On 09 February 1982, I parked my car on Westport Road in Kansas City, Missouri in front of the old Tivoli. I sat for a few minutes as the car cooled. Then I pushed the heavy door of my Oldsmobile open and stepped into the street, the silk of my interview dress rustling, my brown suede pumps wobbling a bit on the rough pavement. I glanced to the right, the left, the right; then I stepped into the path of destiny in the form of a VW driven by an uninsured (self-identified) Persian immigrant who had been blinded by the afternoon sun.
You know the details of the main event: Body flew upwards more than three stories. Sensation of leaving my mortal frame. Hand of an angel resting on my head, telling me, It’s not your time. Falling, falling, falling — past the office of Summer Shipp, then the owner of the Tivoli, working on books. She dialed 911 and reported that someone had jumped from the roof of her building. Curled arms around head over bent knees; smash into the hood; crack the windshield; fly 82 feet forward and land in the street without shedding one drop of blood. (Ms. Shipp later visited me in the hospital. Still later, she disappeared; the victim of a heinous murder.)
Thirty-two breaks in my right leg. Was it her good leg, someone asked my mother, weeks later. She has a good leg? my mother exclaimed. A moment of awkward silence ensued. I broke the embarrassment with my own laughter.
Maybe you’ve heard that part, some time in these last hectic forty years.
But did you hear about the KU nurse who cradled my head in her lap until the ambulance came, holding my neck rigid in case of spinal cord injury?
Did I tell you about the paramedics who tried to calm me with assurances that my leg might just be sprained? (I paraphrased my brother Mark, at 13, protesting my mother’s similar assurances about his arm: “It’s my leg, and it’s broken.”)
Can you picture the emergency room nurse who gently lifted me from the ambulance gurney to an examining table, holding all of my parts together including the back board onto which I was strapped?
Imagine the security guard who came and escorted the errant driver from my bedside, where he had been urging me to sign a paper across which he had scrawled avowals that I had not been hurt and that if I had, it was not his fault. Hours later, the ER doc muscled the guy out again. The next morning, a KC cop told him in no uncertain terms that the hospital did not wish him to return to the premises and I did not wish to sign his release.
On the med-surg floor, one aide wrapped round after round of elastic to hold my crushed leg stable while another wiped the constant stream of tears as they flowed onto my hospital gown.
A diminutive surgeon gently took my hand and explained that he could not operate until the swelling subsided which might, he quietly opined, be several days. Two weeks later, he smiled as they wheeled me into surgery, or at least so I was told. By then I had succumbed to the anesthesia.
A succession of physical therapists joined the long line of those who contributed to my successful though clumsy stumble through the next few months.
Classmate after classmate brought me notes, tapes, outlines, and assignments so that I could keep my end of the bargain that I made with the assistant dean of the law school to avoid a forced withdrawal. Someone brought a giant chocolate chip cookie which I shared with the staff who cared for me over a seven-week stay.
My worried parents abandoned their lives in St. Louis to come water my plants and sit at my bedside. My grandfather sent money.
The law firm which had hired me that day held my job until I could navigate the working end of a gas pedal.
For the next four decades, I have answered children the same way: I did not cross in the cross walk. Let that be a lesson to you, honey. Hold your parent’s hand; look both ways; and always, always, always cross in the crosswalk. As for adults, I peer straight into their eyes and quietly tell them: I battled with a moving vehicle and won.
It’s the ninth day of the ninety-eighth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.
A blue heron seen at Owl Harbor, in Seven Mile Slough off the San Joaquin. February 2022.
Calling All Angels by Train;
Songwriters: Charles Colin / James Stafford / Pat Monahan / Scott Underwood