There are words for this, but they're meaningless.
After the toll booth, a wall of fog appeared. Traffic crawled, then halted. I idled in the middle lane, flanked on the right by a semi-trailer. We breached the fog at about the same time, but the truck slipped a few car-lengths farther forward. On NPR someone said something about some pressing issue, but I couldn't pay attention because in my rear-view mirror a luxury sedan was barreling into the fog-bank at a speed I can't estimate but knew was inadvisable.
I made every effort to become visible despite the fog. I laid into the horn, turned on the hazards, and at the last moment, as I readied for impact, I was seen.
The sedan switched lanes, slammed into the semi, spun some and, irrevocably crushed, fell from the road.
I pulled over and jumped from the car, ran to help, as did someone else, maybe the driver of the semi, but someone from that direction. We reached the sedan at about the same time, him dialing 911, me pointing at the car, us running toward it together to help, but there was no one to help.
What was there, in the car, was beyond help.
I must've stumbled, or leaned forward, because the vomit was over my right arm, as if I'd braced myself beforehand. I took off my shirt, looked at the other man, who either puked first or reacted to me, and we stared, not at each other so much, but still, we stared and I felt that he felt the act was mutual. Was a recognition.
I made my way to my car.
I drove to campus.
Bought a sweatshirt from the bookstore and ran into a friend on the way to class. His "How are you?" loosed a torrent of unprocessed words punctuated by profanity, words that made what happened mean, in the basest sense. I went to class, set the kids to writing, walked out of the class. Called the wife, who talked me into telling them what happened. I did. Said they could peer review what they'd written and I'd let them go.
Then I didn't. Said instead that I would teach the class, that it was better than the meaningless pacing, the nothing I could do to erase what I'd seen, the nothing I could've done to have done something. I fell into the rhythm of the class, lectured more than I usually do, but forgot, for those minutes, what I'd seen, what I'd done but couldn't do.
Now I'm in the library writing this. Writing helps. It's the process. It's what makes the word mean what they mean. I still have another hour and fifteen minutes until my next class, and now that I've written this, I'm not sure what to do. I think I might describe a circle around the campus, sate hunger with weary, because food is not a viable option at the moment.