Fourteen years ago tomorrow, I was hit by a man named Lorenzo in a Toyota Corolla. I was sixteen and slightly depressed for no good reason other than being sixteen. Sweet, sweet sixteen and walking to school because the idiot children at the high school where I was supposed to catch the bus to go to my school taunted me and the idiot administrators told me they could do nothing because I was not a student there. It did not occur to me to ask my parents to intervene on my behalf, it took great courage to cross the lines of mockery and enter the great brick building in the first place. When it came to nothing I thought, "Well, alright then. I'll walk."
I've started this wrong. I like to walk. The taunting of the students was only an excuse. The mornings were glorious. Up before the sun, the world a hush and the air gentle. Every night the spiders would string hopeful webs across the sidewalks and every morning I would be the first to break them, like the spiders were silent housekeepers and I was the first to break the seal on the toilet seat of the morning. Not very poetical, but just that fresh, and so lucky I felt to watch the stars melt away and have that quiet half hour all to myself to think my thoughts.
My thoughts that morning were along the lines of "Please, a change. Just anything, anything at all" because being sixteen and having all the luxuries of privilege had become just too unbearable. Ever since then I have been much more specific in my prayers. You get what you ask for, you know.
[ This is all coming out wrong and heavy handed. I've never been good at writing about this, maybe because I really want to. Just stay with me. I'll get it out somehow.]
I was wearing an Indonesian batiked dress that I'd borrowed (stolen) from my best friend. It was blue, red, pink, green, and patterned with eyeballs and squiggles. I had on hiking boots and thick socks and I'd carefully done up my hair in milkmaid braids pinned to the back of my head. I was carrying a black backpack, heavy with books.
The morning was overcast. The sun was not quite up. It was early, you know? High school starts so early, not like a 9-5 job, it's 7:AM for learning, and so sleepy we were.
I approached Monroe Street on Brevard, pushed the crosswalk button, looked both ways, and started to walk. Monroe is a big street, five lanes including the turn lane and lots of ways a car can come, and lots of ways to miss seeing a car, if it is gray like the morning, and if it has a headlight out, and if the streetlights aren't working, and if the crosswalk is malfunctioning. And lots of ways a man can miss the sight of a girl in the road, if she is wearing muted colors, if he is blind in one eye, if he is trying to make the light. And that is how it happens, the little things come together, the universe laughs and you are falling.
One minute walking, next minute falling, I remember thinking, "Oh shit, I've been hit by a car", and the world slowed down. I'm sure it was a violent surprise to see a girl come through a windshield, her arm around her face, a head through splintered glass. It must have happened so very fast, it must have scared the hell out of him. To me, it was slow and gray and falling, falling through silent soft ever-gray, the gray of feathers and slow and slow and then I opened my eyes and the world blew up.
I heard a man yelling and cars, so many lights of cars going so fast and the feel of asphalt under my back and the sky so dark and I knew, I had to get up! I had to get off the road because this was Monroe Street and they couldn't see me! The cars, the cars can't see you if you lie in the road! So I sat up and looked down at my legs and saw one looking oh so normal and one looking oh so wrong. It was a stairstep leg. There was a sharp bend where the knee was, yes, and another sharp bend between the knee and the ankle and my hiking boot foot looking for all the world like it wanted to kick my own knee, and looking like it was doing a pretty good job of trying. There in the bend was a tear and in the tear a black trickle and a bone. That bone fucked my mind. I was okay till I saw that bone, all jagged and pink and the skin like rucked rubber simply Not Doing Its Job, because skin is supposed to keep that stuff in where you can't see it.
As my mind was trying to work out the leg situation and make it make sense, the scene around me worked itself out so that I would not get hit by another car. I suppose Lorenzo's car was in the way, I don't know. I never actually saw it, or Lorenzo himself. I heard him. I heard him say I jumped in front of him. I minded that. It seemed to me his car jumped into me.
A woman came over and told me she saw what happened, she asked if I was alright, she got me to lie down. "I've gone blind!" I screamed, because as terrifying as the leg had been it could not match the terror I felt as the world went black around me. Gasoline smell and oil soaked roughness scraped across my eyes and my sight returned. "You're not blind, you just got blood in your eyes is all" said the woman. "My name is May Ellen Thigpen. My Mother's name is Mary Moon. Our phone number is 224-6547" I said in return. More people came. I repeated my statement to each and everyone of them. It didn't seem like they were hearing me. It seemed like everyone was acting completely inappropriately to the situation. A very frail old woman in a green pantsuit told me to squeeze her hand if it hurt. The thought that I would crush her tiny pathetic bones if I squeezed her hand enough to help myself out passed through my mind, but I gave her a little pressure, just to make her feel better.
