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How My Motorcycle Crash Improved My Life

Even an obvious loss can open the door for unexpected gifts.

Posted June 7, 2024 | Psychology Today

It was 1973 and I was a 23-year-old hippie girl teaching creative writing to fifth graders at a posh suburban private school in Milwaukee. I drove there every morning on my little motorcycle named Alice (named after my best friend who had bequeathed her to me when she left town). Because there weren’t many girls driving motorcycles back in 1973 and because I was, by far, the youngest teacher at the school, I wasn't always respected. I ignored the whispered comments and the smirks in the hallways. I avoided the teacher’s lounge. I focused on my job.

I loved teaching, even though, at first, I wasn't very good at controlling my classroom, getting the students to quiet down and sit still in their seats. One day, a boy named Aaron, threw a chair at me after I’d led a relaxation session for the class (I guess relaxation scared him). Aaron was an angry and disruptive child who, despite my best efforts to reach him, seemed to hate me.

It had snowed the night before the morning I crashed my motorcycle. It was the first snow of the season and I’d never driven Alice in snow. By morning the streets looked pretty clear, but I wasn’t sure I should risk it. Really, I had no choice. I didn’t own a car and no city bus to take me to work. I went outside, put my key in Alice’s ignition, and prayed we’d be safe.

Everything seemed fine for the first three miles. But then there was a curve. No problem. Curves didn’t scare me. I leaned gently to the left, but Alice’s wheels began to slide too far to the right. I tried to correct it and was startled I had no control. I had a split second to pray there wasn’t a car behind me that would crush both me and Alice into the pavement. We spun around, tipped over, and landed in the middle of the road.

My left side hit the ground hard, my helmet making a cracking sound as it struck the asphalt. I lay there, stunned, wondering if I was seriously hurt, wondering how I’d ended up lying underneath my motorcycle in the middle of Lake Drive.

Lake Drive was usually busy every morning, but no car had been nearby when I fell, and none had passed since. It occurred to me that Alice and I could be run over at any moment and that I had to move both of us. I slid my body out from under Alice and stood up, shaking. I bent down and pulled hard on her handlebars. I couldn’t lift her more than a few inches. I had to abandon her. I walked to the edge of the road, took my helmet off, and sat in the frozen grass, trying to decide what to do next. I checked each of my limbs; they were intact. My left knee was hurting but I didn’t know until later that it was bleeding. My forehead hurt. It felt wet. I tried to wipe off what I thought was melted snow above my eyebrows. My hand came back soaked with blood. I didn’t panic. I couldn't get myself together enough to panic. I just sat there for a few minutes with blood dripping down my face and watched the early morning light sparkle on the frozen blades of grass.

Alice was still lying on her side in the road. I had to move her. I stood up, my blood speckling the asphalt, and gathered my strength. A car approached and pulled over on the opposite side of the road. An elderly woman opened her window and called, “Honey, you hurt? You need to get that bike out of the road!”

“I know” I answered, despair coloring my voice. “I can’t move it.”

“Oh for goodness sake,” the woman said. “I’ll help you.”

She stepped out of her car. I noticed then that it was a shiny new black Cadillac. (Later I remembered how her stylish winter coat and carefully coifed grey hair gave her just the right look to drive that car.) The woman was short and frail-looking, but she surprised me by being strong enough to help lift Alice over the curb and onto the grass. As we settled the motorcycle on her kickstand, I noticed a large dark spot on the road: black ice. That must have been what toppled me. There were shards of clear plastic scattered all over the ice, pieces of my helmet’s windshield. Suddenly, I understood what had caused all the blood. The windshield had shattered when my head hit the pavement and a sharp piece had sliced my forehead.

“Where can I take you, my dear,” my helper asked, opening the passenger side of her car.

“To the hospital?” I suggested. I sat down on her clean leather seat and pressed one of my mittens against my forehead to stop the blood from dripping into my eyes and onto the car seat.

“Oh no, honey. I don’t have time to go that far. I have to get to the home to deliver flowers to the old ladies there.” I noticed then that her backseat was full of potted flowers.

Ironic, I thought. Old lady taking care of old ladies. And me.

I asked this old lady to take me to the local fire station. It was the closest safe place I could think of. When I walked into the station the woman at the front desk mumbled, “Oh my dear god,” and in seconds there were two paramedics gently lifting me onto a gurney and into an ambulance.

On the way to the hospital, one of them wiped the blood from my forehead and held thick gauze against the wound. “Face wounds bleed like hell but all you need is a few stitches and you'll be fine,” the paramedic predicted.

He was right, I was going to be fine and so was Alice. But it had been a close call. We could easily have been run over and killed or at least seriously wounded. Instead, a few stitches for me and some touch-ups to Alice’s paint and we were both good as new.

The next day I went to school with nine small black stitches over my left eyebrow, slightly covered by one Band-Aid. Some of my students were impressed and some were grossed- out. Aaron, the boy I was sure hated me, wrote his first decent poem that day. It included: “Blood. Cool,” and “Teacher’s Wounded. Awesome.” Not a nice poem, no, but it came with a gift: For the rest of the year Aaron was a nicer boy. He did all his assignments on time and mostly resisted interrupting me when I was talking. I guess my stitches proved to Aaron that I was human, vulnerable just like him.

There was another gift, too. At the end of that day, my principal told me that from now on the school bus would pick me up every morning and return me home at the end of every day. For free. He obviously thought I was important enough to protect, not just a 23-year-old hippie girl on a motorcycle, but someone who mattered, a valuable faculty member, a teacher.


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