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< back to Jay's blogThe Endless Memory

It's strange being mobilized by a radio interview. You live with your memory, ever present and surprisingly vivid if given a trigger, but you don't let it rule you. If you did, you'd be merely existing.

My nightmare memory is almost 30 years old. Age does nothing to blur the edges. No Disney dream sequence to distance the palpability. It's still as clear as if it happened yesterday.

I was a driver, one of those all physical victims despise. The one with the lethal weapon. The one who is ostensibly blamed even though all evidence might point toward innocence. A car is a weapon and you weren't careful enough with yours.

Within hours of my accident I sought out the only person who was available to talk to, my closest friend, and she called me a killer. It didn't help that we'd argued the day before and she was still angry with me I suppose, but nevertheless being called a killer........we never spoke again. In my state, shock, that was an unforgivable thing to say.

I was eighteen years old working on a stud farm. I'd generally spend my workday mucking out stables, 'lunging' racehorses and feeding pregnant mares and yearlings. It was hard work and I was as fit as a racehorse. I drove the same route everyday, twice a day and knew it very well.

On my nightmare day, there was nothing out of the ordinary. A typical work day. My workmate was in the passenger seat and we were driving home. On a sweeping bend where a cluster of houses communed I collided with a four year old girl. To describe the moment doesn't take long. There was a flash of material, a thud and it was all over. It was that quick. There was no warning, no lead-up, no moment of terror as you realized you were going to hit someone......nothing like that. Just a flash of material and a thud.

I slammed on my brakes and landed the car on the wrong side of the road next to an embankment. I looked at my passenger, a boy the same age as me, whose face was completely drained of blood. We stared at each other for a few seconds and he leapt out of the car and ran back to where the townships' people were also heading. I looked in my rear-view vision mirror and saw what looked to me like a small lump of material on the side of the road. I froze. My hands were still on the wheel, my foot still on the break, my engine still running. I couldn't move. I still didn't fully understand what had happened because I didn't actually see the girl - just material and a thud. I knew it must have been a person because of the sound but I had no idea beyond that.

I can't remember if I got out of the car myself or was helped out but I do remember walking from the car to the top of the embankment and looking back to where there was now a significant gathering of people around the four year old. I heard her mother screaming. I collapsed on the embankment trying to will myself to walk up there, but I couldn't. I do remember yelling out: "Call an ambulance, has anyone called an ambulance?" and later: "Where's the ambulance? Why is it taking so long?" But I still couldn't move.

A kind resident put something around my shoulders and sat with me quietly, saying nothing. I started rocking backwards and forwards saying: "Where's that bloody ambulance?!" I couldn't move and I couldn't cry. I was completely numb.

After the ambulance left the kind people who'd kept me warm took me into their house and fed me tea and biscuits. I don't know what happened to my work-mate. Around the table we sat and with this seeming 'normality' came the strange phenomenon of hysterical laughter which can only be described as my own. Everything seemed funny to me. I now see that as either a reflection of denying the reality of the situation or my inability to cry. Later I remember thinking those people must have thought I was heartless.

Two of the residents offered to drive my car home with me as a passenger. I accepted. Halfway up the mountain I realized there was no-one home. My sister had long left home, my father was in Queensland and my mother was in a rehab centre after a hysterectomy went wrong. I knew I would be going home to a dark house so I got them to drop me off at the pub where I knew my closest friend would be. After she called me a killer adding to my trauma, I went completely blank. There were probably three or four friends of my parents who I could have turned to but I couldn't think of one of them.

I drove myself back to my empty, dark house and  I rang my father in Queensland whose only response was: "Well, don't be a martyr!" I'll never forget that because all I wanted was some kind words. Feeling more alone than I had ever felt possible, I started to contemplate suicide. I knew where my mum's sleeping tablets were and got them. I sat in the dark house, unable to turn the lights on thinking quite clearly that if I took the sleeping tablets this strange squeezing of my brain would stop. My father's words were going around and round in my head.

