I Saved A Man's Life On An Overpass — And It Made Me End My Own Marriage

Photo: courtesy of the author
why I left my husband
Heartbreak

I saved a man's life... and then decided to redeem my own.

Blood splattered on my mother's car. A 911 dispatcher on the phone. The beaming red buzz of ambulance and fire truck lights snaking along the dark black roads from a distance, blinking closer and closer as my heart pounded faster and faster. That's where it all started. 

I am not an expert on much, certainly not on matters of love and life. But I am an expert on one thing, the most important thing: my story. The one thing no one can steal from me. And it starts here.

 

***

 

It was three o’ clock in the morning on an overpass in Florida when, in a series of seconds and minutes that felt like hours, I saved a man’s life. Exactly how it transpired remains a blur. But I’d like to tell you about why it matters now. Because it was there — on a street in the swampy heart of a city called Ocala — applying pressure to a bloodied body shrieking in pain and panic with a car flipped over and on fire five hundred feet away with another man pinned underneath, that my life changed forever.

I was on my way to the Orlando, Florida airport to catch a red-eye to California. I had flown to my mom's house for Easter, the best rationalization I could think of for the cross-country ticket at the time. The alternative was to stay in California and spend the holiday in a situation I have not written about until now. 

"Slow down, that car is going way too fast," I cautioned my little brother as a red Honda sped by us at what sounded and appeared to be at least 90 MPH. Given that it was three o' clock in the morning I felt a pang of worry but was too preoccupied with my making my early morning flight to care. 

I turned on Paul Simon mindlessly. As the ballad "Hearts and Bones" began to play and we turned a slight corner, a collision as loud as a crack of thunder rattled me and my brother in our seats. 

"OH MY GOD, JAMIE!" My brother screamed.

I looked up and slammed the radio off. 

My pulse quickened to the speed of someone sprinting a seven-minute mile as I yelled, "STOP THE CAR!" 

What I saw when I looked up was nothing short of what one might expect to see in a horror movie: The red car that had zipped by seconds prior was flipped over, engulfed by flames and shrouded in plumes of smoke and from the clouds of ash and flames, a body emerged that looked to be that of a man covered in blood. 

"I'm jumping out, stay here I'm calling 911!" I shouted. Adrenaline pulsed through every vein of my body as my brain strained to process what I was witnessing twenty-feet away from me.

"HELP! HELP! HE'S DYING, CALL THE POLICE! MY FRIEND IS UNDER THE CAR!," the bloody man screamed

The figure that had emerged from the smoke screamed. His panicked tone elicited a sense of shock.

I dialed 911 and began to explain the details to the dispatcher. I did my best to remain calm — six years of experience as a social worker helped me to do so. 
 

"There's been an accident and there is a person pinned beneath a car that is on fire and a man with visible, bleeding injuries panicking at the scene," I reported. Just as these words came from my mouth, the bloodied man raced toward me screaming, "HELP! PLEASE HELP ME AND MY FRIEND!" 

With the dispatcher on the line asking questions I did my best to answer, I remembered my mother had a stack of clean beach towels stored in the trunk of the car. I yelled to my brother pop the trunk. As soon as he did I sprinted to grab the towels and prompted the man to lay down on the road and stop moving to minimize further bleeding. 

"You need to calm down and get on the ground so I can help you," I directed him calmly.

He listened to these prompts and laid on his back while still yelling about his friend under the burning car. 

 

Related: 5 Ways To Get Your Power Back And End Emotional Abuse

 

Remembering what I had learned in basic first aid courses I'd taken for my job as a social worker, I took each towel and carefully began to wrap the wounds I could see on his arms and legs and applied as much pressure as I could muster to each. I kept the dispatcher informed as I did this. She reassured me there was help on the way. 

After I had wrapped the wounds, oncoming traffic began to appear from a distance. At this point, I told the man to remain still on the road because I needed to direct the approaching cars.
 
