The family piles into their old Buick, and Mia’s Dad begins to drive them to Willow and Henry’s house. Though Dad used to be notorious for riding his bike everywhere and not even having a driver’s license, Mia’s Mom insisted he learn to drive when she became pregnant with Teddy. With two kids to take care of, he also went back to school to earn his teaching certificate, and gave up his rocker style to now wear what Mia describes as 50’s Father Knows Best, complete with bowties, wingtip shoes, and a pipe.
Though Mia’s Dad is a punk-rocker at heart, he put aside his exciting—but less predictable—lifestyle as a musician in order to better provide for his family. This is one example of the difficult choices and sacrifices necessary in life—foreshadowing the important choice Mia will face later.
As usual, the family debates as to what to put on the radio: Mom wants NPR, Dad wants Frank Sinatra, Teddy wants Spongebob SquarePants, and Mia wants to listen to classical music. To compromise, Teddy is allowed to use the Discman with earphones, and Mia and her parents listen to the news until it’s over, when Mia turns it to the classical music station, which is playing Beethoven’s Cello Sonata no. 3. Happy and content to have the day off with her family, she closes her eyes and imagines herself practicing the piece on her own cello.
Though each member of the family has different tastes, music is what bonds Mia, Mom, Dad, and Teddy together. They are used to each person wanting to listen to something different, and so they already have a system in place to respect everyone’s wishes. When it is Mia’s turn to listen to classical music, she finds herself perfectly content in a car with her family, listening to what she loves.
Mia suddenly wakes up to find the family car “eviscerated,” even as the radio somehow continues to play the sonata. The car has been totaled by a pickup truck that ran straight into its passenger side. Mia climbs out of the car and finds herself without a scrape. She looks around for her family, and finds her father, bloody and dead, on the pavement. She finds her mother dead as well, completely white with blue lips and red eyes. She sees a hand in the car, and, believing it’s Teddy, goes to pull him out. Then she notices a silver bracelet, however and realizes it’s actually her own body, bloody and mangled in the wreckage.
Mia does not narrate the actual accident itself, but rather attempts to piece together what has happened in the wake of the crash. Forman uses this narrative strategy to make the disaster seem all the more sudden and jarring, especially when contrasted with the idyllic scene that directly preceded it. Mia slowly realizes the gravity of what has happened as she discovers the bodies of her Mom and Dad.
Mia pinches herself while looking at her body in the car, but feels nothing. She attempts to wake herself up from what she hopes is a nightmare. To calm herself down, she focuses on the music and plays what Adam calls her “air cello,” practicing the notes without her instrument. When the music dies away, she hears the sirens of an ambulance.
Mia experiences true shock when she sees her physical body still in the wreckage of the car, and realizes she is having some kind of out-of-body experience. She turns to thoughts of the cello and Adam to calm herself down in the midst of this sudden trauma.