What Might Have Been

On October 15th, 2012, my life changed. This is the story as I originally told it on the one month anniversary to my fellow insomniacs on Twitter (140 character blurbs at a time).

“One month ago EXACTLY I was waking up broken and bleeding in a bean field. I couldn’t even scream. Everything was metal– sound, taste, smell.

My left eye was forced shut– the blood running down my face slicked my neck and chest. I kept thinking it was just a dream. Not me. Never me.

My foot was sideways– completely snapped, I thought. Without glasses, stretched skin looks like jutting bone. I tried to crawl. Scream.

His flashlight came first. Then his voice. He was terrified. Convinced I’d died. Astounded I was alive, let alone awake. Screaming at 911.

A warm shirt was pressed to my head in the darkness. He said he looked out his window and saw my lights dance. I never saw his face.

A new sound arrived. A new voice. Older. Gruff. Like gravel. Another shirt, this one across my chest and lap. Hands cupped mine. Rough.

‘Stay with me. Stay with me. Help’s on the way, darlin’. You’re alright. You’re alright. Stay with me.’

Minutes passed. Maybe just seconds. Then they descended. Flashing lights surely not meant for me lit what little sky I could still make out.

Dozens of hands and arms and blurry faces swarmed over me. Flashlights and strained smiles hovered inches from my face. They jostled me.

Then the first man was gone. His shirt was a heavy ball on my chest. The second man was gone, too. His gravel voice too low to pick out.

A board slid under me. Straps around me. A neck brace choked. I begged someone to wipe my eyes.

I was lifted. Up the six foot ditch and into the ambulance. I was cold. My shoes had gone missing and my toes were chalk. Shock, they said.

Three names kept screaming in me. I repeated them again and again. An older woman, red haired, held my hand for awhile. We hadn’t moved yet.

Then she let go. Doors were slammed shut and I was poked and prodded and monitored and he said ‘… don’t fall asleep, baby girl. Talk to me.’

I told him a pirate joke while he fished out a vein. Then asked if I could make a call. I remembered someone pressing my phone into my hand.

I called her. Asked her to come. Heard the tears. That’s when it became real.

The trauma room was a humiliating blur. Tiny nurses hefted my boarded body. Cut away my clothes. I was strapped and naked. Terrified.

Almost an hour of scans and x-rays and tears later, I found time to breathe. The blood had dried on my face and chest. I felt it crackle.

Kate was there first. I cried with her. She told him for me. I wanted all three names to know. My parents arrived. I tried not to cry.

They fixed my foot. Stapled my head. Called me Miracle Girl in the hallway outside my room. Told me I was so lucky. So blessed.

Finally let my mom clean the now brown blood off of me. Picked sticks and dirt and leaves out of my hair. Wiped mud from my back.

Wheeled me upstairs. Two days of the worst pain and humiliation of my life. More tears. No sleep. One wonderful phone call. One visitor.

Home. Walker. Boot. Crutches. Pain pills pain pills pain pills. More tears. Insanity. Loneliness.

Progress. Hope. Healing. Gratitude. But still tears and loneliness and depression. My life has changed without my consent. I’m playing hooky.

I’m catching up with myself finally. Maybe. Making plans to, at least.

Found an article last week about a man who died in a wreck identical to mine. Same speed, swerved for an animal, ditch, roll, no belt. Dead.

Still can’t figure out why or how I (almost) literally walked away from this, still trying to stitch together what’s left of my before.

Patching up my body, my mind, my future. Using duct tape and spit and thread and a lot of stubborn determination. My daddy taught me well.

I love you all.”

It’s April now. It’s only been six months. It feels like six years. The accident is pieced together in jagged fragments:

The stomach-dropping memory of the ditch rushing to meet me at 75 miles per hour. Knowing I was going to crash. Being thankful I was alone in the car. Being so sure my last breath had just been taken.  The obliterating sound of metal slamming dirt once, twice. A blacked out memory of my back hitting the ceiling, arms raising as if I’m underwater. Nothing. Nothing. Suddenly, cold dirt under my hands, in my ears, my mouth. The sound of his footsteps slamming across dry weed and wet soil. The tinny 911 operator. Not realizing the amount of blood. The smell of his shirt. A blur of help.

The hospital is a clear cut of antiseptic and shame.

And pain. Such incredible pain.

