The skunk that almost killed us

During the summer after my final year of high school, my best friend Mike started a Facebook group called “I was with Mike and Adam and almost died.” The group had a respectable membership in the low 20s. This is one of those stories.

I grew up in a city town village of about 10,000 people in North Dakota. There wasn’t a lot to do. You could “cruise main” if you were cool (I wasn’t), drink and get high if you were cool (I wasn’t), or I guess you could drive 25 minutes to the nearest Walmart.

Well, that’s what we were doing that night. Playing with the toys that make noise, throwing things around, looking at expensive electronics that we’d never buy, digging through that bin with all the DVDs you could buy for $5 each… the finer things in life.

As we were driving back from the Las Vegas of rural southeastern North Dakota, we encountered an animal.

[Flashback] When I was learning how to drive, my uncle told me that if I come across an animal on the highway, and it seems like it might be too late, just hit it. It may completely screw up your car, but many more people die from swerving across the road and rolling their car than from collisions with animals the highway. I have no idea whether that’s actually true or not, but this is a flashback sequence, so it doesn’t matter.

I had a split-second decision to make. In those two or three quantum moments before the synapses in my brain fired in a way that instructed my muscles on what to do, and before those muscles actually had a chance to act to steer the car in the direction I would choose, several things flashed through my mind, in order. These tiny, fractional, wordless, split-second feelings translate into English as something like this:

Thought #1: Oh shit — a thing!

Thought #2: Ah, it’s an animal. Just hit it.

Thought #3: But wait, it’s a skunk! It’ll make my car smell forever if I run it over.

Thought #4: Yeah, you know what else stinks? A corpse. Which is what you’ll be if you swerve into the ditch to avoid it.

Thought #5: Final Decision: Run it over!

Yeah, well the thing about split-second decisions is that “split second” is still a measurable amount of time. During that time when your mind is deciding, your car is barreling toward destiny at 65 miles per hour. The moment when it became too late, and I was forced to make a decision, arrived somewhere between Thought #3 and Thought #4.

I’m not sure if anyone else in the car was watching the road at all to have even noticed the skunk; I was probably the only one. Which likely made my decision all the more terrifying to the two girls sitting up front with me (one of whom was sitting on the armrest in the middle because there wasn’t even a middle seat), the girl sitting in back, and Mike, also in the backseat.

I swerved into the oncoming lane to avoid the skunk, and almost immediately all three of the girls began screaming. You know, because they’re normal human beings, not accustomed to being in the throes of death on a semi-regular basis. I think my mind was mostly blank throughout most of it, which likely indicates I suffer from some desperately severe personality disorder.

The car spun around a full rotation, and we ended up in the oncoming lane’s ditch, facing the opposite direction, so the car turned around one-and-a-half times. Which I guess is… a 360, plus a 180, plus a little more, I’m not good at math.

There was a brief moment of shock where everything fell silent. I imagine the skunk, in classic cartoon fashion, happily trotted across the road to continue whatever it was doing. The three girls were in complete shock and disarray, talking about how they can’t believe they almost died.

Unsurprisingly, Mike and I weren’t even surprised or shaken up about it. We probably couldn’t even have counted the number of times something similar happened.

If your life isn’t in danger, you’re not having fun.