One year anniversary of car accident outside school brings reflection for juniors Michaela Linden and Jessie Crawford

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Zoe DeYoung

Junior Michaela Linden sits on the trunk of her car. She now has her license, but there were a few instances in the weeks following the accident that Michaela needed to walk home. “The rest of last year I walked home a total of three times after I got hit, and every time I had a panic attack,” Michaela said. “It was very soon after [the accident] and I was still very on edge about it. I got rides from friends when I could, or I had parents pick me up.”

By Zoe DeYoung, Parkway West High School

Besides four inches of snow covering the ground, the walk home from school Jan. 15, 2018 was mundane for juniors Michaela Linden and Jessie Crawford. 

“It was a normal day,” Jessie said. “You wake up, go to school; nothing was wrong, nothing felt off.” 

Just into their walk down Clayton road, a speeding car swerved to avoid hitting a car ahead, consequently moving into the next lane. This led the driver to hit a car in the next lane over, setting their airbags off, leaving them unable to see and forcing them to drive onto the sidewalk where the girls were walking. 

“One minute you’re trying to go to your dad’s house because you are going to play MarioKart,” Jessie said. “And the next minute you’re laying there in the snow.” 

The girls had very different experiences regaining consciousness after the accident. Jessie woke up merely 15 minutes after impact.

“[When] I gained consciousness, I was laying upwards in the snow. I had a freakout moment like any normal human being would have, and I was just screaming bloody murder. It was horrible,” Jessie said. “I didn’t know where I was, I didn’t know what was going on, I didn’t know why there was snow on the ground, I didn’t know anything. That’s what happens when you get a concussion, you lose your memory. It started to come back to me. I knew I was walking home, but I didn’t know why I was walking home in this cold weather. Just all of these weird questions.”

Waking up for Michaela was not as swift. Being flung 20 feet left Linden unconscious for nearly two hours. She woke up in the hospital. Because the accident occurred near the entrance of the school, the girls are forced to drive past the site daily.

I remember waking up in the hospital with a vision coming back to me that I thought was just a dream that I was waking up from. The technician running a test was like, ‘you were actually hit by a car. That was not a dream.’ Then I just lost it and started crying,”

— junior Michaela Linden

“When it first happened, I hated [the entrance to school],” Michaela said. “I remember the first time that I drove past the fence I closed my eyes. I didn’t want to look at it. I didn’t want to look at Clayton. I remember one time, I just stared at [the place of the accident] and had a flashback. It was a surreal moment of, ‘wow, that actually happened?’ [Driving into the entrance] doesn’t affect me anymore. Now I will drive past it and joke about the dent in the fence that I made. I use humor to cope with it a lot.”

Snow is now a constant reminder of the accident for the girls.

“Snow is an issue for both of us. I think that’s all tied back to us being entirely unable to avoid this car because we didn’t even know it was behind us, and we were in the snow so even if we knew, there was nothing we could do because you can’t move around very well in the snow,” Jessie said. “Being around snow and cars creates this really deadly combination that triggers that PTSD for both of us. It’s just this feeling like you can’t move. It’s like you’re rooted in the ground. That causes problems for me now getting around when there is snow on the ground. It just makes me feel very vulnerable and very immobile.”

Michaela thinks back to the schools most recent snow day, where students were given a half day to avoid unsafe driving conditions. 

“Jessie and I were walking out at the same time and we both started having a panic attack because it was the first time we had seen a bad snow since we got hit,” Michaela said. “For me, the texture of the snow brought back the memory of walking through the snow on the sidewalk on the day of the accident. It was very weird, and I was very panicked about it.”

The one year anniversary of the accident is Jan. 15. As this date approached, the girls thought about the ways in which they were changed.

“Before the accident, I would consider myself a very happy-go-lucky person,” Michaela said. “[I was] very spontaneous [and] carefree. I just did whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. I didn’t really think about consequences too much. I wasn’t stupid–I was a smart kid, and I made smart choices–but like most kids, I thought I was invincible. I thought nothing bad could happen to me. Then after the accident, I became a lot more anxious.”

Both girls dealt with anxiety prior to the accident, but after the accident, Jessie saw major changes in her mental health. 

“I was already dealing with several mental health problems which kind of makes your life challenging because it puts a lot of walls in front of you that you have to find a way to triumph. The accident was just another wall for me, and it was a bigger one. It was really severe. and it made a lot of things in my life harder,” Jessie said. “It was really hard for me in the beginning. Just [recently]  I have really started to be able to take control of that part of my life and be able to really make my life better out of a negative situation. The way I see it, if I want to be a happy person and live the positive life that I want to, I can’t do that while feeling bad about myself. In order to be that happy person, I have to just move on. I have to do what is necessary to make myself feel better.”

Despite the effects the accident has had on the girls’ mental health, they both have used the accident as a teaching experience. 

“[The anniversary] has been a reflection for the both of us,” Jessie said. “Your life is so short, and you’ll never know what’s going to happen to you. I want to cherish the time that I have with these people while they’re still around. [The accident] has really helped me mature as a person and become a better person. I can’t be stuck in the past about this thing because nothing is going to change it. What happened, happened. Right now all I have to do is use that experience to make my life better so that I can help other people who also go through traumatic experiences. I think that is the best thing I can do in my situation.”

Your life is so short, and you’ll never know what’s going to happen to you. I want to cherish the time that I have with these people while they’re still around,”

— junior Jessie Crawford

Much like Jessie, Michaela has learned the value of her time through the accident. 

“It kind of made me open my eyes in some ways,” Michaela said. “Now I see the value of life, and I don’t take any day for granted. I try and tell people how grateful I am for them every chance that I can because you never know when you won’t be there or they won’t be there. I try to be as happy and do the things that I love for as long as I can. It was a very eye-opening experience. Nobody knows how long they have left. I’m at the point where I just want to make the most of whatever time I have left with whoever, and with however long they have left. I feel like being so young you don’t really think of that, but when you go through that experience you are kind of forced to.”

This story was originally published on Pathfinder on January 14, 2020.