Survival Diary: The Accident

 Photo: Tanner Wolfe

I beg you to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will  gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer. 

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

I was in the front passenger seat, asleep. It was some time between four and five in the morning—dark.

Paul’s yell, and probably the jerk of the van as it hit the rumble strips, woke me and I was plunged into a tunnel of movement, force and terrible sound.

“JESUS!” I screamed.

This is a prayer.  When I was very young my mother taught me, when in trouble, to call on the name of Jesus and I always have—literally.

Underneath it all is the question. I am not awake enough, and it’s all going too quickly for me to actually form the thoughts “Where are we? What is happening? Or to wonder about the future: are we going to be OK? As we are hurtling through I am living completely in the moment, in utter uncertainty. I am not loving the question but I am living it, fully.

And then it all stops and I find I have lived my way into the answer too.

Oh. This.

I am upside down. My head is jammed against the roof and I can hardly breathe.  My ankle is wedged and my head is bleeding. I’m bleeding so much and everything hurts. I want to get out now, but I’m jammed in. Stuck. I fumble for the clasp of the seatbelt but it’s just beyond my reach. I think I will need to be cut out which means I will have to wait for help to arrive and I don’t know how I’m going to bear staying here one more second. I’m panicking  I know I have to stay calm. I try to breathe.

Paul is already out. I can hear him moving around the van. I call to him softly because I’m staying calm, “Paul…I can’t get out…Paul.”

He doesn’t hear me or, if he does, he doesn’t answer. I don’t know why he isn’t checking on me and helping the kids. I don’t know what he is doing and am annoyed by his priorities.

I don’t know we have landed in the middle of the highway. The moment the van came to a stop Paul grabbed my pillow and crawled out his window, jumped to his feet and began waving his arms above his head to stop oncoming traffic. I don’t know he is probably saving our lives.

This is what I know: crash, stuck, pain, blood, fear—I know Paul. I know Christopher and Lydia—I hear their voices—but I don’t hear Eden’s—

“Eden! Eden! WHERE’S EDEN?”

“She’s right here. I’ve got her.” Lydia said and that panic subsides.

I’m in so much pain. My body is wedged in my seat so tightly. I am hanging upside down, my head pressed into the roof. I can barely breathe. How long will it take to get me out? I am trying to stay calm, trying to stay calm, trying to stay calm. The blood is pouring down my face.

I feel movement behind me, somehow I know it’s Lydia. I hear the click of my belt and then I fall over, free and I’m scrabbling between the seats on my hands and knees.

All the windows have blown out. Glass is everywhere, but I’m not thinking about that. I’m making for the side window. There is blood in my eyes but I see Lydia cradling Eden to her chest, hiding her face, protecting her. I see smoke curling billowing out and up, curling towards the sky and I panic.

“GET OUT! GET OUT! GET OUT!” I scream at the girls.

“Stop yelling at us!” Lydia screams back but I don’t hear her. I’m scuttling out the window, crawling onto the highway and pulling myself to my feet.  I see the smoke and hear the dripping of fluids. We need to get out and away. Out and away.

Paul is there with Christopher who he has just helped out. I take the pillow he is still holding. It is huge, large and puffy with real feathers. My head was resting on it minutes before but that is a lifetime ago. I press it to my head to staunch the blood.

Cars have stopped. I see headlights lining up in the distance. I’m having trouble holding my head up. It hurts so much. With the pillow pressed to my forehead I can barely see. A man is there.

“Are we in Canada?” I ask him. We were driving through the night. We were on our way to Rochester, New York but through Ontario. We were going to have breakfast in Niagara.

“Yes, you are.” He says and I hear his accent.

Oh no, I think. This is going to complicate things. Part of my brain is running logistics. This is not my first disaster.

Out and away. I want to get as far as I can from the van and away from traffic which is slowly beginning to creep by.

