I’ve had a bit of a rough time lately, which explains my absence here, so I thought I would make this a cathartic post and move on. I seemed to have misplaced my humor, and I’m looking to discover it again. This letter is long overdue.
Dear Mr. , (I don’t even know your name, because I never wanted to remember it.)
It’s coming up on the 23rd year of our accident. I say “our” because you were involved too. In fact, you were the one that was behind the wheel of the vehicle that was traveling over 55mph when you struck me and my best friend, Kim. I’m not sure what your plans were for that day, April 29th, 1990, but we just wanted to cross the street to get to Dairy Queen. Instead of settling into a sticky booth for some cold, tasty treat, it was the hot tire of your car that I woke up to, slowly opening my eyes up to the vast, blue sky, wondering if I was dead. The heat of your car pulsating through my body, and the screams and cries of my dear friend for her Mom, were the first rape of my senses. She remembers nothing; I remember everything. Twenty three years later, I can still recall exactly what that heat felt like. I wanted to comfort my friend, but I couldn’t speak. I turned to reach for her and all I could see was her leg split wide open. She was too far from me to touch her. I didn’t cry at all. I understand this to be called “shock”. I just wanted to escape from the heat, so I tried to roll away from the car. It was then that I looked down and saw my leg. Gone. I looked up to the pristine sky and thought that I might vomit. Man, I hate throwing up, I thought. A nice pregnant lady, very pregnant in fact, was suddenly next to me telling me not to move. She kept gently telling me to stay still. She asked me questions and I heard my voice calmly answer them. What was my name? Where did I live? She was wearing a beautiful, flowing dress with flowers on it. The sun was shining directly above her on that beautiful spring afternoon. I held her hand, and she held mine.
I often wonder what you did that morning. Kim and I went to church with my parents. (Later, the woman that sat behind us in church would make it her mission to visit me constantly at the hospital. She dubbed herself my “Guardian Angel” simply because sitting behind us at church, hours before our own personal massacre, equated to perpetually “watching over us”. I found her to be extremely annoying and often wished she would go away.) Kim had spent the night at my house. We couldn’t wait to take a walk on our own; we would laugh and talk all the way to the local DQ. More importantly, we could smoke our menthol cigarettes stuffed in my green, leather Liz Claiborne purse. That purse was the only item of mine that survived the scene, and it was the first thing I saw upon my return home from my month long stay in the hospital. (Once I made it up the stairs to my bedroom, anyway. That took more effort than you could possibly imagine.) Innocently, it sat on the dresser in my room. I promptly threw it away.
Do you happen to recall our age? We were 15. The nurses said I had the best tan lines they’d ever seen. We had just returned back from Spring Break in Gulf Shores, Alabama the week prior. I was wearing my new clothes that my Mom bought me for vacation: white shorts, new Keds, and my favorite: a long sleeve, button down shirt with tiny flowers all over it. I loved the colors. It looked good against my “tan”. (Let’s be honest, I don’t really tan. But, I did get some nice color on that vacation. My pale skin usually just burns. The night before the Turn-a-Bout Dance – also our Freshman year of high school- Kim stayed up all night with me putting cold, wet wash cloths all over me to cool down my burn from the tanning bed. She was so sweet to me. I wouldn’t have the opportunity to comfort her, and she me, in the hospital because we were in separate wings. Only once was I wheeled to her room to hold her hand.) Anyway, I remember the EMT’s cutting my clothes off me on the street. I really liked that shirt. It was from The Gap.
I never did get the real story on what happened. Apparently, it made national, even world, headlines because it was so “bizarre” that a bird hit the windshield and you slammed into 2 girls and pinned them to a guardrail. That’s quite a distraction, must have been one giant bird. However, other witnesses say that you were arguing with your wife and weren’t paying attention to the road.
No matter what happened that day, I spent 22 years forgiving you. I was never out for blood. I never wanted to seek revenge. I imagined that you must have felt awful. But, I recently found out that you passed away, and that kind of pissed me off. You went the rest of your life without ever having apologized or, at the very least, just touched base to see if we were OK. No visit to the hospital. No letter in the mail. Speaking of mail, I got letters in the mail from Vice President Dan Quayle, and Senator Ted Kennedy. They found the time to write, acknowledge what a devastating injury I had, and offer words of wisdom. (I believe this goes back to the “Bizarre Bird Hits Windshield!” media coverage that our accident garnered.)