Instead of taking the tablets I rang the hospital to find out how the girl was. I was told they couldn't give me that information because I wasn't a family member and I hung up. I sat there, toying with the tablets but decided to ring the hospital again instead. This time, out of sheer frustration I screamed: "I'm the one who hit her! You have to tell me how she is!!" The nurses attitude changed and she put me onto a doctor who told me they were still operating on her. He had a lovely gentle voice. I told him of my intention to kill myself and he masterfully veered me away from that course by suggesting I go down to the hospital and have a cup of tea with him instead. This sounded to me like a wonderful idea, much better than swallowing a bottle full of tablets so I got in my car and drove down the Mountain, at 30 kms per hour, and met with him. He gave me a cup of tea and gently established my situation. He asked me where my parents were and I told him where dad was but wouldn't tell him where mum was. I remember thinking clearly that she would panic and probably have an accident in her haste to get from Sydney to Penrith to be with me.

I asked the doctor if I could see the parents and he went to see if they would see me but they refused. I understand now why they, in their grief, refused to see me but I so badly wanted to apologize it felt like they were blaming me....which is ultimately exactly what they were doing.

After our chat I'm assuming the doctor deduced I was a threat to myself and so they put me intensive care with a group of patients who looked like they'd been in a war zone. I remember this because I'd never seen so much carnage in real life.

The nurses gave me an injection, a sedative, which did little to calm me. As the shock intensified I started walking up and down intensive care half crying, half moaning. I had no control over this. I was put back to bed and given another injection. The second injection also did nothing to stop me wondering up and down crying. The third injection, which was different to the others and in a much larger syringe, did the trick. I fell asleep and woke to find my mother sitting beside the bed. Sometime, between injections, they'd got her location out of me and rung her. Someone from the rehab centre had driven her all the way from Sydney because she was as distressed as I knew she would be.

As soon as I saw her I clung to her and cried properly for the first time. It was mum who told me the little girl had died on the operating table. She held me and held me and I'd never felt my mothers love like I did in that moment.

She slept in the chair next to my bed and the following day we drove back up the mountain. She insisted I 'get back on the horse' and drive. I remember asking her: "Do you trust me to drive?" and she said: "Of course my darling, I know you're a good driver." I loved her even more in that moment.

The following day a policeman came around to inspect my car and ask me questions. I flew into a nonsensical rage and screamed at him: "It wasn't my fault! She just ran out! Why do you want to look at my car? What's going to happen!" I was clearly out of my mind. The policeman left very quickly and never came back. 

It turned out the little girl's uncle, who was caring for her, had walked unthinkingly across the road without her moments before my car came around the bend. The little girl dashed out to follow him. There were witnesses to this and hence I was considered completely blameless. No action was taken and apart from that one visit by a single policeman, I never heard anything more about it.

I went back to work almost straight away because sitting around just made it worse. I quit eventually because I couldn't stand driving that road everyday.

Written on 01 Apr 2010
Over 36 years since incident
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Site founder | 02 Apr 2010

Jay,

Thanks for sharing.

I have a question…. have you written about this before?

Regards,
Sandra

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karen | 02 Apr 2010

I think you have written your story so honestly and from the heart. there is always two side to things that happen.There is not a lot to say but sorry that this has happened. I was very moved by your letter.

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ANN LEWIS | 03 Apr 2010

Hi Jay.

What very moving story! How could anyone have avoided a chid running out in front of their car? I think it’s something we’ve all worried about because there’s not a thing you can do about it.

Thank you for sharing your story, it shows just what an impact that kind of accident can have when you’re still affected by it after all those years. I’m sure we all read it and felt emotional and so so sorry for you Jay.

Ann x

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Bek | 04 Apr 2010

You did nothing wrong; you were in no way to blame for her death. It was wrong place, wrong time.
I have always believed that people die when it is their time, this belief has helped me through the loss of friends of various ages through cancer and numerous other ways. I also believe that those people come in to our lives for a reason, we may never know or fully understand them. That little girls time had come, and you happened to be there at the wrong time to prepare you for the other experiances in your life.
Your strength is remarkable, be kind to yourself.
Huge hugs

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ilts | 06 Apr 2010

Beks comment I agree with totally, you never created the situation you are one of the victims too of real accident. I have been in a court room with a young man who drove the car that killed my grandson. I wanted to talk and just say we are sorry for his pain too but it was too much for him. I was only able to convey my families concern for him to his sister. We can only hope he is ok and respect his right to privacy. I still use the roads even knowing that total control on the road is an illusion and just hope I never have to experience the pain you have been through.

