I’ve been in two car accidents in my life — the first the summer I turned 13.

My dad and I were driving to the Jersey Shore in his 1988 dark blue Oldsmobile, a company car he liked so much that he bought it when the lease was up. I didn’t mind waiting to ride with him — the other option was to go in my mom’s big blue Dodge Caravan, which was loaded up with supplies and my siblings. Since dad and I left late, we took the backroads, which cut through miles of farms, road side stands and tiny towns I’d never visit otherwise.

I knew we were half way there when we passed through Buena, a dusty, lonely town with what I thought was an odd name in a state where most towns were named after European-sounding families and Native American tribes. We stopped at a red light in Buena, and I turned my head to look at my dad in time to see him scream “Hold on!” He jerked the steering wheel to the right, and we were jolted violently in our seats, and my head hit the dashboard.

A truck behind us hadn’t stopped. My dad had glanced into the rear view mirror, saw him coming, and turned so that we wouldn’t be rammed into the car in front of us. We were stopped by a curb instead. I don’t remember getting out of the car, but I do remember staring at very green grass that was encircled by the curb we’d slammed into. My dad ran over to check me, and I insisted I was fine. Still, when the ambulance came, they put me on a stretcher, my neck in blocks. How strange, I thought, that I had to lay back down to be put on the stretcher. I thought that they only used it for people who couldn’t get up on their own. All I wanted to do was get down the shore, but they were worried about internal injuries and my head.

I started crying when I got into the ambulance because I thought I was going to die — not because I hurt but because I was that victim of a car accident being rushed away. My mother met us at the hospital. I remember still being in blocks and staring up at a fluorescent light fixture that had dead bugs in it while my parents cried.

I was OK but with a healthy dose of whip lash, so the doctors gave me a big foam collar to wear around my neck. At first, I thought it was neat — I was in a real car accident and everyone would ask me what happened! But that novelty wore off soon after. The collar was hot and itchy, and I thought I looked like one of those dogs with a cone collar around its neck.

When we finally got to our place down the shore — a trailer at a campground — I wanted that collar off. I was also punchy and wiped out by the ordeal and all the crying. The trailer was small for six people so the next day, I went outside and asked my mom if I could take the collar off for a bit to give my neck some air. She said OK, but only for a bit.

Freedom! I took the collar off and rotated my neck a few times to see how stiff it felt (very). Just as I felt cooler air wash over my sweaty neck — ZING! a blinding pain on the back left side.

A bee! I’d been stung by a bee! Yes, on my neck that would have been covered with the neck brace. I screamed and ran back inside to my mom, who sighed, took out the stinger and patted my neck with a wet meat tenderizer.

It was a horrible, long day. My face was dirty and salty from all the crying, so I went into the bathroom to wash my face. I might as well go to the bathroom while I was in there, I figured. So I pulled my pants, sat down and saw another disaster: my first period. The wailing started once more.

My Little Red Book is an anthology of such stories from women ages 16 to 100, though none of the stories involved a car accident or a bee sting, and certainly wrapped together and combined with that passage to womanhood. Most of the stories are funny, some sad, but entertaining.

Though watch who you show it to. I spent most of yesterday on a train, and my friend asked me what I was reading. I showed it to him, and he handed it back after reading half the first sentence on the back cover, saying just one word: “No.” I guess he feels the same way about those things as my brother, who I’d torture by leaving unopened boxes of tampons on his bed to see him run out of his room screaming (payback for making fun of my foam collar, brother boy).

The book won’t be published until February 26, but you can read more at www.mylittleredbook.net. Want to feel bad about the state of your career? Editor Rachel Kauder Nalebuff is 18 years old. Oy, these children 🙂

My second car accident, in case your wondering, happened when I was 17. I was hit by a drunk driver on my way home from a dance. That car, like my dad’s, was totaled. I was fine, but I was close to not being fine — he almost hit my gas tank, and a window shattered but fortunately not the one next to my head. So don’t be stupid by doing that drinking and driving thing.

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Jen Miller

Jen Miller

Jen A. Miller is a an author and freelance writer. Her memoir, Running a Love Story, was a Philadelphia Inquirer best book of the year. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, SELF, Buzzfeed and the Guardian, among others.


  1. Beth Ciotta on January 31, 2009 at 11:11 pm

    Wow. Excellent post, Jen. I was totally wrapped up in your teen saga, but now I’m also intrigued by ‘My Little Red Book.”

    Thanks for sharing!

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