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Surviving auto crash altered senior's life

On April 10, 2018

BY JOAN-MARIE JEFFERSON / VN STAFF WRITER

It is the day before turning in her final English portfolio, the last semester of her senior year.

The smell of Caribbean breeze air freshener escapes as she opens the doors of her car, a forest green fiberglass Pontiac Grand Prix.

She hops in, and presses the buttons of her car radio, which are coated with the grease of McDonald’s hamburgers and french fries.

The McDonald’s smudges are a constant reminder of how far she has come.

They remind her of her need to indulge in life every once in a while and also to not let over-indulgence get the best of her.

For Kimberly Bowman, the careful, 30-minute drive to the McNichols Campus is an everyday task.

While the music blasts, hot air rushes from the air vents, making the body of her car shake as she drives 45.

She sings her favorite lyrics while thanking God for being able to see another day.

“Every new day is a new chance,” she says. “I thank God that I am able to live a life that is better than what it used to be. I live in today and I indulge in life right now.”

It wasn’t always that way for Bowman.

As she arrives on campus, she prays for a day with peace and controllable stress.

Stress and lack of sleep can trigger her.

They did on a late October Friday last year.

It was a day that changed her.

She had gone against her usual routine, which led to sleep deprivation.

It was the day her car and fragile body would collide with a brownstone wall.

The moments and hours before the accident were marked by nausea, short breathes and a lack of appetite.

She thought she had a cold.

Bowman made it through her classes and was happy to be free and going home.

This was unusual.

Her normal routine required her to spend a few hours in the library.

But that day was different.

She ran to her car (a Volkswagen Jetta back then).

The promise of rest called to her.

She let her book bag rest beside her in the passenger seat.

Her body was too tired to turn on the radio.

Her only focus was to make it home.

It was late and dark.

The road signs blurred past in her peripheral vision.

Music played in her head, the notes hypnotizing her.

“I just wanted to make it home. I just wanted to make it home,” Bowman said, recalling the day.

The late-fall air made her car’s leather seats cold to the touch.

But she did not even think to turn on the heat.

She drove.

The lights of other cars twirled in her vision.

The distinct colors left her dizzy.

Her entire day had been busy.

There had been assignments due, meetings to attend and cheerleading events that required her attention.

She was accustomed to being busy.

As she drove, the music in her head mesmerized her.

Her head began nod, up and down, a buoy in water.

Each time her head dropped, she startled back to attention.

It happened again. And again.

Nodding off, the sudden drop of her head, the alarm to consciousness.

Up and down, up and down, up and down.

Finally, her head dropped once more but this time the internal alarm did not sound.

She fell asleep behind the wheel.

In the seconds following, her silver Volkswagen Jetta veered into a brown-brick wall.

Drivers in nearby cars saw the crash or heard the boom.

When she returned to consciousness, she was surrounded by students and the bright flashing lights of an ambulance.

First responders sawed her Jetta into pieces, and pulled her body from the wreckage.

She was cold and in shock.

But she thanked God for her life, and decided then to live everyday as if it were her last.

In that moment, she did not picture earning her degree in the spring of 2018 or walking across the big stage.

“Self-care is the best care. I lost sight of that,” she said.

In a couple of weeks, Kimberly Bowman will receive her bachelor’s degree in English and take another step toward achieving her dreams.

The idea of graduating leaves her speechless – not because she ever felt herself incapable of graduating but because it might never have been.

“With finals coming up, many students forget sleep is important,” she said. “It is important to take care of yourself.” 

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