Coming to a full stop.
April 13, 2012 § 11 Comments
The light was green. The car ahead of me made the turn onto Lakeshore and I followed.
The oncoming truck was a monster but I thought I could outrun it.
The slam of impact and the sensation of being violently thrown were replaced by silence and a dazzling pattern of fractured light through the spider-webbed windshield.
Someone asked me if I was all right. They said an ambulance had been called.
I dug the cell phone out of my purse and told my husband, “Ray, I totaled the car.” He called Craig, and Craig’s wife Laura, who were just down the street. Their concerned faces appeared briefly on the other side of the windshield. Someone told them to step back. I was in the ambulance when I saw the top of Ray’s head through the small window in the steel door.
Later I learned that the homeless guys hanging out at the gas station on the corner promised to pray for me.
Later I learned the truck that hit me was so new the first payment hadn’t even been made.
Later I learned the driver and his two passengers were fine, which made the accident bearable since it is my fault. The light was green, but only a green arrow would have ensured that no one was coming. I’d turned automatically, my mind already at practice.
The orthopedic floor of TMH is a grey silence punctuated by an occasional agonized scream. On Tuesday, March 27th some of those screams were mine. My pelvis, broken in three places, shifted with each move from bed to gurney to CT scanner, the broken bones grinding. “Would you please remove your fingernails from my arm,” said the very professional nurse doing the scan.
I begged her to leave me alone. The endless list of things I’d planned to do had been reduced to one. Lie motionless.
I watched the lights pass overhead as I was wheeled back to 622. In each of the rooms along the hall were others, all remaining as still as rabbits with a hawk circling. For each of us, continued life depended on doing nothing to grab the vengeful attention of our broken bodies.
They sent me home with a bar screwed into my hips, an external towel rack that has me wearing stretch everything. My feet are a foreign country. Putting on socks requires minutes of effort and strategic planning. The three inch step that separates my house and yard is as effective as cage bars. A couple of nights ago I dreamt I was being held captive in a wire pen.
“Everything happens for a reason,” is one of the cruelest assertions ever made. Your husband died? Your child was born with Down’s Syndrome? Everything happens for a reason! The victim not only suffers the misfortune but must search for the logic behind it and scrape up the required gratitude.
My view is much simpler. Things happen. If there was a reason for what happened to me you can find it on the ticket written by the TPD officer: careless driving.
But once the disaster has happened the victim has the choice of how to respond.
He was the second man in a string of climbers that hit what he called “rotten rock.”
The lead man fell, peeling the entire string off the mountainside. The butt of my father’s rifle broke the lead man’s neck and killed him. My father spent six months in traction unable to do anything but think. He contended that those six months made him who he was.
Putting on my own socks will be a challenge for a couple of months. I will be unable to take the walks that connect me to the neighborhood I love. Plane tickets to Chicago and Missouri, trips to promote my newest book—all canceled.
Like my dad I have been reduced much of the time to thinking.
What have I gotten out of the sudden shrinking of the available world to my own home and the space inside my head?
Life rarely comes to a full stop. The chorus of things that must be done is persistent, like tinnitus, but for me it has gone briefly silent.
And this is what I’ve learned.
The people in my world are incredibly kind. My husband lifts my legs with infinite patience so it doesn’t hurt. My neighbors, all good cooks, are willing to sit down and talk when they walk food over in the evening.
If I leave my guitar case unlatched I can lean over the side of the wheelchair and pick it up. If my Guild rests against the pegs of my external bar I can feel the notes deep in my bones.
From the chair on my porch I can watch the clivia flowers blom and fade. I have time to follow the progress of a jumping spider as it creeps along the edge of the step.
My wheelchair can execute elaborate maneuvers in a very small space, a dance on wheels.
Most of all, although constrained by my suddenly limited body, I’m alive.
I hope that when I am once again asking “How high?” when instructed to “Jump!” I don’t forget to appreciate that simple goodness.
And every now and then, when the world is too much with me, to have the wisdom to come to a full stop.