-A memoir about growing up in Loxahatchee
I was lying in bed late one Friday evening debating whether I should get up and ask my parents a question or forget about it. I was extremely tired after a long day of traveling. I got up slowly, came out of my bedroom, stumbled down the short hallway, through the kitchen, and then stood outside their closed bedroom door. It is a small house thus a short walk of approximately twenty-five feet. Despite its size and simple design the house carries a special sentiment in that my dad built it with his own two hands from foundation to drywall constructing everything except the plumbing and tile. The energy in this home holds a particular familiarity and comfort that many people never experience.
My parents had already gone to bed fifteen minutes prior to my approach. I was hesitant in asking the question for two reasons. First, I was afraid of waking them. I’ve always disliked waking anyone. My dad may be deeply caught in a terrifying nightmare and my approach could provoke a violent response of arms and legs thrashing about and knocking the shit out of me. Or the sudden snatch from the dream could cause a panic attack or worse, a heart attack! My anxious mind is always overreacting. This situation was different in that there was a door and about fifteen feet of space between me and their bed. Also, I was inebriated after drinking six glasses of wine and smoking pot at the next door neighbors’ birthday party. I have never been good at disguising my voice in this condition and felt nervous despite the lack of proximity between us. At any rate, I was already up and decided I better ask the question soon in case they were still awake and heard me wondering around the kitchen. I asked and my parents both immediately and unanimously responded with a resounding “NO!”
Growing up in a rural area surrounded by five miles of dirt roads, pines, palms, orange trees and cypress trees with canals and lots of warm weather all year around made for an exciting and liberating lifestyle as a kid. I had an abundance of freedom and places to roam unlike the city kids that lived twenty miles inland and closer to the Atlantic coastline. I lived with my younger sister and my parents on five and a quarter acres in a three bedroom, two bath house with a large kitchen and a sufficient family room. There was a pond with a wooden dock and a barn for our horses all of which my dad had built along with the house. Before the house was built we lived in a three-bedroom house trailer for the first four and a half years. My parents bought the property and we moved in December 1978 while I was in the first grade. We had been living in a residential area of West Palm Beach close to Palm Beach International Airport. The noise of the city and the need for fresh air and space was Dad’s motivation for the move. Mom wanted a rural place for her horses and other animals that would eventually become part of the family.
Throughout the years we had dogs, cats, rabbits, chickens, ducks, geese, guinea pigs, exotic birds and of course all the wild animals in their fascinating, natural habitat. The wild animals were quite diverse living in south Florida and included irritating insects like mosquitoes and fire ants. There were lots of bright green tree frogs with their little suction cup toes and spiders that were good for consuming the insects. Before the screen was built around the porch, spider webs were everywhere especially around the porch lights to trap and eat the mosquitoes. The tree frogs indulged in this parasitic delicacy as well while suctioned to our windows in the evenings. In the mornings all that was left were little round toe prints on the window panes.
Lizards and geckos came in all shapes and colors, and there were turtles of various sizes along with many species of snakes slithering around like harmless blue indigos, dangerous rattlers and water moccasins. Luckily snakes don’t like the vibrations of horse hooves so there weren’t too many roaming around on our property. After a hard rain, the L-8 canal which was a couple of miles behind our place would flood as well as the land around us. This brought the occasional alligator onto our property and into the pond. They were usually no larger than three feet and posed no real danger to the larger animals or to my sister and me. But Dad still shot the alligator for fear of it attacking and eating our smaller animals like the ducks and geese, not to mention all the bass and brim in the pond that he fed every day to fatten up for our future fishing weekends in the john-boat or off the dock. Bass and brim were tasty when cleaned then battered in corn meal and flour to fry. And there was no point in the torture of catch and release unless the fish were too small to eat.
Rodents were abundant like bats, rats, field mice, little adorable brown wild rabbits with white tails, and scrawny squirrels. There were raccoons, skunks, bobcats and foxes. I saw opossums and armadillos but usually and unfortunately as road kill.