I think the pain you have been through has a value in understanding and being able to comfort others from your learning. There may come a time when you can do what the doctor was able to do for you and keep you with us. I dare to say he would have learn’t that valuable skill in the school of pain and hard knocks. Whatever, at that split second he made a difference that you may have the privileged of passing forward.

Sandy asks an important question, if you can write like you have shared with us you are helping yourself like know one else can and you have helped me like know one else has. It is sad you were no able to connect with the doctor first but none of us have any say on how things unfold we can try to influence what could happen like this community site is doing. What I have read since stumbling into it is so precious in giving us all strength to protect and support others as life rolls on. Big Hugs 2 U forever. thank you,

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Jay | 07 Apr 2010

Thank you so much for your comments. I’ve been away and coming home to these messages has been amazing.

To Sandra, no, I’ve never written about it before. I heard about this site on 702abc and decided it might be time to.

To Karen, yes, there is always two sides – some clear-cut, some ambiguous. But what links them all together is pain and loss, dignity and strength. As difficult as it is to let go of blame (I was very angry with the Uncle of the little girl for a long time and actually remember feeling a kind of hate for a man I’d never met) it’s an essential mechanism to chip away at the pain I think.

To Ann, It’s strange to re-visit this after so long. I don’t talk about it anymore but am always propelled into the memory by the sight of a child on the side of the road. In my minds eye, I automatically see that child running out which causes me to touch my brakes. It seems the experience created a built-in defense against it happening again. Small mercies or subconscious neurosis I wonder?

To Bek, that’s probably the most rational of all explanations in my case: Wrong Time, Wrong Place. So beautifully simple, almost too simple for our complex minds. Given the gravity we attach to the life of a human being how can such a simple maxim explain the devastating fall-out? Our minds might be able to accept such a rational proposition, but our emotions refuse to. And there-in lay the conundrum of why a 30 year old accident can still haunt even in the slightest of ways. There must be a balance between recognizing the humanity which makes us grieve, and viewing the event philosophically in order to carry on and embrace the joy being alive can still bring.

To Ilts, and I suppose this is what I meant about trying to view things philosophically as well as emotionally. You’re right, I was very lucky that Doctor had an insight into how to handle this situation. I’ve since witnessed two other road situations where the drivers were not at fault. On both occasions I was able to help by speaking both to the drivers and the victims, one of which threw herself in front of the car in front of me in an attempt to kill herself, and the other where a motorbike rider sped through a red light and collided with a car going through green. The clarity with which I reacted on both occasions astonished me, so some new strengths evolved from that accident almost 30 years ago.

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Site founder | 07 Apr 2010

Hi Jay,

I felt that, as though you hadn’t written about it before.

When I read it I could almost feel it helping you as you wrote, it was/is so powerful. An amazing piece of writing.

I thought of you at home or where-ever, writing it and what a big deal it was.

It made me really proud of the site and how it can help people to help themselves, if only for some time in a small way…

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Jay | 08 Apr 2010

Dear Sandra,
And you should be proud, very proud. I saw your expose on the 7.30 report the other night and thought: Good, excellent, fantastic. ‘They’ are making faster and faster cars, they are promoting them as faster and faster, they have speed gauges that go up to 200km’s p/h and yet wonder why the road toll isn’t going down?
For me? This site has enabled me to write about my experience even though I grappled with whether or not I wanted to relive it so vividly by doing so. But the truth is, it’s with me all the time which is probably why the story came out as easily as it did – like it had been waiting to be told. And the strangest thing is, until I wrote it down I didn’t realize just how much a part of me it was. You can’t separate your history from yourself. Impossible. It’s a matter of learning how to co-exist with it.
So big thanks to you and Kerry for your initiative. I hope it grows and brings many people comfort.
My best
Jay

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Drug driver survivor | 09 Apr 2010

It was helpful to me to hear how it is in other shoes – and I really felt through your good writing like I was experiencing it. So terrible something like that just out of the blue. And I’m just paranoid about hitting animals… but my brother has a weird habit of hugging the centerline, which he says is to avoid kids running out! I don’t know if it would work and imagine it creates more collision risk in reality?

