I knew.

I don't remember getting out of bed. How I held the phone against my chest as I inhaled knives, exhaled a jagged sob. Swaying in the absence of you. This is all ingrained in my consciousness now, these elegiac movements I can't picture but can feel.

I stood in the hallway, listened to my grandparents laugh at the breakfast table. Grandma told Papa, "Finish these eggs for me. I can't eat no more or I'll pop." I heard her palm pat her belly to assert her fullness. The sound of his fork scraping against the Corelle plates they'd had since my mother and aunt were girls. He obliged, as always. I waited in the hall, watched Grandma get up and take her empty plate to the sink. Then came my bare feet on kitchen linoleum.

Grandma turned away from the sink. Papa said, "Good morning, Girl." I was Girl, always. His, yours.

I told them. I know the words I used like I knew the Lord's Prayer, perpetually cared for in the part of my brain where creeds and verses found their rest. I knew then the weight of your mother's woe as the messenger. Beside your mother's sorrow I've buried my own, the kindred burden of speaking your end aloud, as if it were the putting the thing to words that stopped your heart. Not a run red light. Not a hood and your head and neck, helplessly quick.

Grandma and Papa, in synchronicity forged from fifty years of an intertwined life, kept me upright. I told your mother we would be there as soon as we could. I told her I loved her, let the line go silent.

In my left ear, Papa managed his cries as woeful inhales and exhales. In my right ear, Grandma dirged, Oh God. Oh Jesus. Jesus. Lord.


At your mother's house, I helped your brother put Christmas decorations in [End Page 192] the closet. I didn't ask him why. Instead, I gathered plastic trees and ceramic angels in my arms like I was told.

Once we were hidden in the guest bedroom, out of sight of your red-eyed mother, your brother told me about your organs. How none of them could be donated because of punctures, bruises, and internal bleeding. Before then I hadn't imagined the unquestionable violence...


Additional Information

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pp. 191-201
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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