There were many species of birds like chatty mockingbirds, blackbirds, woodpeckers, chickadees, sparrows, hawks, ospreys, white cranes, ibises, blue herons, gray herons and owls. One of my favorite animals was the big beautiful white barn owls with round faces and inquisitive wide eyes. They liked to build their nests in the barn and Dad didn’t mind too much considering the rat population was kept to a minimum. One evening, my parents, sister and myself heard loud screeching sounds in the barn from the house. This was not the typical cooing and hooting we were accustomed to hearing every evening right after dark. It was a panicked screech, so we all decided to check out the commotion. We were already aware of a nest with three baby barn owls but didn’t expect to find one of the chicks on the concrete floor of the barn. The mama was circling and screeching above us. There was no choice but to pick up the baby carefully and bring it into the house. Like most species of birds, barn owl parents will not accept a chick back into the nest after being handled by humans.
The little chick was kind of ugly in its bald, featherless pink skin but still innocent and cute at the same time. Its little round face reminded my sister and I of a comic strip character named Ziggy. The Ziggy character had been merchandised into dolls for various holidays and special occasions like graduation. My sister, Randi and I collected many over the years and decided to call the baby owl Ziggy. Mom made a few phone calls to locate a bird refuge and find out how to care for a baby owl. The closest refuge was a four-hour drive north into central Florida. It was a Friday evening and we wouldn’t be able to drive Ziggy to the refuge until Monday morning.
Ziggy’s fragile life depended on us. He had a noticeable fractured wing so Mom wrapped gauze then white tape around the chick to hold the wing against his body. Feeding him proved to be the most difficult task. At the advice of the handlers at the refuge, we first tried raw hamburger meatballs mixed with raw eggs, but Ziggy wouldn’t eat them. The inevitable feeding of mice was the only alternative, or this little owl would starve to death. Mom got the mice from the pet store and brought them home. The refuge handlers advised taking the mouse by the tail and bopping it’s head on the table to knock it unconscious or kill it instantly, then put it in a blender. Ugh! The liquid mouse mimicked the regurgitated mouse from mama owl. Randi and I couldn’t kill the mouse. Mom was hesitant so Dad did the honors. Growing up on a farm, Dad had more stamina for those kinds of things. Ziggy thought nothing of it and devoured the liquid mouse.
Monday morning came quickly and it was time to drive to the refuge. Randi and I became quite attached to this little owl. Our parents were more adamant than ever regarding the keeping of this pet and ‘no’ was the inevitable answer. Parting with Ziggy was tearful and joyous knowing that he would have a new home and possibly be rehabilitated back to nature. For many years after we called the refuge to check on Ziggy’s situation. His wing injury turned out to be extensive forbidding him to ever fly properly. He had to spend the rest of his life at the refuge but had plenty of space with other bird of prey in the same predicament.
The advantage of being surrounded by nature and domestic animals is Randi and I weren’t latch-key kids and weren’t exposed to the same things as other kids. Our schoolmates and ‘suburb’ or ‘city’ friends had enforced curfews and more rules to follow than us. Their parents were more apt to say no to questions like, “Can I stay out late tonight?” or “Can I go to a party?’ If I had the option to party, I suppose my parents would have answered the same. My friends lived too far away and there weren’t too many neighbors with kids my age. Most of the precautions and rules were about safety in the woods and on the dirt roads. Living in the country meant riding horses, driving three-wheeler ATV’s, and eventually cars therefore my parents had to take into account the weather and road conditions before giving the okay to do anything.
Horseback riding was fun and challenging. There were plenty of desolate dirt roads and land for the horses to easily spook and make sudden unexpected turns. Randi was five and I was eight when we began learning how to ride. Mom was an excellent rider and teacher. She had been showing horses and barrel racing since she was a teenager. Super Sport, her pure-bread Morgan, was a year younger than me and full of vigor but very well trained in English riding. My mom bought Sport as a colt and trained him before showing him herself. He was tall and majestic standing at 15.2 hands. This means he was fifteen and a half hands, 62 inches or 157cm. His coat was a dark chocolate brown with a long mane and tail of a lighter milk chocolate. He also had the perfect white socks around his ankles which judges looked for in shows. Sport had a wonderful disposition but because of his training no one could really ride him except my mom.