——-

My first full day in the hospital was more about resting and monitoring than anything else. The second day, I was forced to sit up and go with a stern and small rehabilitation worker. Half my size, she assured me that she wouldn’t let me fall. I wept in the wheelchair. A walker was in front of me. She tried to show me how to walk up and down stairs, but my body was still too bruised. She let me go. That night, my mom helped me shower. Well, we tried. Too many things were stuck to me, too many things hurt, and too many things kept going wrong. I wanted to disappear behind the shower curtain and never reemerge. The third day, I was Velcroed into a heavy boot and given the ‘okay’ to go home. I was so excited to finally leave. I was excited for my bed, the leather chair, and a bath. I wanted to curl up on the couch and watch Treasure Planet, my go-to feel better movie.

But those were ill-conceived fantasies.

The ride home was torture. My body screamed with every bounce in the road, my booted leg was throbbing. My tailbone felt like a steel bar being shoved up my spine. That was only the beginning. I couldn’t walk the steps to my front door. Couldn’t hop the two stairs to get inside. I sat on the wall outside and cried into my mother’s shoulder. I was mortified, horrified, and terrified. I finally sat on the steps and scooched my way up and into the house. My dad lifted me back to standing, a Herculean feat in my book. I felt defeated and worthless. I couldn’t look him in the eyes.

The weeks following were trying, to say the least.

Every time I closed my eyes, I heard the sound of metal and dirt again. Heart pounding and fighting the scream that always choked in my throat, I avoided sleep. Eventually, thanks to my uncomfortable situation and painkillers, sleep avoided me. I stayed in my parents’ bed with my mom. My basement room was impossible, so my dad got the luxury of sleeping in the twin bed in the playroom. We made jokes about how it was a fort, with blankets hanging from the top bunk to block the morning light. I watched my swollen foot turn yellow and green and purple. Felt it wave from throbbing to numb to pins within minutes.  A fracture blister bigger than a cherry tomato raised on my ankle. I couldn’t stand in the shower or get in (let alone out) of the tub, so my great-grandmother’s shower chair in front of the sink became my bathtub.

It was one shame after another. Simple outings were huge ordeals. I couldn’t use crutches yet, so I shambled around with the walker for longer than I’d like to admit. It was arduous and humiliating.

But I had visitors. Sara came with treats and encouragement. She showed me her knee brace and talked me through the trials of physical therapy. Kate came with stories from Baker and our world. We sat for hours just talking and it was wonderful. Mandy came and we played old video games. I was reminded of the easiness of our friendship. Kim came with stickers and we bedazzled my boot. She was laughter and light. I cried after each of them left. So humbled and grateful to have them in my life.

Flowers came from halfway around the world. I cried then, too.

A bag of treats and balloons was left on my doorstep. A card from work was waiting when I finally got new glasses. I cried again and again.

Eventually, thing did get easier. Bruises healed, the staples in my scalp were pried out, and after a couple weeks, I became strong enough to start using crutches. The crutches brought new freedom; I could finally navigate the three steps into our sunken living room. On Halloween, my costume was Cat On a Hot Tin Roof’s Brick Pollitt, complete with robe and glass of Scotch. After a couple weeks of practice, my crutches and I managed to get down the basement steps and I collapsed face first onto my bed. What seemed like an eternity later (in reality only a few short weeks), I was given the all-clear to walk sans-crutches. I went back to work. I got the boot off. I got back into my old routine. Things seemed normal again.

But as the months slip by, I’ve realized that things are different. I see new colors, I hear new sounds. I don’t have the same attachments. I want now, more than ever, to escape. Get out. Find myself. I was given a second chance at this mediocre life and I want to figure out why.

I still don’t believe in God, which some people find ludicrous, heinous even. To them, my brush with death is a sure sign of a great creator and savior. They don’t understand that I give someone else the credit for my continuing life (Thank you, Shawn). I still go to concerts and read comics and make clothes. I still watch Friends on Nick at Nite. I still wear jeggings to work. I’m still me.

I’m just a different me. I left a part of me on that field six months ago. I see it, see her, every time I drive by. She stands there, bare feet muddy and hair wild. She gives a small wave and shouts “Remember me!” to my taillights, but doesn’t chase after me. She knows she must stay there as a testament to the change that now echoes in my chest.

I do not miss her.

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