With hand motions, I was able to prevent three vehicles from driving toward the parts of the scene that the first responders would need immediate access to upon their arrival. Two men jumped out from one pick-up truck to help and ran toward the burning vehicle in an attempt to help the man pinned underneath. 

Seconds later, I heard the sounds of sirens approaching. Just as the dispatcher had promised, help had come. Ambulances, fire trucks, and police cars — there were at least a dozen of them. I ran back to tend to the bleeding man on the road and as I checked his wounds I could see a swarm of firemen running full-speed toward the burning car. The dispatcher said it was okay to hang up and as soon as I punched the "end call" bubble on my phone, I sobbed with relief.

Watching the firemen and paramedics begin their work to try and save the man pinned beneath the car and extinguish the flames brought more tears to my eyes and made it hard to catch my breath. I was spellbound by a cocktail of the most potent and raw emotions I had ever felt. There were heroes at work right in front of me, braving the flames to try and help to save a human life. 

"Miss, we need you to move. We're taking over," a paramedic commanded as they approached me with a gurney and hoisted the body of the bloody man wrapped in my mother's beach towels onto it. It happened so fast that I hardly had a chance to process it. And as soon as I began to, a police officer walked up to me and said the following words that for the rest of my life, I will never forget:

"You must be off-duty. I don't know how you managed this on your own. Wrapping that man's wounds and calming him down and everything, you probably saved his life you know. You're a hero, young lady."

I talked with the officer a bit more to give my account of what had transpired. But his words echoed in my head both then and for hours following:

"You probably saved his life."

"You're a hero, young lady." 

It felt like a dream. A tragic, awful, yet redeeming and beautiful dream. 

Mortality — and the precious, sacredness of human life  had been put into perspective for me. In a matter of minutes, I saw how fast life can be taken from us.

There were no doubts about what I knew I needed to do upon returning to the west coast. I boarded my flight just in the nick of time two hours later. And the point of this story is best summed up as follows: 

By helping to save a man's life that night I had, in turn, made the decision to save my own: By ending my marriage

I returned to Orange County early that next day to discuss and finalize the details of a divorce from my husband of five years. A divorce from someone whom I loved and cared for deeply. But whom also had, for the latter half of our relationship, become emotionally, verbally, and on several occasions, physically abusive.

The journey of all that I had endured didn't begin on the night of this accident in Florida, but it would come to its end: the abuse, the agony, and the illusion that everything was okay. Because in helping to rescue a man in flames, I realized that I too, needed to rescue myself.

And that is what made the event the tragic, sad, yet redeeming and beautiful dream that it felt like. 

This is only the beginning — a beginning that began by seeing a life almost come to an end and deciding because of it that, I needed to be the hero of my own life, too. 

A woman with nothing left to lose except her very life itself, in every sense of the word.

A woman who had grown to know the fear of not knowing how her spouse might react on a bad day.

A woman who witnessed how quickly life can end.

A woman who had known the tears of defeat at the hands of a man who on one occasion, grabbed her by the wrist and threw her onto a bed because she didn't want to listen to his insults any longer.

 

Related: 4 Common Manipulation Techniques Used By Toxic People

 

A woman who emerged from her own flames, somewhere in the blur of spring 2016, to finally tell the story of how she ended her marriage with a man she loved for five years. A story for a world in need of heroes both on overpasses at 3 AM when there was blood and fire and a body pinned beneath a burning car, and from behind the closed doors of relationships where there's a body pinned down in defeat, screaming and hoping someone might stop and know how to call for help to end the nightmare. 

Single. Sober. Striving.

I am not much but I am these things. Baptized by the flames and still standing because of the hero they required me to be — a hero who took matters into her own wounded and weary hands, the only kinds of hands that could've birthed the champion I'm still becoming.

Think you might be in an emotionally abusive relationship? Watch the video below for the signs:

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Jamie Berube is a Connecticut transplant currently writing and exploring her way through the sunshine state. Her love for people's stories and the beautiful, bizarre details of life are what inspire her to write. She believes the ocean, laughter, her mother's lasagna, and Radiohead's "Kid A" album can cure most things. 

 

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