We are on a bridge but I don’t know it. We make our way to the edge of the highway and Paul looks down, sees the river and feels sick. I need to sit down on the ground and I lean against the guardrail. I can feel my children around me. I am doing an inventory: Paul, Christopher, Lydia, Eden. I need to touch each one of them.

I am whimpering. I can’t keep it in. Eden is beside me and I put my arm around her, clutch her to my side with one arm and hold the pillow against my head with the other. I see Paul’s legs. He is standing in front of us. He is only wearing one sandal. He is holding one of his arms which is streaming with blood. He looks like an extra in a horror movie.

“I’m so sorry.” He says. His face is terrible with regret.

I reach for his leg and touch it. “It was an accident.”

After a while a fire truck arrives and then the ambulances. They strap me to a board and carry me away from my family. I don’t like this. I want my children.  I know I’m going to be OK, but that I’m not much help right now. I know I need to get fixed up, but first this evacuation needs arranging.

“I think it would be best if you kept my little girl with her Dad. And please put my older daughter with my son. He’s deaf and he doesn’t have his processor. He can’t hear right now. I know my daughter will help him.”

“We’re going to be taking you all in separate ambulances,” the paramedic informs me.

“I think it would be best—” I begin again, gesturing back towards the bridge. Separate ambulances don’t work for me.

“You and your husband will be taken to the E.R. and the children will be taken to the pediatric hospital.”

My heart stops. I do not like the way this car accident is going. The day an arsonist burned our house down we ran out of the house together and we stayed together. Separate hospitals do not work for me one bit.

But I am strapped to a board. They slide me into the ambulance and shut the doors, the paramedic says we’re ready and we drive away.

June 22, 2013

Today was the tenth anniversary of my father’s death and in some ways I can’t believe it’s been that long. In others, I can’t believe I ever had him.

We measure his death by Eden’s life. She was five months old when my dad died. She rolled over for the very first time the day of his funeral. I remember so many frantic drives across the state when he was near death, with only Eden in her little car seat behind me.

I wish I still had my dad, but even more I wish my children had a grandfather here on earth.

Kitten Killer: I am NOT a criminal

Eden 2006

Today I’m pulling out a post from 2005 when Eden aka The Bean aka Beanie (and too many more nicknames to list) was two and a half. I realize I run the risk of re-opening charges against me, but I think it’s worth it.

The Bean is a very nurturing sort of girl. Out of nowhere, and I really mean nowhere, she can fashion a baby. She gets all quiet and soft and either cups her hands or crooks her arms to cradle – anything, I am talking paper clips, pieces of fuzz or nothing at all.

Yesterday Paul and I were painting the dining room ceiling and Beanie kept us company. She was being a kitten which involves lots of meowing, crawling and a good bit of licking or licking sounds. I looked over and she was on her side and her arms were circled in front of her. She had an earnest expression. I knew what was coming.

“I am the Mother kitten.”

“Oh really. What are your kittens’ names?”

“Uh…Kiko and Niko”

“Oh that’s nice, rather Japanese.”

I continued to paint and she continued to fawn on her imaginary offspring.

“Axcelly I had more kittens. I had five, but now I have two…You did it.”


“You did it.”

“What did I do?”

“You died them.”

“I did not!”

“You did.”

“No, I didn’t…kill them.”

You did…kill them.”

“I would never kill your kittens!”

“You did it.”

Fortunately, we were distracted from this interminible argument. Now we all know I did not die those three imaginary kittens, but if you think the mere accusation isn’t hanging heavy on my conscience, you’re crazy.

Older Than Jane Austen

On this day, 195 years ago, Jane Austen died. She was 41.

I don’t know how old I was the first time I read Pride and Prejudice, maybe twelve, thirteen at the most. Too young, I , gulped the book skimming for dialogue. When I tackled Emma I actually heard Jane Austen’s voice. I think it was a comment about Mrs. Elton and it made me sit up literally and literarily. Austen’s ability to say so much with such an economy of words and in direct contradiction to what her character was speaking astonished me and I’ve never fully recovered.

I do not call her Jane.

