It was a dark and stormy night... yeah, yeah, I know that's cliche, but it was. I was halted by a sign at the major intersection of two highways, waiting to turn left. I observed the vehicles zipping by, looking for a nice, open spot to join them, though, I wasn't in much of a hurry. The brain was cycling as it tends to do, thinking aimlessly.
I was a new man, with a new ex-wife, a new girlfriend, a new home, a new truck, a new job, and a new outlook on life. As I reflected on this day and others that had led up to my current position on the road of life, and my spot on this road of asphalt, I felt my throat drying slightly. I may have been a "new man", but old habits die hard, and a half-cashed six pack was calling to me from the floorboard of the passenger side.
It had been a rough day. As I said, I had a new home and was mired in the grueling process of moving the remnants of my old home to the fresh one. The truck was completely loaded down with crap. I had worked my last day at an old job in my old town until late afternoon. As soon as I said my goodbyes, I headed to my old residence to remove as much of my stuff as I could. I had lined up some helpers and made sure to pick up the usual, cold, and frosty payment from the local liquor store. My help didn't show, and I was forced to drink and load up the pieces of my life alone. Although it was difficult, time consuming, and a general pain in the butt, it did give me time to think, and, as a bonus, I never had to politely inform my drunk buddies that their loading job was atrocious.
After I finished filling the truck to it's capacity, I made a quick stop by a popular tavern and threw back a couple more with a good friend who was working there. She listened to my complaints about my moving guys (she knew them well), and wished me good luck with a big hug. I felt a little better about being ditched at that point, after all, a hug from a beautiful girl, a good griping session, and a few pints of suds can go a long way. I decided to give my favorite moving guy, who also happened to be my best friend, one more chance to help get the transport ready for travel.
I knocked on his apartment door for a good five minutes, and just when I was about to give up, the door swung open abruptly.
"Hey man, where were you?"
"Sorry dude, I didn't get home 'til like 10:30 this morning, oh... man... I'm really sorry!", he said as he rubbed his out-of-control hair briskly.
"Want a beer?"
It doesn't matter who offered, it was going to happen anyway, like I said, old habits die hard. We worked together to tie down the load a little better and did some sippin' while we "worked". We said a somewhat tearful "Goodbye", and I was on my way.
Ten minutes away from his apartment it started to rain. Not just rain either, buckets. It took everything I had not to curse him and my other truant movers, as their help would have put me on the road much sooner, and everything I owned would have remained dry. Thankfully, the little buzz I had from a day of moving and farewells was just enough to quell any anger, disappointment, or blame my mind was generating.
After a forty-five minute drive in the rain, the weather began to break, my buzz had faded, and I was sitting at this stop sign. It was pretty late, somewhere around 9:30PM I think, and I wasn't done moving. The truck would need to be unloaded once I got to my temporary, new home, which happened to be my first home, AKA Mom and Dad's. I was now only about fifteen minutes from my destination, and looked longingly over at the three bottles of foamy goodness left.
"Who's gonna know the difference?" I thought, "I'll just slam one, unload the truck, slam two more and go to sleep." Just as my mind finally convinced my hand to reach across and finger the brown glass, a County Sheriff crossed right in front of me and the idea immediately ceased to be a good one.
"Better just wait." I said out loud to my hand. The black 'n' white snapped me out of my daze, I noticed the lack of passing cars, and hit the gas. I was now following the Sheriff, and made sure to maintain both legal speed and road focus, as many of us would do in that same situation. I continued on, keeping the cop in sight, but maintaining an adequate distance so as to go unnoticed. The road was really wet, and the large tires of the new truck pulled towards the puddles. As I was trying to juggle a meager buzz, a cop, and a new vehicle which I was not yet completely used to driving, I noticed something else. A flash. A strange flash. It was headlights, coming down the highway in the opposite direction as I, but they looked funny.
"What the?... He's in my lane!... Brakes!... BRAKES!... NO!..."
I regained consciousness a few seconds after the crash and watched the airbag slowly crumple in front of me, like a big silvery grape turning to a raisin in time-lapse.
"What the hell just happened?" The noise of a horn blaring, the smell of something burning, and a lot of commotion were the first things I was able to recognize as I came to.
