It happened early in the morning at 4AM. I was in Rapid City, South Dakota and I was leaving my mom's house driving back to Saint Louis. I love leaving early in the morning because time seems to go faster when the sun isn't up.
My trip to South Dakota was not of pleasure but of sadness because my aunt had passed away. There were more elements in play than just that, but I don't want to give too much of this story because this is a major chapter of my yet to be published/edited 2nd book.
As I left my mom was, naturally, really sad. I barely tolerate hugs as it is, but she wasn't letting me get into my car. I decided I could tolerate it just a few seconds more because what is an extra minute on a 15 hour drive?
Finally I made it onto the road and as I got about a mile away my phone rang. I plugged in my hands free device and she stated that she enjoyed me coming out to South Dakota (it was my first time seeing her there) and that she would miss me. Then it happened.
It was dark and I had dimmed my lights so as not to blind the driver that just had passed me. I don't use my brights to often so I forgot to change it back. As I was traveling a cloudy image appeared and it quickly morphed into a horse. I screamed a scream that I have never been able to duplicate. It was a scream of knowing I was about to die.
The impact was great, but I was still rolling down the road so I was confused. I pulled over to the side and turn my hazard lights on. I was in shock because I had glass in my face, scalp, and hands but I felt no pain. I simply told my mom, who heard the whole ordeal, "Mom? I hit a horse, come get me!"
I got out of my car to survey the damage. I got sad at the prospect of losing my car. That car means everything to me as a lot of my story has unfolded in that 1995 Nissan Maxima.
Being in shock creates some weird traits because I got out and I started to direct traffic, which wasn't dense at 4AM in South Dakota. Eventually a car came and I gave them a slow down motion and they slowed down and rolled down their window, "Sir?, Are you okay? Have you called the police?"
"Police?" I asked, "Why would I do that?" I asked this as glass was obviously embedded into my skin. I never thought once about calling the police because, in my mind, I had things under control. This driver must have called the police because within minutes the police officer arrived.
The fog started rolling in as my mom arrived minutes later and I had a hard time convincing the officer that fog was not the cause of my wreck. A reddish-black horse in the thick of night in the middle of the road was.
As the sun made its way up the damage on my car was greater than I had thought. My windshield was torn and was collapsed onto my steering wheel. This was how far the horse came in before being kicked around the side. Another few inches inward or to my left would have been the end. The paramedics mentioned that someone had died from hitting a horse a few weeks prior and that they were clueless as to how my "A" post didn't collapse.
I went to the hospital to get all the glass out my scalp and hands and then I spent the next month in South Dakota with my mom. One of the delays was that I found out my insurance would have paid had I hit a deer, but not a horse, and secondly, even after my mom bought me a new windshield, I was simply too scared to drive.
I saw a councilor and she said I had Acute Stress Response. I doubted my driving ability and once again struggled with the fact that I survived something that could have killed me. I've had many of these ranging from a racing crash to being held captive by a large mob of homeless kids in Kenya. Those didn't bother me, but this one did.
It took a month before I drove again and even to this day I feel different when I drive at night and unless I have to I won't drive at night. With my videographic memory I relive the accident many times a day. I can't emulate it, but I hear my scream.
What can you get out of this story? I want to convey that a stressful experience may stay with a person on the spectrum for longer than other people. I've had experiences that were not even close to the level of danger that this example was that stayed with me for a long time. Should this be the case don't minimize the person's fears. Emotions, when felt, are sometimes overwhelming for us and to say that something "wasn't as bad" or "not worth fretting over" it may make the stress worse because we will know you have no idea how we feel.
Since that incident I have taken a somewhat humorous approach to the crash. I guess I needed to so I could move on. When I was on the movie panel at the Missouri History Museum to talk about "The Horse Boy" film I thought, "Okay, how mad will the audience be if I stood up and said, 'Hello, my name is Aaron Likens and I hit a horse with my car'?" You can read the story of the movie here, without my inner thoughts of claiming I hit horses with my car.
So, I can't believe it has been two years. For me, still, it is like it just happened. It's a fight not to succumb to the fear, but how would I get to where I want to go without driving? Oh, and my car? I still drive the same one today! A racer in the series I directed is an auto body expert and I go a knockoff hood, a new side mirror, and got my left rear corner kicked out at a great price. There are still reminders of the wreck in my car. Glass still will blow out of the air ducts and little glass shards seem to still be everywhere in the back despite numerous (okay, a couple) cleaning efforts.
Again, this story will be told in much greater detail in my next book, but I just wanted to share this story today as even writing this today has helped me move on just a little bit more.