Miss Red was half Morgan and half Saddlebred. She was an older and less energetic horse of twenty-nine years. She was more passive and very sweet and patient allowing anyone even untrained riders to climb aboard. She was a perfect horse for lighter people like kids to learn how to ride western style. Miss Red was smaller and had a beautiful reddish brown coat and orange mane and tail. Her eyes were that of a rescued dog; so hopeful and loving toward everyone. Mom said she was like this even in her younger years. Eventually blindness, arthritis and constant fatigue became too much of a burden for Miss Red. Once she began walking away from food and hay my mom knew it was time to end her misery.
I remember the night of Miss Red’s departure very well. Mom wasn’t sure of our reaction to the death of a pet. This was the first. She had my grandmother, Mamma, over to keep Randi and me inside and occupied away from the windows. I remember thinking it odd that Mamma was spending the night on a school night. I knew something was wrong but played along for Randi’s sake. Mom and Dad eventually returned and gave us the news. Miss Red was euthanized and taken away for cremation. We didn’t go to school the next day and all I kept thinking about was how lonely Sport must have felt.
A few months had passed and Christmastime was approaching. Like other kids, we had made a list for Santa Claus. The lists had many different toys and gadgets; everything we wanted except a horse. It never occurred to me that such a request could be attainable. Much to my surprise Christmas morning welcomed us with not just one but two horses. One was a feisty gelded Quarter Horse named Rusty and the other was a half Quarter Horse, half Arabian mare named Copper-penny. They were both around eight years old. Copper was the taller horse standing at 14.2 hands so she was given to me. Rusty was shorter at 14.1 hands and very round. Randi looked like Yosemite Sam while riding him.
Among many precautions regarding the horses the most important was not leaving the feed room doors open otherwise the horses would flip the lids off the barrels full of pellets, oats and sweet feed. Horses cannot overeat grass and hay but their bodies cannot handle overconsumption of the food in barrels. Without intervention they will lie down after uncomfortably overindulging and eventually die.
Randi and I did leave the doors open a few times and a lot of money had to be spent on a veterinarian to come all the way out to our place. Medicine was administered and the horse has to be walked for hours. I remember one time I heard Mom cursing and screaming in the stalls. I went over to see what all the fuss was about. Rusty was in the feed room stuffing his face while Mom was in the process of trying to get him out. When she saw me she yelled assuming I was the one who had supposedly left the door open. I said that I had latched the feed room door and didn’t understand how he got in. This made her more enraged and she told me to get out. As I was leaving the barn, I suddenly heard a loud crack and felt this horrible pain in the back of my head. I fell to the ground holding my head and when I brought my hands down in front of my face there was blood all over hands running down my arms. I looked behind me and saw an old wooden horse brush with a bloody jagged edge lying on the ground. Mom didn’t realize the brush had hit my head. She had thrown it toward the inside wall of the barn but it ricochet and hit me. It was an accident. Mom never spanked or hit and to this day feels bad about the whole mess especially when I comment on the inch long scar I have on the back of my head. Luckily Rusty had not been in the feed room long and didn’t get sick. After a few other incidences we later discovered that the horses learned to unlatch the feed room door which was actually a three step process. Eventually Dad installed a lock.
We often rode especially on the weekends giving ample opportunity for falling off. Our young leg muscles were not quite developed and quick reflexes had to be learned over time. Though Mom warned us of a horse’s sudden moves, one has to fall off many times before becoming a good rider. Mom always said to get right back on the horse so to overcome the fear. Horses sense fear like dogs and if they do it gives them control. Such a large and relatively dumb animal can be dangerous with too much control. Of course, they were smart enough to unlatch the feed room door in the barn.
I remember a specific time when I fell off of Copper-penny. Randi and I were out horseback riding one Saturday afternoon without Mom and Sport. We were heading back home after a couple of hours of being out. We were older and more experienced riders then so Mom allowed us to go riding without her. There were various trails and routes through the woods and off the dirt roads in which we had discovered or actually trenched out over the years. The trail we were on that day was surrounded by muddy swamps as a result of a hard rain from the previous few days.
Rusty and Copper-penny always knew when we were heading home. Their behavior became more anxious and excited because they knew upon arrival they would get a tasty bail of hay once the riding gear was removed and their bodies cooled. Sometimes cooling them off meant a ride into the pond. This can be a tricky situation in that the rider must let up on the reins to allow the horse complete freedom of his head. Other complications can come from falling off the horse while he is swimming. Mom taught us to slide backwards off the rump of the horse. Their back legs remain straight while paddling and therefore do not have a harmful kick as they do out of water. However, the front legs stroke through the water vigorously similar to a dog but unlike a dog those hooves can be quite dangerous. If we were to fall off the side of the horse we had to swim away as quickly as possible to avoid being clobbered accidentally. Horses spook easily on land and especially in water despite the fact that most actually enjoy a brief swim. We all liked to take a dip once in a while with the horses especially in the grueling heat of August.
Horses that co-habit don’t like to be separated and Copper-penny and Rusty always knew Super Sport was waiting for them. Before our rides Mom reminded us to not allow the horses to gallop or run home. This only encouraged their anticipation and caused them to spook more easily. I didn’t think we were too close to home yet and wanted one last canter before walking. Twisting and turning curves around cypress trees, pine trees and palm trees made for a fun ride. The rush of wind through my hair and Copper-penny’s orange mane was invigorating. Copper knew the trail and seemed to enjoy it as well. All of a sudden, Copper came to an abrupt stop. I was thrown over her right shoulder a few feet in front of her. The sound must have scared a rabbit in the brush and when it scampered and hopped quickly away Copper got spooked by its movements. She decided to take off but graciously jumped over me instead of trampling me in her fright. I felt the brush of one hoof on my arm without injury.
When I started to get up, Copper was walking toward me then stopped to wait. I looked around for Randi and Rusty then noticed why Copper had abruptly stopped in the first place. My sister was quietly talking to Rusty to keep him calm while standing in front of him holding his reins. He was shoulder deep in muck. Any sudden movement could cause him to sink more. She had to keep his feistiness to a minimum. Slowly, with lots of coaxing, Randi pulled on Rusty’s reins with intermittent tugs. After a few minutes of patient and steady moves, he was out. The four of us walked home in silent gratitude; Rusty needing that swim.
Randi’s ATV 3-wheeler Accident
Despite all parental warnings there were several three-wheeler ATV accidents but the worst one was when my sister was going too fast and hit a muddy pot hole in the road. That happened on Sunday sometime in the summer of 1988 before her freshman year and my junior year in high school. My parents were out of town canoeing and primitive camping somewhere along the Peace River out of Arcadia which is northwest of Lake Okeechobee and just east of Sarasota. Mama was at our house for the four days my parents were gone. Randi’s friend Gretchen and my boyfriend, Garvin came out to the house for a visit. We were allowed to have a couple of friends over but we weren’t supposed to be riding the 3-wheelers off the property. When we asked my parents if we could just ride down our road the answer was a definitive ‘no.’
As typical teenagers the four of us wanted out of the house and away from Mamma and hanging out in the barn or in the cypress head at the back of the property where there was a deck and BBQ grill wasn’t far enough away. We had three 3-wheelers; Randi took one, Gretchen the another and Garvin and I took the third one. Not only did we leave the property but we went up the dirt road two and half miles away flying like we were running from the law in the Dukes of Hazard. After we went around a few curves we got separated for a short while with Randi in the lead and Garvin and I trailing behind. Once I rounded the curve we could see Gretchen ahead of us but Randi was faintly visible further ahead.
Suddenly Randi started swerving then flipped her 3-wheeler five or six times before flying off and landing on her back. Gretchen got there first and stood over her not knowing what to do. Randi was screaming and when I approached I noticed she was lying in a bed of fire ants. I couldn’t see any injuries besides some scrapes and cuts but she kept reaching toward her left shoulder crying. Garvin raced home to call 911 while Gretchen and I stayed with Randi trying to figure out how we should move her out of the fire ant bed while not knowing her injuries. We began wiping the ants away quickly but there were so many and the bites had already become visible and abundant. I wasn’t sure what was wrong with her shoulder but noticed a bone sticking up under the skin. We didn’t want to move her for fear of a spinal injury but the ants were biting her all over. Gretchen grabbed Randi’s ankles and I scooped my hands and forearms under her back from above her head. We gently but swiftly without lifting her completely off the ground slid her body about six feet away. We removed some clothing and focused on getting the fire ants off of her body.
Randi seemed dazed and confused and her speech was beginning to slur while she cried and motioned with her left hand toward her right shoulder. I figured she was in shock and possibly had a concussion. Garvin returned and an ambulance arrived after what seemed an eternity. The closest hospital was Palms West on Southern Boulevard which was at least fifteen miles away. I rode in the ambulance with my sister. Garvin and Gretchen took two of the 3-wheelers home leaving the wrecked one for later and got Garvin’s car to drive to the hospital.
Mamma stayed at the house to receive my parent’s call once they got to a phone or if they had arrived. It took many hours to locate my parents and fly them to the hospital. These were the days before cellular telephones so that dreadful phone call could not be made. Instead my parents received the terrifying message via helicopter and a man on a very loud megaphone. Imagine for a moment, camping and relaxing in the quiet woods along a river, and suddenly you hear a chopper then a man’s voice amplified calling out your name above you.
I was waiting in the emergency room when Garvin and Gretchen arrived shortly after. We could hear Randi screaming from the waiting room area. I began to panic and was ready to rush through those double doors to kick some ass when someone came out and told me to quiet down or I would have to be removed. I wanted answers and the nurse, medical assistant or doctor or whoever it was didn’t seem understanding in the least. That asshole left and another asshole came out and informed us that Randi had a broken clavicle (collarbone), hundreds of burning ant bites and a concussion.
Once Randi was out of Radiology they allowed the three of us to go back and see her. I kept wishing my parents would hurry up and get to the hospital then they finally arrived. I felt some relief dreading their reaction. They were not mad, but obviously thankful that my sister was going to be okay and not need surgery. She had to spend a week in the hospital with the first three days in the Intensive Care Unit. Needless to say and unlike riding a horse there was no need to get back on any time soon. Eventually we all rode again but to my recollection it was many years later.
Car Accident September 1987
The dirt roads became more of a concern for my parents when I was old enough to drive. Shortly after Randi’s accident and about a month before school started I got my first car. It was a 1980 tan hatch back Ford Mustang LX. As a mechanic Dad got good deals on many vehicles for the family and bought this one for only $500. Having a car meant I didn’t have to endure that rough bouncy ride on a school bus anymore. The commute to and from school was a long one and the shortest route meant having an extra ten miles of dirt roads to travel. My sister rode with me everyday. We were both in the marching band so we stayed after school for practice Monday through Thursday. Garvin had moved 350 miles away to Gainesville. He received a scholarship in track and cross-country at Santa Fe Community College which was not far from my future rival school, The University of Florida. I missed him so much. We had been dating for a year now and the relationship was serious; well as serious as a teenage relationship could possibly be.
It was the middle of September about four weeks into my junior year of high school. One day, after marching band practice, I wanted to leave and get home quickly to receive Garvin’s phone call. I only talked to him twice a week and he had a short window of time to talk between classes and cross-country practice. Our only other communication was through letters. There were no cell phones, email, Facebook, Twitter or webcams back then. We take for granted the convenience of those tools of communication in this information age!
It was around five o’clock in the evening and I remember driving extremely fast down the last portion of Northlake Boulevard which was dirt. I wanted to be home in time for Garvin’s call. I was going about seventy-five miles per hour; not a smart speed in such a lightweight vehicle. My mustang began to slide all over the dry, soft, and sandy road. I was slowly losing control of the car and I could feel it. Dad had warned me about not jerking the steering wheel if ever in this situation, but I wasn’t sure what else to do. The chain of events that followed, to this day, are unexplainable. I am not a religious womyn but there was some presence in that car. A strange, calming rush came over me. I let go of the wheel, closed my eyes and said aloud “Oh well, I am going into the canal” then to my recollection, passed out.
