Written by Markus December 2020
It’s a Wednesday late afternoon. In the Netherlands, during wintertime, it goes dark early. I’m about to go into my last online meeting of the day, already looking forward to binge-watch one of my favorite series “It’s always sunny in Philadelphia” during the Evening.
Suddenly I hear a loud bang outside. As New Year is approaching and people already start playing with fireworks, my first thought went to that it was some kids who got their hands on some decent fireworks.
Still, I decided to peak out of my office window. Though at a decent distance, in front of my house there is a 60 km/h road. It’s a road that is actually a narrow two-way road, but configured as a one-lane road with lines on both sides to designate bicyclists their room to cycle. On each side there is soft (wet) grass, there are trees placed in rows parallel to the street and behind that, there is water. This road is a long straight and has no street lighting except near junctions. These roads are typical Dutch roads that cross through the countryside. Though 60km/h is the maximum by law, the locals who know the road, generally drive around 80 km/h.
And what I saw from my window was a small trail of smoke rising from what looked like a tin can wrapped around and beyond a tree. I quickly realized what had happened.
Running down the stairs in my slippers, I grabbed my winter coat, my flashlight (yes, when living in the countryside, you have a flashlight next to your door), and quickly started walking in the direction of the road. While doing so, I noticed lights went on in the farmhouse next to mine, the door opened and my neighbor was doing the same. Closer to the road, our neighbors from the opposite side were also making their way to what we not yet knew but suspected was to be a severe car accident.
It took me about 3 to 5 minutes to reach the site. Already one of my neighbors, who grabbed a bicycle, arrives just one minute earlier. He stood there in the cold, next to the wreckage with an empty stare and no clue what to do.
What we found was a wreck no longer recognizable as a car. One person was stuck in the car and passed out. And one person lying on next to the road about 20 meters further, sort of folded around a tree.
More people started to arrive and the group split up between the two people. Some of us were calling the countries emergency line “112”. We tried to figure out if either of them was still alive.
Apparently, they were driving way too fast, got one of their tires stuck in the grass next to the road, then over corrected, flipped their car a few times while being shot to the other side of the road, and there hit a tree. One got catapulted through the windshield, while the survivor got stuck in the wreckage.
Shortly after, though it felt like ages, the emergency services arrived and they started doing their job. I will not go into details of the gruesome images that then were created in my mind out of respect to the two victims, but one I do want to share.
While a sheet was placed over the woman, the man was cut out of the wreckage by firemen, he was placed on a stretcher and was rolled into the ambulance, ready to be rushed to hospital. I heard him tell one of the ambulance drivers: Are we going to the hospital in the nearby town? Can you tell my wife to what hospital I’m going to so that she does not need to worry? Though his face was badly wounded and he had a neck-restraint, I was able to catch the look in his eyes while he was mumbling this. Clearly, his major concern was not himself, nor could he imagine or did it occur that she had departed from his life. He just did not want her to be worried.
It is the picture of this man’s caring for his loved one in such an innocent way, totally placed outside of his actual reality of mayhem and disaster, that will stay with me forever more than anything else I saw this late winter afternoon.