I’ve got many friends who I’ve been tight with for over 30 years. I’ve always considered myself a good friend in that I’m pretty faithful about staying in touch with those who have meant a lot to me in life. With these people, I’ve built many great memories over the years and the depths of our relationships have many layers.
But let’s say you’re someone I knew when I was a kid, growing up in the small New England town I called home for the first 18 years of my life. If you meet someone who knew me 30+ years ago, and mention my name, the exchange will likely go something like this:
“Oh yes! I knew her. Isn’t she the girl who was hit by a car?’
Yes, that’s me. The kid who was hit by a car. At the tender age of six, I walked out into the street – eschewing all of the usual adult advice to “always look both ways” – and was promptly creamed by a car coming down the road at about 45 miles an hour.
Since that incident, it has become one of the defining moments of my life, whether I want it to be or not. It is my legacy in the town where I used to live and with the people I grew up with. I will forever be remembered by many as “The kid who was hit by the car.”
Here’s the story: It was 1980. I was in the first few weeks of second grade. I used to get on the bus about five or six houses up the street from where I lived. It’s where my friends lived. Even though it was only a short walk, I was lazy (Ha! And we say kids these days are the first to ignore physical fitness) and, so, my dad would drive me the thirty seconds up the street, drop me, and go on his way to work.
That day, I didn’t cross over to the other side where the friends were standing right away. I have no recollection of why I did this. Some dumb kids game, or tiff, I guess. But I had a new lunchbox. It was the kind that came with its own thermos. It had a picture of Kermit the Frog on it. I was very proud. One of the other kids standing at the stop called over to me to come and show it off. It was then that I proceed to run right across with out any thought for the fact that the car was coming right at me.
Suddenly, things happened in slow motion. It was like watching a slowed-down movie. I saw the car coming at me. After that, I heard myself scream, blackness and the sound of what was like the swish of an ocean wave as it recedes back off of the shore. And then, I was out. Unconscious for I don’t know how long.
When I awoke, I saw my mother running up the street in her bathrobe. Chaos. Then an ambulance. And pain – which goes without saying. I remember being told repeatedly not to fall asleep by the EMTs.
“Stay with us, honey. Stay awake.” They would tell me, over and over again, in the ambulance on the way to the ER. My mind kept going back to the Kermit lunch box. Lost forever, I assumed. Bad day turned even worse.
In the ER, as people rushed around me to stabilize my condition, my father, the calmest and most unnerved person I have ever known, fainted. Again, I was in excruciating pain and shock. But if I’d had the language skills at the time to verbalize it, that’s when my six-year-old self would have said “Oh my god. Dad fainted? Shit just got real.”
The damage was a fractured femur, broken in seven spots. For days I was also monitored for any lingering effects of a head injury. Fortunately, there were none. Although many people who know me now might like to debate that.
I stayed about two months in the hospital while my leg healed in traction. After that there were another two months at home in an almost full-body cast that came up to my ribs. But the experience, in my six-year-old state of mind, turned out to be an overall positive one. There were visits, and presents and nurses who were regulars on the pediatric floor who became my friends. I actually enjoyed myself. I celebrated my 7th birthday in the hospital and had a small party. I’ve always believed all of the attention showered on me during this time is directly responsible for my inflated sense of self worth today.
What I was left with after months of convalescence and rehabilitation was simply a scar – a dimpled indentation on either side of my left knee, still visible today. I had become not just the kid who was hit by a car, but the kid who was hit by a car, and survived.
Bad ass, right? But no. Not really. As I got older, it became obvious those scars were not only external. I had a minor surgery on my wrist four years later that required me to go under anesthesia. My mother told me as I woke from the medication, she heard me say things that were an obvious recall of the trauma from the ER during the accident.
That was about it though for many years – until I had my own kids. I didn’t really realize how much I’d been impacted until I became a mother. That’s when I became what my husband likes to affectionately refer to as “bat shit crazy” when it came to cars, parking lots and streets. Basically anything that involves being around vehicles that weigh several tons and can kill you in an instant upon impact.
When I think back on the car hitting me now, I recall it much more acutely. The image I have in my mind, that little toe-headed blonde girl, jumping out into the street without a care in the world, now makes me borderline nauseous because I immediately draw parallels to my own children. The idea of standing over them in an ER, as my parents did, watching them go through the kind of frantic, life-saving measures I did, sometimes brings me to tears. My poor parents. I can only now fathom their fear that day.
What this translates into is a mad woman who still makes her 8 year old hold her hand in even the least threatening parking lots. My 5 year old can essentially expect to hold my hand until she enters college, because she’s the baby, and I am even more protective of her.
“Does everyone have a hand? EVERYONE??!! MY HAND, PLEASE!!! HELLO??” I will scream, oblivious to stares and curiosity about what the hell my damage is.
When it comes to bike riding, I still insist on packing the bikes into the back of the car and bringing my kids to empty parking lots to ride, even though most of the length of our street has sidewalks. I will insist everyone “stop and wait, please” when almost every car drives by.
Over the years I have treated my children to enough lectures on the dangers of cars that would give a driving instructor a run for his money. I repeatedly warn them about cars that are backing up that may not see them, or potentially intoxicated drivers who make mistakes behind the wheel, and, of course, natures most evil and destructive motor vehicle threat: The elderly driver.
“If you see an old person behind the wheel, get away,” I will instruct them, over and over. “Don’t expect ANY car to see you. Always be on your own defense.”
My husband silently tolerates this, but I know he thinks I’m too cautious. I don’t care. Like I said, it’s a scar. Scars may fade, but they don’t go away.
If you think I’m being extreme, I don’t give a flip. And I suspect it’s an attitude I’ll hold for the rest of my life. Because that’s me; I’m the kid who was hit by a car, and survived, who then became a mom. I know a thing or two, and I’ll do anything I can to make sure history never repeats itself.
I’ve watched my own son in the emergency room a dozen times, three times were really serious (let in back immediately in spite of a jam-packed waiting room serious. Or arrive in an ambulance serious). My son, in particular, is sweet, cheerful, and completely oblivious to the world around him. It has taken literally years off my life.
You are not crazy. Not at all.
You are a miracle. I love how you describe how you actually enjoyed the hospital and the visits. Your positive attitude was probably how your parents survived that experience.
If it makes you feel better…I act like that with my kids in parking lots, too 🙂
Although I remember the accident, I was the same age, so not nearly experienced enough to understand the reality or magnitude of the situation. I don’t remember you as the girl who was hit by the car. I remember you as the girl who loved President Regan and wrote to him when we were oh so young, I remember you as the girl who had great sleep overs and birthday parties, and never made fun of me when I got scared and had to call my Dad to come get me, every single time!! I remember you as the smartest girl I knew and the one who I was absolutely certain would succeed in life. I remember you as the girl would would have a box full of outfits and costume accessories, and would whip something together, write me into her script and make us put on a play for her family within what seemed like 15 minutes. I also remember how angry you got when they laughed at the parts that weren’t meant to be funny… 😉
I remember you as the girl I wanted for a sister, because she and her family always made me feel welcome and comfortable and a genuine part of… And as we approach the, “BIG 4-0” no matter how radically different the direction our lives have taken us, you are always going to be remembered as one of the only people who seems to really, “GET ME”.
❤ You ARE a miracle, and you have two at home that BOTH have a touch of that spark. ❤
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