Thursday, December 25, 2014

26 years ago

On Christmas Eve, 1988, I was in a nasty car accident that was my fault. I was home from college at the time, in Alexandria, Virginia, driving my parents' very nice Toyota Cressida. It was rainy, and I was trying to make a right turn onto Route 1 from a residential street next to a strip mall. I looked left, through rain-smeared glass, and made my turn.

Next thing I heard was the sound of a horn, then something heavy struck the car's left-front quarter panel, followed immediately by an impact on the left-rear quarter panel. The sound was nothing like the devastating noise of a car crash in a movie: it was more like the sound of someone smashing a big, empty cardboard box with a baseball bat—pop-pop! My head slammed against the upper frame of the driver's-side door.

Shaken and shaking, I pulled over immediately, and so did the other car. I ran out to see whether the other driver was all right; she rolled down her window, looking stony. "Let me see your license," she demanded through the rain. Hands trembling uncontrollably, I fumbled obediently for my license and showed it to her. I can no longer remember what we said to each other next, but when I got home and told my parents what had happened, and my father talked with the lady over the phone, I found out two bits of awful news: the woman was seven months pregnant, and she was a prosecuting attorney.

There could have been a shitstorm, I suppose. My father also learned that the woman had had the misfortune of being hit by a police officer who ended up arguing in court that the accident wasn't his fault. The lady didn't want this to happen again, so she was determined to see justice done. Luckily, in this case, "justice" meant nothing more than having the parents' insurance pay for the damage—no court appearance, and no jail time. The woman never came back to us with any claims about whiplash or injury to her gestating child. It was a traumatic experience, but I felt I'd got off lucky.

The 1988-89 school year at Georgetown was a shitty year for me. The one bright spot was the French Theater class I was taking; our troupe performed La Ville, by Paul Claudel, at the French Embassy, which sits right next to Georgetown's campus. Aside from that, though, the year sucked: I had a randy, womanizing roommate, did poorly in my Asian Civilization class, and basically bided my time, waiting for junior year so I could study abroad.

The following year, 1989-90, proved to be my favorite year of college and one of the best years of my life—the diametrical opposite of sophomore hell. As a junior, I studied in Fribourg, Switzerland, spending almost an entire calendar year in Europe. Fribourg was where I finished out my minor in theology (a misnomer: what I was studying was actually religious studies), where I went out with a hot blonde for a short while (like the car accident just described, my parting from the hot blonde was also my fault), and where I lost a ton of weight and came back to my parents looking unrecognizably thin.

Ah, memories. Twenty-six years ago, I was a stupid college student, not so different from the goofballs I teach here in Korea. I had, perhaps, a greater sense of personal responsibility than my Korean charges do, and also a greater sense of independence. But I was still stupid, as is true of college students everywhere: they think they know things, but the know-things are no-things. I'd like to believe I'm a bit older and wiser now, but I'm still working on the wiser part: the older part comes, alas, with no effort at all.


No comments: