It was steady: shoop, shoop, shoop. I carefully walked to the front of the car. Holy mother of God! It was a train! A train was passing no more than 13 inches from my front bumper! A train!
Frozen in astonishment, the mechanical rhythm of the silent killer was deafening. Although the ghostly mist that draped around me was no comfort, in that very moment, standing in the darkness, I felt so close to God.
I wondered how many lives the fog claimed that night.
It was close, but not mine.
There were no railroad lights or arms at this crossing at that time. You could normally see it from miles away. Nearly a year later a man hit the train right where I was standing.
My dad was a volunteer fire fighter for decades and arrived on the gruesome scene with the team of fire fighters and the jaws of life to open the crushed car. They pulled the car apart and the mangled, burnt man popped out like a jack-in-the-box, dad said.
Dad jolted backwards in shock.
One more hesitation and I am aware that could have been me. It was a frightful night, though I was grateful for the humbling experience.
Have faith that God speaks to you also. Perhaps through guardian angels or spirit guides, I’m not sure, but listen. Listen to that persistent feeling. Believe for God’s protection and He will not fail you; not ever.
“Keep your head down and close your eyes!” In the trench we could feel the train’s undercarriage reverberating, echoing the bellows of its contempt.
When I remember my mother, I smile. She was an inspiration and an excellent travel companion. Her name was Josie and she visited me constantly.
I lived in southern California for about seven years, worked for Honda Motor Headquarters, and when my mom stayed, we enjoyed taking small vacations. This trip was going to be a drive up the coast to San Luis Obispo for the long weekend.
My dog, Chili Pepper, made our group complete and we headed out. Our plan was to stay along the coastline, but the drive proved to be a bit arduous. The scoliosis in my spine and chronic pain made extended trips difficult.
We were driving amidst a long stretch of forest area with somewhat of a twisting road and I was wondered if we were lost. There was no GPS in my car in 1997 and the street signs did not come quick enough.
Finally, there was a break in the trees. We spotted a parking area and pulled across the lanes in a hurry. It was a small divide hidden away from the road and looked to fit about four cars.
It did not seem like many people pulled in. There were not any obvious tracks and no road signs. It was barely noticeable due to the trees and curved road. We hoped it was okay to park since there were no designated spots. It was just dirt and sand, no pavement or walking paths.
We soon figured out why this was not an ideal location. Not only did the bend in the road make it difficult to navigate, in order to see the ocean, you had to climb a steep embankment which supported railroad tracks.
Since the tracks disappeared into the wooded areas on either side, we were glad to see it had both warning lights of oncoming trains and two big railroad crossing arms. We ascended the hill to see a plateau of jagged, black shale-looking rocks on either side of the tracks.
We hoped to walk to the beach, but no luck. On the other side of the railroad ties was a sharp descent covered in the jagged rocks into a trench which then curved back up again to a thick retaining wall. Beyond the wall was about a seven-foot drop to large rocks and splashing waves. It was a disappointing effort.
Even though this was not a good lookout point, we were very tired of driving and appreciated the break. Consequently, we decided mom would hold Chili Pepper and sit on the retaining wall for me to take her photo with the ocean in the background.
Mom looked so cute holding our Chihuahua who continually posed as if always on camera. They sat on top of the wall about even with the level of the railroad track. The shale-type rock tapered off from the track in a steep rounded angle, creating a trench, and meeting the wall with only room for mom’s little feet.
It was going to be a nice photo, but I was too close. We did not have enough room. The camera would have been a couple feet in front of mom’s face.
I looked both ways again for any trains and glanced at the railroad crossing lights, nothing. All clear. I leaned back. Still too close. I scooted up, looked again for evidence of trains, and sat on the railroad track to take the picture.
It was a perfect vantage point. Mom was all smiles and Chili Pepper sat up like a puppy princess. That’s when we heard the shouting.
Two people came running from behind our car waving their arms above their heads and screaming for me to get off the tracks. I looked again, no train, crossing lights, or horns blaring, and the crossing arms were straight up. They were just acting crazy. I still did not take a photo. I turned around and tried to focus the camera.
They would not stop and yelled louder, “Get off that track! Off the track! Off the track!”
Fine! I barely slipped down off the metal rail and a train tore past my back! The dark metal frame nearly catching me. I yanked my head forward terrified it might have caught my hair.
My first instinct was to jump off the retaining wall, but I had to protect mom. I landed hard on my knees in front of her, the sharp rocks dug into my scars. I held both arms up and elbows out to cover her; my chin was tucked down directly above her face. Our little dog was in between us shaking uncontrollably with her eyes fixated on the machine charging through.
Our heads were near the large metal wheels supporting its trek. It was right next to us! I tensed up my back, as I was sure the train would have picked up branches lodged into its side as it passed by outreached limbs. I expected to get lashed by debris and tried to prepare.
