24 hours in Heaven and Hell

jeepYou know, the past 24 hours have been such a whirlwind, I really don’t know where to begin…

So I guess that I will just begin at the beginning.

I was about to have dinner with a friend, when she got the call that every parent dreads.

A phone number that she didn’t recognize.

A frightened voice telling her that her daughter had been in a car accident.

As the fates would have it, the accident was a mere 100 yards from her front door.  We ran to the car and we could hear the sirens howling in the distance.  Panic crossed her face, as it would any parent hurling themselves headlong into this sort of surreal nightmare.

If we weren’t on the scene in less than a minute after hanging up the phone, we were pretty damn close.  And the scene that greeted us was nothing less than the very picture of what haunts parental dreams.  Brilliant flashing red and blue lights.  Smashed and twisted steel.  Concrete strewn with debris and moonshine diamonds of shattered glass.  Emergency vehicles racing up the road.  Screams of pain.  Glowing red road flares.

We dashed across the traffic lanes and were blocked by police until she heard her daughter screaming for her and she damn near lost it.  The officer relented, let her through and she fell to her knees next to her daughter who was being carefully tended to by the first paramedics that had arrived.  She was crying out in pain, the heart rending sound that makes a person feel so helpless.  Her mom was overcome and had to take a moment to gather herself so I knelt by the girl, holding her hand like the most fragile, delicate piece of glass I could imagine, saying every comforting and soothing word I could think of.  Kind hands on my shoulders as a fireman said “It’s ok, dad.  We are taking good care of her.”  I didn’t bother to correct him or clarify my status.  At that moment it seemed trivial.  Those same kind hands purposefully guided me away, giving them the space they needed to work.

I turned to the teenage boys that were with her in the car and who were pacing nervously, almost as if lost.  The story was coming in bits and pieces, but we managed to gather the basics but the penultimate detail was that the girl was ejected from the vehicle through a back window.  That was about all we had the chance to gather before the girl and her mom were loaded into an ambulance and fired off.

I stayed behind and tried to wrap my mind around what had happened.  I spied a shoe that the girl had been wearing left on the street.  I picked it up and searched for the other.   It wasn’t the only item missing from my sight.  As I looked at the car she had been in, I noticed that the right rear wheel was gone.  As was the tailgate of the car.  Not just flat, bent or damaged.  Fucking gone.  I looked all around and could not see them anywhere.  I wrenched open the battered driver’s door, grabbed the girl’s purse and found her other shoe still inside the car.

Incredible.  Surreal.  I was stunned as my mind pictured the immense impact and I couldn’t shake the horrible image of the girl flying out of the window in a glittering explosion of glass and winced as I pictured her body thumping against the pavement and coming to rest.  I dropped into the front seat of my car and lit a cigarette.  I closed my eyes and took a few moments  before I did the impossibly long (at least it seemed) drive to the hospital without the benefit of lights and siren or even a visual of the ambulance, but wasted no time nonetheless.

I parked the car and hustled into the ER Entrance.  As I approached the trauma room I saw swirl of scrubs and white lab coats.  Machines and monitors beeped, ticked and blinked.  Her clothes had been cut off and lay in a dejected pile on the floor.  I put my arm around my friend and did my best to keep her calm.  She described the ambulance ride as we stood just outside the room, as no space for even a single other person was available in the bustle of that room.

Minutes turned to hours to hours as staff gradually trickled out, their roles complete.  The girl seemed pitifully small on the hospital bed.  We took turns gently talking to her, delicately stroking her hair and reassuring her that we were still there and were not going anywhere while they rolled her to CT scans and paced until she was brought back.

Finally, around midnight, a relieved looking surgeon cataloged her injuries, a concussion, bruised bones and pulled muscles, cut and bruises and an ugly patch or two of road rash but nothing broken.  Nothing serious nor life-threatening.  She would spend the night in the hospital for observation purposes, but could go home in the morning.

Which in my humble opinion, is nothing short of amazing.

A few weeks ago, my youngest asked me if I still believed in God.  It brought to mind a scene from a movie where a fallen angel asks a man who once studied to be priest;  “Do you still believe?  Any of it?”  And the priest didn’t.

I couldn’t bring myself to tell him the truth, that life had battered that out of me over the past few years.  I didn’t want to break his little heart, so I told him that I still did.

I don’t know what to believe anymore, but dear reader I can tell you this I surely believe in miracles.  And when that girl shyly and hesitantly walked up to me (after I brought them home from the hospital) and wrapped her arms around me in one of the sweetest hugs that I had ever received, I knew that I was holding a living miracle at that moment.

In the midst of all of this,  I get contacted by a high school friend.  After texts back and forth, he tells me that his mother is dying.  A woman who was a second mom to me in those terrible awkward years of my life.  A woman who I had shared countless hours, cigarettes and RC colas with.

I pondered this crazy life of mine.  One moment joy and relief, and the next, sorrow.

And a few hours later, a simply worded text.  His mom had passed.  And all of the breezes that had filled my sails earlier vanished.  In a matter of hours I shall be sitting with my friend, doing my best to be the person that I need to be for them.  I will give them the gift of my time and my love and friendship.  The longer I live, the more I believe that those simple gifts are the only currency that don’t devalue.

And some day, I hope that this life will make some sense to me.  In the closing scene of the movie “Tombstone” Wyatt Earp is visiting Doc Holliday as Doc lay dying and Wyatt is lamenting his inability to live a normal life.  To which Doc replies:

“There’s no normal life, Wyatt.  There’s just life.  You’ll get on with it.”

Truer words seldom spoken.

I guess I’ll just get on with it.

 

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