The next thing I remember was the roaring sound of my body being thrown around the inside of the cab. My car nose-flipped and rolled five times into the canal. I did not have my seatbelt on and somehow went through the closed passenger window while the car was rolling and landed face up in the canal with approximately two feet of water above me. When I came to, I realized I was under water after attempting to open my eyes. Oddly, my fear was losing my contact lenses and not drowning. I quickly jerked myself up high enough to get my head out of the water. I found myself sitting with straight arms and hands behind, propped up on a bed of torn branches from the wreckage. It was hard to breathe because my back and neck hurt so badly. I was soaking wet, covered in mud, and had twigs and leaves all in my hair. My shoes and one sock had been ripped off but my shirt and shorts were still on my body. I had no noticeable gashes, bruises or scrapes on my legs or arms.
After what seemed an eternity, two men came running down the canal bank after witnessing my accident a mile down the road from the opposite direction. They were noticeably panicked and once they spotted me asked if I were okay looking surprised to find someone alive. All I could think of was the safety of my musical instruments and asked them to get the clarinets out of the car which was upright on all four wheels and only thirty feet from me. The men asked me if there was anyone else in the car and thankfully no, my sister was not. As if fate were on our side, Randi was riding home with another friend that day.
I remember the paramedics were shocked to see me alive as well. They struggled their way down the bank to get me on the stretcher with a restraining neck brace. Riding in the ambulance and hitting bumps in the road made for a painful experience. Once I was at the hospital the technicians were moving me around in Radiology to get X-rays which felt like knives being stabbed into my back. Every time they moved me, I cried out. It reminded me of Randi’s screams echoing through the emergency room halls after her accident. I was fortunate to have no fractured or broken bones. I was fortunate to be alive.
Dad came to pick me up from the hospital after getting that terrifying phone call that no parent should ever have to receive. When he came to the emergency room where I was still strapped on that uncomfortable board, we both cried; him from fear and relief that I was alive, and me from the physical pain and the guilt of causing his fear. I didn’t have to stay at the hospital overnight and was released to go after several hours of waiting. Once I was in Dad’s truck I couldn’t wait to get home and go to bed. Dad is typically a fast driver, despite his warnings to me. He always said that he was a more experienced driver and knew the roads better. He was proven correct with this ordeal and to this day, he has never had a wreck on those dirt roads. But this one time, Dad drove the dirt roads very slowly and carefully so not to hit the bumps too hard.
I was bed ridden for two weeks and had to endure painful physical therapy sessions a few times a week for a month. The x-rays revealed extensive bruising that went through and through the muscle and tissue in my entire back. Living off those dirt roads had its share of disadvantages besides the daily wear and tear of beating the shit out of your vehicle.
Car Accident #2 September 1988
One car accident was not enough because exactly one year later during my senior year of high school I had another one. Surprised that my parents even allowed me to drive again? Well, their fears were awakened again with an early morning phone call from the police. This time I had a 1981 large red four-door Ford Fairmount and totaled it in a head on collision one morning on my way to school. The new facility of Wellington High School was open so the drive was only fifteen miles but I still had to drive the first five and a half on a dirt road. It was a dark early morning drive before the time had changed back to Eastern Standard from Daylight Savings. This particular morning Randi and I had to leave even earlier in order to take Garvin home before going to school. He was living back home after transferring from Santa Fe to Palm Beach Community College. He had spent the night after sneaking out to our house through my bedroom window the previous evening once everyone had gone to bed. This wasn’t the first time and Garvin was routinely waiting down the road for Randi and me to pick him up.
