or better yet,
“How is she so calm?”
or even more telling:
“WHY is she so calm?”
This is what I overhear in times of crisis–Like when the wedding guest passed out while I was singing; or when I was wheeled into the hospital for an emergency c-section; or even more recently, on the first day of this vacation, when my teenage son dove into the pond and came out bleeding.
(But not last night.)
If I’m asked, “How are you so calm?” I might explain that I grew up in a doctor’s family where emergencies presented themselves on our doorstep, and where I was often enlisted by my father to open bandages, or needles or stitches. Thus, I was trained to “think” before I could let myself “feel” which served me well in a life filled with crisis.
(But last night was different; and I’m not sure why.)
It had been our first day at the Jersey shore, and I had just finished a lovely dinner with my two best friends from highschool. My husband picked me up at the restaurant and we headed back to the condo where we were staying–alone, while the kids spent the night with grandma.
Before we crawled into bed, I checked email, just in case someone in the family needed to connect around plans for the following day. To my shock, I discovered a text from my friend who I had just left:
“I was just in major accident on 25th & Atlantic.”
My husband and I dashed back out the door and jumped into the car. The drive down this 5 mile island seemed to take forever. We knew how to serpentine through the town to avoid most of the lights, but there was no avoiding the tourists who made traffic unbearable on a good day.
There were two lights we had to wait out as we approached 25th street; and then there was the scene up ahead: flashing lights, firetrucks, ambulances, police. We had to park two blocks away because the roads were closed down in every direction.
I ran ahead in the dark in my sundress and flip flops while my husband locked up the car. I stopped the first policeman that crossed my path, and said, “I’m looking for my friend. She was in this accident.”
Ahead I saw her car, slammed into a set of pilings outside a family restaurant. Beside that, on its side, was a white SUV, with booster seats scattered around it.
“Is she still in the car?” I asked, but the policeman shook his head and pointed to a bench. As I crossed the street, I could see that her airbag had deployed and that her front end had been completely crushed by the impact.
As she came into view, I cried out her name, and I ran to enfold one of my favorite people in the world in the certainty of my arms.
“There were little kids,” Lou Ann mumbled. “They were screaming. They couldn’t get out of the car.”
Just then, a police man approached us with a car seat in his hand. “Did this come from your vehicle?” he asked.
Lou stared at him blankly so I answered for her, “She doesn’t have little kids anymore. She was alone in her car.”
“That’s not mine,” Lou finally said, and then added: “Why did that woman run that stop sign? There were so many kids.”
The officer reminded Lou Ann that everyone was fine. “They’ve gone to the hospital, but they were all conscious,” he told us.
Moments later my husband joined us on the bench, and I began to tremble. I shook so violently beside Lou that I had to let my arm drop from around her shoulders.
(This is her crisis not yours, I chided myself, but my body refused to listen.)
When Lou’s husband arrived, I leaned into my own husband’s arms, and asked him, “Will you go ask the EMT’s to check Lou. She has a cut on her forearm and it’s swelling.”
Lou said that she was fine and that she didn’t need to be checked, but I insisted. In the back of the ambulance, we discovered that she had welts on her chest too. “I’m just worried about those children,” she repeated. I asked the EMT to wrap the ice around her arm so that it would stay put on her drive home.
Just an hour earlier we were full of smiles, leaving a restaurant, and now we were hopping out of an ambulance in the middle of what should have been a busy road.
We hugged one last time and shared “I love yous” before Lou climbed into her husband’s truck. Casey put his arm around me as we walked passed the accident scene and watched the police lift the street sign back in place. They remarked on how close she had come to the telephone pole.
The night was dark, and I felt strangely empty. I wanted to keep on eye on Lou, check her injuries, bring her soup, talk to her some more, but she lived a half an hour away, and she needed her own family.
I had felt this same empty feeling this past Saturday after my son’s diving accident, when they wheeled him into radiology for a Cat Scan, and told me to wait outside.
It was the same in the procedure room, when he resisted the offering of my hand while the doctor put 16 stitches in his head.
What am I supposed to do? I wondered then–and now. How do I love people who don’t belong to me anymore?
(And what’s up with this “vacation”?)
It was another vacation, during another summer, when a car accident took my grandmother’s life. Maybe that’s why this particular crisis had me “feeling” before I was finished “thinking.”
Over dinner, I shared with Loud what had only just occurred to me: Three of the most special people to me in the world had names that began with ‘L’ : my Nana Lila, my friend Lou Ann, and my son Lloyd.
“My three ‘L’s” I smiled proudly.
This morning, I am extra grateful that two of them are fine.
Kelly Salasin, August 2011, the Jersey Shore