Mom kept looking up. I shouted, “Keep your head down and close your eyes!” In the trench we could feel the train’s undercarriage reverberating, echoing the bellows of its contempt.
My feet slipped. The jagged rocks cut into my knees as I held my position shielding mom and our tiny canine.
At last, our tormentor departed, disappearing into the woods as fast as it appeared, unaware of our near demise. I doubt the giant even noticed us ants.
We were trembling. Mom regained her composure first. She seemed vexed to our situation, not wanting to be scolded by the people who yelled at us on top of the fright we just went through. Chili Pepper was also uninjured but had not stopped shaking. Poor little girl.
I was stunned and dreaded facing them, though we owed them our lives, especially me. Based on their passionate cries to get us to safety, I knew they would be on the other side of this embankment either in an anxious panic, angry, or horrified to see the result of our man versus machine impact.
We carefully climbed up out of the trench, looked both ways, and prepared ourselves to face them. There was no one!
We set out to find where they went. Now we were determined to thank them. They ran behind our car, yet only Chili Pepper and mom’s footprints were visible. There were no footsteps that matched where they were running. We walked into either side of the wooded areas, yelling loudly. We kept searching, but there was no one. No cars, no easy way out, no sidewalks or pathways whatsoever.
What type of person would scream and yell at someone with such furor to get off the railroad track and then not stay after the train passed? If not out of concern for our well-being, which they obviously had, then out of pure human curiosity as to my fatal end. Any person would have stayed without exception.
I believe we were in the presence of angels. Guardians from my death once again.
There are so many ways to die! I have no idea why God keeps saving my life. People slip on ice and break their necks, choke to death, even meet their demise by allergies. I was side-swiped on a four-lane by a truck off my motorcycle, I have fallen down countless staircases when my knee would lock, I even had to pull a rip-cord on a runaway parasail after nearly striking a hotel then plummeted from high only to be caught be three men dashing to get under my falling body just feet away from the cement structure, and now have evaded being struck by a train·twice! All of this mayhem, yet I remain.
Is it just not my time to go and I somehow keep getting into danger? I do not appear to be anyone special and truly would rather avoid the hazards all together.
Perhaps this is preordained. Perhaps none of it is and God saves me out of love. Regardless, I trust Him, I trust my life to God, and I release control.
I would offer this resolution to anyone overwhelmed by why life happens as it does. The earth keeps turning whether we are on it or not, though Father God shows us our importance.
We are not the ants crushed by the train; we are His children and I believe He wants the best for us, even though we get there through jagged trenches.
Just as my pain is but a mere memory vindicating faith, shall be my life, bearing witness to the modern miracles of our Creator.
I was in kindergarten when they discovered I had severe scoliosis. My parents and I met with Evelyn, the school nurse in her office. She showed them how my spine was so crooked you could see the curvature through my skin when I bent over.
“She will definitely need a back brace,” the nurse explained. My dad would not hear of it. He had polio and received a lot of tormenting from the other kids due to the back brace he wore and did not want me to go through the teasing.
Although my back worsened with every year, I still participated in sports, ran track, played tennis, basketball, softball, etc. With each passing year my back hurt with greater force due to accidents.
I was getting so injured so often people around me would commonly comment, “Why does everything happen to you?” Not to be beaten down, I would respond, “Why not me?”
I felt like I could take it and kept my positive outlook for a long time. It did seem like a lot though. I will not discuss all the injuries, but here are a few that affected my spine.
I fell from a three-story treehouse after jumping onto a zipline that immediately broke. I landed on my back on the decorative rocks around the tree. It was not even a month later when I was bucked off a second time from a wild horse and could not walk for several days.
I am not sure how much the car wrecks, three-wheeler crashes, and racing roll-overs worsened my vertebrae. The medical staff were always so focused on the obvious, more gruesome wounds. I pray I never see my bones, broken teeth, or wide-open gashes ever again.
The knee surgeries started after my ACL was torn in half and meniscus cartilage was fragmented and tore. After three knee operations we realized the surgeon was doing more damage than good. He knew it too and kept trying to prescribe pain killers. I would not take pain killers unless the emergency room staff put them in my IV. Pain lets you know something is wrong.
We sought out a knee specialist for the fourth knee surgery, the second complete reconstructive, and it started to improve. The four years between the third and fourth knee surgeries though were highly detrimental to my back.
I lost count how many times my knee would lock causing me to fall down the stairs. Since I was always in a rush to get to class and holding textbooks my unbalanced body would tumble down the painted cement stairs or worn wooden staircases of our old high school.
Then it was the same outcome, I would roll over into a seated position at the bottom of the stairs to see my knee had locked in place at about a 90-degree angle. What could I do? I had already had three surgeries and could not call an ambulance. So, I would place both hands firmly on top of my knee and smashed it down to the ground.
A loud ‘pop’ resulted as I cringed with pain, picked up my books, and went on with my day. The nights after each tumble I could not sleep; the pain in my injured back was awful. I was a bit sad realizing this was my norm and had been for years.