"OK, I was in a crash, but I'm alive... I think... and I need to get out of this car because it feels really small all of a sudden."
My door wouldn't open.
"OK, I need to crawl across the passenger side (it appeared to be a little bigger than my side), and I can get out that way."
I was stuck, I couldn't pull my feet out from under the steering column.
"Holy sh!t, my feet!" Something was very wrong with my feet. I reached down to feel for blood and the first wave of panic began to hit as I did feel liquid soaking my lower legs. Upon further examination, though, it appeared to be nothing more than the contents of a shattered bottle of beer. The gravity of the situation suddenly hit me. I was just in a head on wreck doing at least 60 mph, I can't get out of this mangled mess, and I can smell fire. It's really difficult to describe the emotion that runs through you when you think you might be burned to death, but you can't really contemplate that thought. The constant bleat of the blowing horn was so loud that it was making everything blurry including thought... or maybe it was a concussion... I don't know, but the noise from the horn was excruciating. I needed something to look at, something to focus on besides the crumpled interior of my own vehicle.
What my attention shifted to was not much better. The other car. It was a Pontiac Grand Prix, or Grand AM, and it was destroyed. Now, even if I make it out of death by fire, I might have to live with the fact that my car killed someone, even if it wasn't my fault... was it my fault? I didn't know.
One, two, three... four teenage kids crawled out of the wreckage, all seemed to be confused or upset but intact. The driver was cursing and flailing. At that point a curly head in a brown shirt popped into my window, wide-eyed, and shaking.
"Are you OK?" It was the Sheriff.
"No." was all I could muster. She looked me in the eyes and then quickly looked away, seemingly unable to cope with what she saw.
"Do I look that bad?", I thought. I started to do a more thorough check of my body. I had been so focused on the smell of burning and the fact that my legs were trapped, that I hadn't been concerned with anything else. My arm and hand hurt, I think I lost a contact. Little blood on my right hand, and I'm not sure where it came from. I am covered in beer. My stuff, my stuff is everywhere. This is where things began to haze up again.
A group of firemen, one of them stops the horn... Thank you. The fear of death-by-fire subsides with their presence. Another tells me to relax and covers my face with a blanket.
"Holy sh!t... pretzel man!" I hear from somewhere, a loud noise like a jackhammer, the driver side door falls away. Two firemen are digging down by my feet, it hurts, but I don't care, I am tired, pulling, pushing, pulling, I am done dealing with this. More jackhammer, more talking, another siren, flashlights, faces, glass breaking, pushing, pulling. Suddenly, I am free.
The next thing I remember is being in an ambulance... things came back into focus for a few moments. The paramedics were cutting off my jeans and one that I couldn't see was asking me a lot of questions. I was trying to answer but didn't feel like I was doing a very good job. The two butchering denim were now down to my shoes. One was very pretty. I feel a draft, not like I don't have pants on, but like I don't have underwear on. A moment of clarity:
I was wearing a somewhat worn out pair of boxer briefs that had a button fly feature. Two of the buttons were missing. I tried to lift my head, but it was strapped down.
"Just stay still, OK?", the pretty one said. I looked back up at the ceiling for a second, then felt the draft again. I just moved my eyes this time, and to my surprise the good looking paramedic seemed to be gazing at my crotch. Pretty sure there was nothing wrong with that, but she has a a funny look on her face. My hand wasn't tied down so I moved it towards my groin. Oops. My doodle was playing peek-a-boo. When she saw me tuck the little man back in, she immediately broke her gaze and made eye contact. She was blushing. I smiled and she smiled back, then she quickly went back to work on the removal of my shoes. The little exchange was a nice break from the last half hour or so, but then I felt my bare heels laid down on the gurney, and man did that hurt. Not normal sore feet, but like it made me want to spontaneously blow chunks.
"This really sucks." I said to the pretty paramedic. What a line.
"I know it does hon, but you'll be OK." Man, I was really making time with this chick, maybe I'll ask her what her name is...
Just then, the ambulance went over a speed bump, or jumped a curb, or something and the only part of my body that wasn't firmly strapped down, my injured feet, flew up and slammed down on the metal bar at the end of the gurney. OK, that felt... not good... My mack attack on the young lady in the ambulance was over, and again things blurred out.
