Rolling down the highway ... literally

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- "I don't want to see how I'm going to die." 

Those were the words that crawled through my mind as my car begin to turn over at 70 miles an hour. 

Thankfully (and apparently), I didn't die that day. Call it luck, call it fate. I call it a seatbelt.
It was a warm, summer day in the Pacific Northwest, the type of day made for long drives. I called one of my friends who I knew had the day off work and by 10 a.m. two 19-year olds were cruising up the highway. 

At 19, I pretty much thought I was invincible. How else to explain all the stupid stuff I did: jumping off roofs, skating off loading docks, never wearing a seatbelt. In fact, as a kid my parents never really enforced a seatbelt rule. I remember always thinking the belts were restricting and uncomfortable. 

"I'm a good driver, so why should I wear a seatbelt?" I always thought. 

Needless to say, as we headed north on Interstate 5, my friend George and I relaxed and enjoyed the rare sunshine without a silly seatbelt. 

After a few hours at "the big mall" and lunch at a diner, we headed back to our little town. George took off his shoes, put his feet on the dash and fell asleep, and I rolled down my window for the fresh air. 

OK, so I also rolled it down to keep me awake. I was tired from our running around and also had worked a late shift the night before. There was no stereo in my beater car to blast, so the wind was going to have to do. 

It didn't do. 

The loud "thump-thump-thump" of my tires rolling over the ruts on the side of the freeway woke me up. I-5 curved to the right and I was headed straight for the median. Being startled awake, I panicked and quickly veered to the right. However, I had turned the wheel too sharp and was heading for the shoulder. In hindsight, I realize I should have slowly and calmly corrected my heading to my car's port. It didn't happen that way, though.  

When the car began to fly through the air, I closed my eyes not wanting to see how I would die. In the darkness I could hear the glass shattering, the metal twisting, George yelling. Then ... silence. 

People were yelling for us to get out of the car. Fuel was pouring out. I tried to move, but the seatbelt was holding me tight. How the ...? 

As we crawled over glass through the hatchback window, I remembered. For some reason I had put on my seatbelt when we started south on the freeway. George, who also never wore seatbelts, had put his on, too. To this day, I don't remember why we did it. Actually, I really don't care about the why. What matters is that I did and we're alive to talk about it. 

Upon seeing the mangled automobile, the cops said we were lucky to be alive. On the way to the hospital, the medics said fate was on our side. 

Call it what you will. 

I call it a seatbelt.