I heard a man say, "Get out of the way! One of my kids is in there!" and I thought, "Dad?" but no, it was my school's resource officer, pushing his way through the circle of people around me. That also seemed wrong to me. Why was the resource officer pretending to be my dad? Was that allowed? I asked him to tell my teachers that I wouldn't be at school, and I was glad when he left.
About a year after that the ambulance got there. The EMTs were young and happy. At that point I was in so much pain, so much pain I kept thinking that there couldn't be anymore pain in the world, and then it would get worse. Up and up, that's what it felt like, the pain went up and up and up and I smiled at the EMTs. So young, so happy, I knew they had medication in the bus, I thought, "if I am good and nice, they will give me the medication". They asked me how I was. I thought that was a stupid question. I told them my statement about who I was, who my mother was, and my phone number. I also told them that my teeth, well, my teeth had been knocked a little crooked. The EMT crouched by my side smiled and said, "No they're not, my friend got hit in the face with a baseball once and his teeth felt crooked for a week!" The comparison between a baseball and a Toyota Corolla, combined with the fact that the EMT had not seen my teeth before the accident, proved in my mind that I was being rescued by well meaning idiots. Idiots with medication. I smiled. I smiled as they cut the dress from my body and the shoes from my feet. I smiled as they put me on a stretcher and lifted me into the ambulance. I smiled as the pain went up and up and I wondered at the wonder of my amazing ability to hold so much pain. I felt like a mystery had been solved. How much pain is the wonderful human body able to feel? Infinite amounts of pain! They told me on the ride to the hospital that took about 40 years that they couldn't give me any pain medication until we got there, just in case my brain was jargled, or something like that.
When we finally arrived we discovered that my entire family (both sets of parents, my brother, and an uncle) as well as three friends from school, had beaten us to it. By that time, the pain combined with the fantastic amounts of endorphins whipping through my body had made me a little goony. I reassured my weeping mother that I was wearing clean underpants. I told a large police officer who asked for my clothes that he could have them, but I didn't think they would fit. I was hilarious! I even got the cop who was taking Polaroids of me for evidence to give me one. "Smile!" they said. No problem.
The rest of the story goes on like any accident story. They told me to count back from 100. They wheeled me away. They put pins and screws and stitches where they needed to. They even left behind a drill bit that broke off in my bones. A souvenir.
I woke up cold like I'd been dead, thirsty. It seemed cruel that they would only give me ice chips to suck on as I shivered, as I ached. It wasn't funny anymore. I hurt. I was alone. I wanted my mom. I was not strong. I cried.
So that was my day, fourteen years ago. That was the day the universe taught me to not ask for stupid things.
My cheek bone was broken. My collarbone was broken. My fibula and tibia were broken in fourteen places, fourteen years ago. All on the left side. I'm lucky. The backpack full of textbooks may have served to stabilize my spine, it may have saved my life. An eye witness said that before I was hit I was walking with three black men. They may have been angels, or she may have been crazy, or both.
After my accident my family were my angels. They hovered and nursed. They fretted and fed. They dried my tears and made me laugh and I was so lucky. We rented all the accoutrements of a hospital room and laid me up in the guest room by the kitchen. Every morning Mama would climb into the hospital bed with me (after drying my waking tears and changing the scab filled sheets) and we would watch Northern Exposure and she would knit. That Christmas she gave me the long blue-green scarf she knitted and I still wear it every winter. It brings out the blue in my eyes.
We call that day my Rebirthday. Tomorrow, Mama and I will climb into her little blue car (will it bring out the blue in our eyes?) and drive to the coast. It is the same coast that she bundled me up and drove me to all those years ago to let the healing waters wash over my wounds, and the salty breeze and the seagull cry take my tears away. We are going to celebrate this painful life, this magic world, where the love goes up and up and up and the wonder of it all is that our tiny frail human bodies can contain that much love and that much pain, all at once. We will ask the universe for nothing. We will say Thank You.