The day every motorcycle rider dreads was upon me. I had 12 years of riding experience at this point, but there was no way to avoid it.
It was June 15, 1990 and I was thrilled to be riding a 600cc Kawasaki Ninja. I was wearing a t-shirt and shorts because it was so hot but did put on a full-faced helmet.
The warm air and luminous sun felt wonderful on my skin as I rode down the four-lane highway. I came up over the bridge into town. A semi-truck was waiting to make a turn. I passed the semi and no longer remembered anything.
All sounds were muffled as I moved along the parking lot toward a gathering crowd. There had been an accident. A mangled body was laid out on the pavement in a large pool of blood.
Beams of sunlight were around me and I felt a little dizzy. I could barely see through the crowd but could make out a woman in a pink flowered blouse that had knelt by the body. It appeared as if she was shouting, but I could not hear anything.
A man in a short-sleeved, blue shirt was toward the head and seemed composed. The horrendous sight must have been too much for me. I felt myself falling backward as I lost consciousness.
The next time I opened my eyes was strenuous. The sun was directly above, and the heads of good-intentioned people kept looking over me blocking the sun, then pulling back. It was hard to focus. I closed my eyes.
In attempting to get up I realized I could not feel my legs or move them. A woman on my right put her hand on me. I glanced over and it was the lady in the pink flowered blouse! If the man with the short-sleeved blue shirt was at my head I was going to lose it. There he was, at my head – a paramedic. Either I had an out-of-body experience or a very detailed dream.
I needed verification. It took all the strength I had to just lift up to see my legs. I thought I had passed out because of the sight of that mangled body on the pavement.
I was the mangled body. What happened!? My left leg broke below my knee severing the tibia and fibula and my shin was at a left, 90-degree angle. I could see bones in both arms and ankle. The compound fractured radius bone stuck out of my forearm. I had been hit by a truck.
Then I heard it. “If you want me to take you, just relax, but if you want to live you have to fight right now!” All other sounds were muted, but I could hear that voice clear as day.
The numbness I felt in my legs had moved on to my mid-section. I tried to fight, but it kept happening. A cool breeze rose from me. I strained to hear, to move, to see. Nothing. I was dying.
The feeling of death was unmistakable and upon me. The peacefulness of serene tranquility was alluring, but if I gave in then the rest of my mother’s life would have been torture for her.
I fought to my core with harsh anguish only to be roused by my screams bursting through the silence! The noise cut in all at once. Traffic, people shouting, and me screaming again as the overwhelming agony set in. I passed out.
I woke up in the emergency room to my dad fainting and men carrying him out of the room. I could hear my mom crying loudly. It was too much for all of us.
I do not know how much time passed, but every time I opened my eyes my mom was with me. There was a blur of people coming to visit. Both arms were in casts from my shoulders to wrists. My left leg the same, from hip to blown-out ankle.
In addition to the broken bones and internal bleeding, the x-rays revealed once again the curvature in my spine. The doctor showed how twisted and misshaped my spine was; from neck to base he said. “I know; it’s always been like that,” I responded.
This was when my injuries were so severe that my friend Carol visited me and after seeing me had the one and only seizure of her life. Nurses said every square inch was bruised, broken, or covered in ‘road rash’ from skidding on the cement.
I was t-boned by a full-sized GMC farm truck. “I thought I could beat the bike across the highway,” the man who hit me told the semi driver. The officer on site was a childhood friend of the man and reported I was in ‘Good condition.’
The body shops who received our vehicles showed me where the aluminum motorcycle frame was broke in eight places with the tank ripped off. His truck’s frame was bent 2.5 inches to the left and my helmet was lodged in to about his radiator.
The only thing that kept my head from staying in his truck as well was a rare, quick-release helmet strap. It worked like a seat belt, push the button the the strap released. I was hit by his truck and thrown over the second lane, ditch, and access road into the parking lot of the old Earl May some 60 feet away with no helmet in a t-shirt and shorts.
We signed paperwork and recreated the hospital room in our home. The hospital bed, IVs, wheelchair, and several other large pieces of medical equipment were in our living room for my sweet mother to utilize in caring for me. Poor lady; I cannot imagine how hard that was for her.
Throughout the 92 days in that hospital bed, I had dreams of being able to sleep on my side. Due to the impact, the muscles had separated from the backs of my eyes and the ear canal damage had affected my balance, but I was recovering.
Mom and her friend, Audrey would pray for me. I could hear her in the other room crying on the phone, “Her forehead looks like it exploded. I don’t know what to do Audrey. The cuts on her face are so deep.” I still had not seen a mirror.
Audrey said she could hear responses when she prayed and told mom, “He said some of the scars on her body will remain as a remembrance, but every cut on her face will heal.” It all came true. Everything healed, except for a few scars·but my back was now excruciating.
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