I guess I phoned my parents and my girlfriend to tell them what had happened, but I still can't recall doing so. I was whisked away to X-ray once we arrived at the hospital, and that's where the next memory comes into focus. They were more concerned with my back and head than anything else, and took pictures from every conceivable angle, leaving my feet bare and on the floor, swelling uncontrollably. I told the technician repeatedly that I needed to get my feet off the ground, they were the only things that really hurt, but she didn't listen. While in the middle of pleading my case, a familiar face walked through the door. It was "Curly" the Sheriff.
"Good to see you sitting up!" she said, "I thought you were a gonner." What a strange thing to say, even for a cop. Her smile turned to a more serious look as she walked towards me.
"Now, your vehicle smelled pretty strongly of alcohol... Have you had some drinks today?"
"Yes." I saw no point in lying. "I had a few beers while I was loading my stuff, but I haven't had one for a while ma'am."
"Well, I really don't want to do this to you while you're in this condition and all, but I have to." She pulled out a pocket breathalyzer.
"Blow until I tell you to stop please." I complied... I had actually done it before so I knew the drill.
"Keep going... keep going..." She abruptly yanked it out of my mouth. "Well, you're not drunk."
"I can't believe that happened right behind me," she said, putting a smile back on, "All the guys back at the station were laughing at me because I guess I was screaming into my radio after I saw it in my rear-view." I didn't find any of this amusing.
"Ma'am, can I ask how the people in the other car are?"
"Oh they're fine, medically at least. Legally it's a different story... The driver gave me a fake name and had methamphetamine and cocaine in the car. He's going to jail. You take care now."
She seemed like a nice lady, and the abruptness with which she stopped the breath test told me that it was showing the presence of alcohol in my system, and she stopped the procedure before it hit "illegal", although I really didn't think I would have registered "drunk". I was glad she was gone, though. Again blur.
I finally ended up on a hospital bed in small room with people, who I assumed to be nurses and doctors, walking in and out. My parents came in, followed by my girlfriend. My mother instantly kissed me and began comforting me like I was five and had skinned my knee or something. My dad stood back, looking me up and down with obvious concern. My girlfriend, who hadn't actually been my girlfriend that long, took my hand, but stayed a bit removed from the situation. They were told to step back. A trio of folks wearing scrubs pulled in a cart full of medical implements and began to mess with my legs.
They casted both legs up to the knee, presumably to hold everything as it was and protect them until a further decision could be made on how to proceed. I normally have a very high threshold for pain, and up to this point had complained of discomfort, but had not cried out or broken down. That was about to change. All of the trauma to my legs... the wreck, the extrication, the ambulance ride, the X-ray session, had all taken their toll, and the pain was becoming unbearable. At that moment I could feel what was only a slight warmth from the chemical reaction of the quick-drying cast material, but to me I felt like someone was dipping my legs in a fryer. I was later told that I was whimpering and mumbling "Boiling oil, boiling oil..." as my eyes rolled back in their sockets. My father had to leave the room. Finally, someone cleared some pain meds for me and I was out.
I woke up periodically. I remember seeing my parents, speaking briefly to my boss, my girlfriend's touch, one really rude nurse, and one very nice one. I remember the nice nurse coming into my darkened room with an excited look on her face and asking me if I wanted her to open the curtain on my window.
"Why?" I asked.
"It's the Fourth of July dear," she said, "you can really see the fireworks well from up here." She swung open the shade and I could see little bursts of colored light peppering the sky. They were either unusually bright, or the morphine was making them seem that way, but regardless it was pretty cool and I thanked her. I did some drugged-out math in my head and realized I had been incapacitated for two days already. I thought about the beer, the parties, and all the good barbecue that I was missing out on. Back to sleep.
On day three I woke up. I was getting used to the pain medication and had started to regain clear thought more consistently now. That was the first time I remember seeing her sitting quietly next to my bed... Ol' Blue. I didn't think much of her when I first laid eyes upon the ol' girl, but I knew she would eventually be my ticket out of this place, and that was enough to gain my instant respect. I was also beginning to realize that the two of us may be spending a lot of time together... just how much time was still unclear.