When I was an amateur boxer back in the ’70s, I got knocked down once. It happened so fast that I didn’t know it. It was only when I looked up at the lights above the ring that I realized I was lying horizontally.
A recent accident I was in also happened fast, and I knew it because it left me in a very unnatural state, hanging upside down in my vehicle.
I was driving up Old Stone Highway on a Monday morning. It was a gray overcast day and the roads were damp from the evening rain. The back end of my pickup truck slid out from under me. It careened sideways into the oncoming lane. Luckily, no one was coming in the opposite direction. I overcorrected, which made me slide sideways into a dirt embankment. The impact made my truck ride up on two wheels, and then it rolled over on the roof.
In boxing, after getting knocked down, the referee would come over to check you out. He would ask, “Are you okay? Are you all right? Do you want to continue?” The same thing happened when I was upside down in my vehicle. Almost immediately a young man was knocking on the passenger window. “Are you all right? Are you okay? Do you want to get out?”
But first I needed a moment to clear my head about what had just happened. Then I wiggled my fingers and toes to check if they were functioning.
My seatbelt had done its job, but it had somehow wrapped tightly around my left wrist, holding it firmly in place and locking my left hand against the steering wheel. The young man asked if he could break the window to get me out.
I told him, “Go for it.” But I needed to protect myself from what was going to be shattering glass. First, I thought that I would just turn away from the window, but then I noticed that there was a floor mat next to my right shoulder. Being upside down I was discombobulated, but I managed to maneuver it with my right elbow toward my right hand. With my right hand I held it firmly against the passenger window. With a crack the window was gone.
Next, I needed to wrestle with the seatbelt to untie it from my wrist. There was a moment of panic. What if I was stuck? What if the car caught fire? What if my legs were trapped? I fought to push that fear away and stay calm. After several attempts I was able to unwind my left wrist from the seatbelt. I was still in a position so uncomfortable I didn’t know if I could navigate my way out.
The open window was just a couple of feet away, but it took several minutes for me to reorient my body position so that I could slowly crawl out. “Why did I stop doing yoga?” I thought. Slowly I worked and twisted my body in ways I’d never done before to get through the window. With the help of several hands reaching to assist me, I slid out.
Standing there unscathed, looking at my upside-down truck surrounded by many good Samaritans, I had an out-of-body moment. Taking into account the damage to my car, with its crushed roof, I was surprised that I was uninjured. I could have easily broken my neck, or any other of the 206 bones in my body.
One good man took my wife’s phone number and drove to a location that had cell service to call her. The young man who broke the window stayed close to me to make sure I wasn’t in shock. I jokingly told him that he was going to have to pay for breaking my window, my meager attempt at macho humor. There was nothing funny about the accident.
In no time at all, East Hampton’s finest were on the scene. They made sure that I was well, then secured the location and directed traffic. The emergency squad from Amagansett arrived soon after. The E.M.T., firemen, and ambulance were right on point. The firemen checked the pickup for gas or oil leaks. With heavy equipment they were ready to pry me out if necessary. The E.M.T. made sure I was not injured. The ambulance crew offered me a ride to Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, which I declined.
I felt that I had just stepped on a landmine and the landmine had malfunctioned. It was a wonder that my old body was fully intact and I was without a scratch.
If one listens to the news, one would think that we Americans are at one another’s throats. Not this day, not on this country road. The real Americans showed up and nothing could be further from the truth. It could have been the darkest day of my life. Instead, watching these men and women come to my aid made it the most perfect day of my life.
Aside from the police, these fine men and women, our fellow citizens and neighbors, are volunteers who give freely of their time to be of service to our community. They drop everything at a moment’s notice and come to the help of their fellow citizens.
East Hampton, Montauk, Springs, and Sag Harbor all have volunteer emergency services available. You may notice the white plates on the front of their cars or the T-shirts or sweaters they wear. Give them a fist-bump or a thank-you the next time you see them. They may someday save your life, the same way they saved the life of a former amateur boxer who once got knocked down, but went on to win the San Francisco Golden Gloves.
Paul Frediani, a former actor and fitness instructor, lives in Springs. He takes part in Andrew Visconti's memoir-writing course at the East Hampton Library.