Have you ever accidentally injured an animal?
My conscience has haunted me ever since I accidentally killed a man
Photo: Kristina Buramenskau00e2 / EyeEm.
Trigger warning: The following article could shock some readers.
Even though it was eight years ago, I still think about it every day. Sometimes I catch myself indulging in that one thought for hours. When you kill someone, your life changes forever.
It happened on a sunny afternoon in late March. It was far too warm for the time of year - one of those harbingers of the hot summer that was to follow. I was 28 years old and had given birth to my first child, a daughter, five months earlier. After the first, sleepless time we slowly got used to the new everyday life together and I came to terms pretty well with the idea of being a mother now. Since it was Wednesday afternoon, my husband was at work. I decided to go out of the house again when the weather was nice to get some ingredients for dinner. Although I had enough in the house, I wanted to enjoy the warm weather with my daughter a little longer.
What happened next is difficult to describe. Maybe my brain is trying to deal with it that way, but I actually don't remember much about this incident. The sun was low in the sky and I can still remember that it was so dazzling that I had to lower the visor and fold the rearview mirror. I remember slowing down hard, slamming a body against my windshield, echoing the impact in the car, the sound of glass breaking, and shortly afterwards someone started screaming like a stick. I had to realize that it was me. I hit a pedestrian who was about to cross the street.
The time after that feels like something out of a horror movie. I turned to make sure my daughter was okay in the car seat behind me. Then I got out and saw the man lying on the floor. All I remember is gray hair and lots of blood. Several people were standing around the car, and some of them had already leaned over to the man. Although there must have been a lot of cars and people there, I don't remember any noises.
It could only have been a few seconds later when a woman came up to me and took my arm. She led me to my daughter and told me to get her out of the car. Then she walked away from the scene of the accident with me. I felt like I was watching a movie about my life. Nothing really seemed real. All I could hear was the noise in my head like someone was pushing it underwater.
It felt like the ambulance arrived within seconds. I kept asking the paramedics how the man was doing, but I couldn't remember the answer. One of them took my daughter and me aside and sat in an ambulance with us. The paramedic helped me call my husband. I didn't know how to tell him what had just happened. I will never forget the expression on his face when he arrived at the scene of the accident a little later: a mixture of sadness and compassion.
The man I hit was pronounced dead on the spot. I felt completely empty and destroyed. Before my husband took my daughter and me home, he spoke to the police. When I got home, I sat down on a kitchen chair, whimpering. It was impossible to hide my despair from my child. My sister came over to take care of our daughter while my husband took me to the police. I still had to make a statement. The police officers treated me as kindly as I didn't think I deserved. Even so, they asked me questions so detailed that it was impossible for me to answer them. All I remembered was sitting there saying over and over that the accident was my fault. I also asked tons of questions about the man I killed.
The police temporarily banned me from driving and sent me back home. There a deep despair came over me that completely enclosed me. A point had been placed behind my previous life. Nothing could ever be the same again. All I could think of was that I had taken someone's life. It was because of me that the man's family went through endless pain.
I can only remember vaguely the days that followed. Either I was crying or I was sitting apathetically in the corner. My husband did all of the work. Only my family and my best friend were around during this time. Everyone else gave me a wide berth, and I can't blame anyone for that.
The darkness that overcame me ultimately convinced me that I no longer had the right to live. I would have given anything to have died in place of the man. The story was in the paper and online, and it made me sick to find my own name in the articles. Even so, I read everything I could get my hands on because I wanted to know more about the man I killed. He was in his seventies and left a wife, two children and several grandchildren.
A few weeks later, I pleaded guilty to killing someone for driving badly. I had neither drunk nor driven too fast and the lighting conditions were difficult. But I wanted to be punished. I wished I had to serve a prison term even if the thought of living apart from my husband and daughter half consumed me.
However, at the trial, the judge said that jail time was not appropriate. First, because the driving conditions were difficult that day, and second, because I had a baby. Where others might have felt relief, a new wave of guilt crept through me. No judgment in the world could take the guilt off me, and my life felt worse than any prison sentence.
I couldn't stop wondering how this accident came about. I don't believe in God, but for months I was convinced that what had happened had something to do with karma. I must have done something bad and this accident made me atone for it. After the incident, I really wanted to get in touch with the dead man's family, but I realized that it was probably primarily out of selfish motives.
Since the accident, I've been going to therapy once a week. That helped me immensely in coming to terms with the trauma and straightening out my image of guilt and responsibility. But even after eight years, my life is still overshadowed by that one day. I often imagine my tombstone saying, “When she was 28 years old, she killed a man”.
I haven't met anyone to whom the same thing has happened to me. Only online have I read similar stories from people who also accidentally seriously injured or killed someone and that has helped me understand that I am not alone. Even so, I'm still too scared to google my own name because I'm afraid that there will only be articles about the accident. I will probably never be able to do that again.
A few years after the accident, we moved to a more rural area. That's why I'm now driving a car again, although the fear of driving in the dark or sunny weather still overwhelms me and then I can't get behind a steering wheel.
Words cannot describe the guilt that I still feel. But whatever was stolen from me by the trauma, it is nothing compared to the pain the victim's family has to endure. And I know deep down that I will never find peace of mind again.
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