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Jay | 10 Apr 2010

Thanks for your comment Drug driver survivor, and it’s strange what people do out of caution. I’ve also been in a car with a centre line hugger and it’s most disconcerting. From my experience, you could be driving on the wrong side of the road and not be able to avoid a child running out as they are so fast. I’ve often seen people with children on the side of the road, particularly at traffic lights etc.., who are not holding their children’s hands. I perhaps react more emotionally to seeing that than most other people knowing just how unpredictable children can be and have often caught myself cursing the negligence.

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dionsmum | 10 Apr 2010

Jay this site has been needed for a very very very long time, I live in Whyalla and there has been NO SUPPORT up here at all, I have found other mothers unwilling to tell their story, as it brings a lot of heartache. Me well I tell my sons story in the hope someone can learn something from it. About 6 years ago, my daughter then aged 8 yrs old, was nearly hit by a 4wd in a suburb of Adelaide, in front of my eyes, when she in her enthusiasm ( for want of a better word) unhitched herself from my hand and ran out onto the road. the 4wd missing her by centremetres. I will never forget that day or the feeling in my stomach,

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Jay | 10 Apr 2010

Dear dionsmum,

I can’t imagine how terrifying that must have been, especially given you’d taken the precaution of holding your childs hand. But I can imagine how hard it must be to tell the story and why so many mothers are unwilling to do so. Bringing it all back is hard. You can’t separate the moment from the emotion and this is probably why they prefer not to speak about it. I think it’s great you’ve found this site, it’s becoming obvious that there are many of us who need somewhere to talk about our experience.

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Nina and Rob Spaan | 04 May 2010

Jay – you write beautifully and expressively. We’ve spoken by email but I just wanted to say again that I was so sorry to hear about the lack of support for you.

Dionsmum – For some years now I’ve been unable to talk about what happened to Chris and even now I’m not quite ready to. I worry about the impact of it on other people. I stopped talking to people because I felt ashamed that I was so needy. This is why this site is so important.

Nina xx

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Naomi Cartledge | 14 Jul 2010

Jay – What a terrible thing to happen to you. You’ve written very beautifully, and I can feel your pain still, after all these years. I think that those who are quick to judge haven’t ever suffered much – or done much internal searching. I’m still sadly surprised by some peoples’ hard hearts. They’ll really come a ‘gutser’ when life catches up to them, as it will, eventually. We all face loss in our lives, none of us escape it – it’s part of life – but it’s gut-wrenching when it happens!

I know how quickly children can decide to take an action. My own grand-daughter almost got run over, by a 4 wheel drive also, doing just what that little girl did -she was about the same age – just went against all the ‘rules’ I’d set for her and reinforced every time we crossed the road. She just walked, quickly, out on the road – I nearly passed out from shock! I yelled at her – I felt bad after, but I was absolutely petrified! Thankfully she was OK! I was the one who needed help?

I learnt when I lost my sister, that you only need a couple of really caring people to lean on – who support you no matter what, like your lovely Mum. The others, just let them be – you can’t make people have empathy; it comes from your ‘gut’ and usually after some trauma or illness or, something that makes you aware of the rawness of pain and loss. Some never acquire it, sadly.
I bet that you are a very loyal, compassionate and loving friend. That’s the positive thing that’s come out of your tragedy. Hug yourself, and I hope you’ve been able to forgive yourself too! I’ve heard that this is important in the healing process!

I nearly ran over a todler once. He was on one of those little bikes, and just went ‘hellbent’ across the road in front of me. Thankfully I was going very slowly as it was my street and I knew of its dangers and where the little kids lived. But, I came so close! I jumped out of the car, picked him up and took him home – I don’t remember what I said to his poor mother. I called in to see my friend and neighbour who was shocked at how white I was, and then my knees shook. I really can empathise with you.

Take care of you, Jay!

Photo for user Julie McIntyre

Julie McIntyre | 07 Sep 2011

Thank you Jay, I often wonder how drivers feel in your shoes. Most do not have the courage to speak for fear of being judged or punished.
My thinking is the same as Beks. We are here to learn and the hardest lessons come from tragedy.
When we accept what we have learned, then we have the knowledge to truly help and teach others.
Jay you have passed with honors and now you have become the teacher. Keep talking
Julie xx


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