My Dad walked up on the scene. He loves working out in the yard, and yes, it was a beautiful day. He heard the sirens and decided to take a stroll to see what was going on. We were already gone – Kim by helicopter, and me in the ambulance. (At this point, I drifted in and out of consciousness, but quite clearly recall hearing them radio ahead to Methodist Hospital, saying that they had my severed leg on ice.) A police officer swiftly drove my father home to deliver the news to and collect my mother. You have children, don’t you? Have you ever been put in the position of thinking that your child was dead? That’s what my family thought as they arrived at the hospital. No one would give them a solid answer for hours. Did you ever tell your children what happened? Were we a cautionary tale to them? If so, that’s fine. It means we mattered enough to you to speak of us. All in all, we didn’t ask much of you, did we? Your insurance company took a very small hit in the grand scheme of things, and guess what? That money ran out a loooooong time ago. I have a lifelong disability, and with that comes lifelong medical bills. Today, I am still struggling just to be ambulatory, and perhaps that’s why I am feeling really ticked off lately.
I can roll with the punches here and there. I can rise to the challenge with the best of them. But, I am having a new prosthesis made right now and it’s really taking a toll on me. As you sailed through the years, did you ever stop and wonder how I was doing? Do you have any idea how tedious and frustrating it is to have a new prosthesis made every few years? Since mine was a tragic amputation, I woke up to nurses and doctors telling me just how “lucky” I was to have my knee. And so, the stump of my leg is so short that every fitting is agonizing. I also have quite a bit of skin grafting where they put the rest of my leg back together. My bottom (my kids say “butt”, and then I tell them that “we say bottom”) still hurts from where they took the skin for the grafting, isn’t that weird? My left arm was nearly severed, and I have a nice chunk missing from my ankle. The scar under my arm really annoys the shit out of me, but the other scars on my body aren’t too bad. But, back to the prosthesis. I was hoping to have a new leg made so that I could run. I really want to run. I am in charge of planning the Indy GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) Club Trip to Ireland this July, and I was counting on going as a player, not just the planner. Well, the first Hurling practice was a few nights ago, and I am sitting here on my ass with my leg off and a nickel sized blister on the end of my leg. I might have to go on antibiotics due to infection. This is from my new prosthesis. My current prosthesis is not even wearable due to breakdown. I’m sitting here with a new $24,910 prosthetic leg that I can’t do shit with. The new prosthesis being a completely standard, no frills, no electronics, no ‘sweet blade for running in the Olympics’ type model. (By the way, Fuck You Oscar Pistorius. You had a plethora of resources available to you and you squandered them all.) A few days from now, I’ll head to my appointment so we can talk about where we go from here. I already had to stay off my leg for over a week because of a sore that was healing, when I tripped over our entry-way rug and landed right on the end of my leg. Yes, sir. In order to describe the pain for you, as a man, I would imagine it’s like getting hit in the balls with a sledgehammer. Does that make you feel nauseous? Ok, then that’s how it felt. For at least a week. So, once I healed up from that, then I was ready to keep moving forward with this new leg. And, well, here I am. (My husband wadded up the rug right then and there, and threw it away, so it’s not an issue for me anymore.)
So, here we are. You are deceased, but I’m writing a letter to you. I sure wish I knew how you felt about us all the years that you were living. I saw on Oprah all the time how important it was to “FORGIVE”, but I don’t really feel like following along. I’m not much of a follower. I would rather tell you this : Thank You. When I put my oldest child to sleep at night, every now and then, I remind him of this: If my accident had never happened, and he interrupts, “I know, I know, I know, then you wouldn’t have had me!” and he reiterates how awesome it is that my accident happened because we are all here now. Believe it, because it’s true.
I do sincerely, with all my heart, believe that all things are meant to be. I believe that I have learned so much from my experience, and that I would not have the family and friends that I do now, if things did not flow in my life as they have. Every one of us faces some sort of struggle, or multiple struggles, at once – whether it’s a parent, child, friend, or neighbor. I am blessed to have been given this challenge in life because it has introduced me to the people that I adore and love, and call Home.
In the infamous words of the Beatles, “All You Need is Love”, and I feel that with my own family.
However, my daughter might shape it even better:
“I love you, Mommy! I love you even when your leg is off!”
And that, my friends, is what it’s all about.