I consider all books which are sequels of sorts, abominations but enjoyed both Bridget Jones  and Clueless which were loosely based on Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion and Emma, respectively.

Ironically, reading Jane Austen’s novels nearly cost me my husband. Short story: Paul and I started dating when we were children and no man should be compared to Mr. Darcy, let alone a sixteen year old boy.

I almost didn’t name our older daughter, Lydia, for obvious reasons, but Lydia Hodgson is no Lydia Bennett. If you had to peg her for a Bennett sister, she’s probably a mashup of Elizabeth and Jane.

Mansfield Park is the only title I don’t read habitually, though I’ve read it several times.

My friend, Jamie Chavez recently blogged about the “controversy” over the extent of editing Austen received. She is a fine editor herself and considers it a tempest in a teapot. I agree.

 I’ve known since I first read Pride and Prejudice and the introduction by her nephew that she died young. Although 41 sounded pretty old to me then.

Last week I turned 42 and I remembered her age at death, not realizing the anniversary was so close to that of my birth.

There is no point in comparing oneself to Jane Austen although she could have made good work of my love story.

 I’m so thankful she “let other pens dwell on guilt and misery.” In the early days after someone burned my house down I turned to the Bible, P.G. Wodehouse and her.

I am glad she sat in her little chair and wrote and wrote until the very end of her days.

Bouquet of the Day: What makes a woman high maintenance?

This was a bouquet from last month: five clovers with their own leaves.

The day she picked it,  Eden and I visited one of our favorite greenhouses, Ludema’s. It was a terrible day—rainy and cold— but we were in the neighborhood. Ludema’s also has a florist. When Eden and I reached the check out, a man was just approaching. He deferred to us but I told him to go ahead since we had a cart full of plants and he only had a bouquet of flowers. He was buying red roses cut short in a square glass vase, beautifully arranged.

Waiting my turn, I thought about this nice man who was willing to let me and my cart full of plants go before him, not to mention buying someone lovely roses and yet—if I was the recipient—I would be so disappointed. Red roses are pretty much the antithesis of who I am florally.

The cashier didn’t know the price and yelled across the room to the florist who said, “$45, but take off five because of the size of the vase.”

$40 for an arrangement I would hate.

Years ago—after “Harry Met Sally” came out—my sister and I were having a discussion with a group of guys. Torey’s and my assertion was that we were low maintenance. The men, who knew us well, scoffed. We were soooooooo high maintenance.


I brought up how I would rather Paul picked me dandelions over buying red roses! If that wasn’t low maintenance, what was?  The guys just laughed at the idea of Torey or me even thinking we weren’t the highest of maintenance. Now I see that Torey and I were right and so were the guys.

Set aside the mysogynistic thinking behind the idea of maintaining a woman, for a moment please. I thought because I didn’t need to be taken to expensive restaurants and preferred weeds and wildflowers to roses from a florist that made me low maintenance. Now I see the tight perimeter around my approval. If you want to give me flowers you’re best bet is in a garden  unless you can find a good florist, because—if you do go to any old florist—forget about most roses absolutely NO red or white (which are usually more green and not in a good way) but if you must have roses they better be in an arrangement with flowers like stock and peonies…snapdragons are good…no chrysanthemums (unless they’re chartreuse) and please, for the love of all things, no baby’s breath! So you’re best bet is just picking a bouquet in a garden and I’d be happy with anything—just NO RED ROSES!

Paul was firmly in the “It’s the thought that counts!” camp and just kept bringing me daisy-like chrysanthemums from the grocery store and I felt unloved because he refused to know me.  I mixed up the lover’s gift with proof of the giver’s love and Paul felt unappreciated.

God bless Paul.

God bless me.

He has, obviously, with and through each other despite our selfishness and immaturity.

I would choose my girl’s bouquet of clovers over roses from the florist any day: I just prefer the latter and, even if I didn’t,  I love my girl.

I don’t need to be maintained. I know Paul loves me and I’m finally learning to love.