After two and a half miles and past the culvert bridge over the M Canal we came up on a large beat up white car driving down the middle of the road at 25 miles per hour. My headlights were blatantly shining into the cars’ back window but the driver would not move over to the right for me to pass. I wasn’t sure who it was which was unusual since our community was so small and rural. Whoever it was they were sure pissing me off. Randi was in the passenger’s seat and Garvin was lying down in the back seat. They joined me in a little ranting road rage when suddenly the white car moved over to the right. I increased my speed to get around quickly.
Passing on the dirt roads made me nervous especially after rolling my last car into a canal. Just as my car was pulling ahead of the white car I saw something coming at me. Within a split second I realized it was my headlights reflecting off of another vehicle. I shouted “Oh shit” and Randi screamed while I hit the breaks and jerked the wheel to the right. The next thing I remember is opening my eyes. Everything was blurred and I suddenly realized the excruciating pain in my left leg. I was struggling to breathe most likely because my blood pressure was so low and I kept passing in and out from the pain. Once I became aware of what happened the pain was worse and I heard someone shouting and panting hysterically. Randi was running around the car screaming “My sister is dying, my sister is dying, someone please help her!!!”
Her words made me more aware of my condition. I looked down and could faintly see my left foot flexed against my shin along with the brake pedal twisted somehow around my dislocated ankle. The front left tire had come through the floorboard. The pain was terrible and the worse I had ever felt. I tried to speak but felt my face get cold and sweaty and knew I was on my way to passing out again. When I opened my eyes Randi was still panicking and Garvin had gotten out of the car uninjured. He was trying to open my door but couldn’t get it open any father than a foot. The car felt stuffy and I was struggling to breathe. I wanted to at least get my head outside the car in order to get some air but outside the humidity was extremely high and the mosquitoes were beginning to swarm.
I couldn’t move. I looked down and noticed I was pinned between the steering wheel and the seat. The entire front portion of my shirt and shorts was drenched with blood. I realized why my sister was screaming. She thought I was bleeding internally. Somehow I could tell that my vital organs were in tact. I didn’t feel any pain in my torso area but that could have been because of the pain in my left leg. That pain also disguised another. When I tried to speak it only came out in whispers. I asked Garvin to calm Randi and convey that it was my mouth rather my insides spewing blood everywhere. That’s when I noticed that my jaw was shifted to the left and I could barely open my mouth. I knew something was wrong when my tongue was not aligned correctly with my upper teeth. Moving it around I could feel many bottom teeth were damaged.
In and out of consciousness I tried to stay awake but to no avail. Garvin was holding my head slightly outside the window and being chewed alive by mosquitoes the size of birds! Randi had gone over to the other vehicle to check on the driver. When she returned I asked her to help swat the mosquitoes off of Garvin. She said the driver was this white trash bitch we knew named Crystal; the sister of a schoolmate of ours. She said her upper thighs had gashes in them from the dashboard but otherwise looked okay. Randi graciously kept smacking the mosquitoes on Garvin’s legs while his defenseless hands and arms were holding me partially out the car. It is so weird how I remember such strange details this many years later.
The Paramedics arrived and all I can remember from that is hearing the loud screeching machine sound of the Jaws of Life right next to me. I was told later that the medics had to cut the driver side door completely off and cut the dashboard and steering column out in order to get me out. I was still in my seatbelt and my body was pinned. Once I was removed the medics realized that without cutting out the steering column there would have only been six inches between the seat and steering wheel.
I don’t remember the ride in the ambulance or getting to the hospital. I don’t remember much of the emergency room or getting x-rays either. I do remember some of the waiting time before surgery. I rarely ate breakfast back in high school but my luck would have it that that morning I did eat breakfast. I was also waiting for two trauma surgeons to arrive; an oral surgeon and an orthopedic surgeon. Palms West seemed to have an inadequate trauma unit but wasn’t stingy with the Demerol. I was in pain but it was now tolerable. Various family members came by but I can’t remember who specifically. I do remember ‘Uncle’ Monty. Mr. Montesino, my band director, left school after hearing about my accident and came to the hospital. Mom, Dad and Randi stayed with me. Garvin was there for some time. He had no injuries and Randi was wearing her seatbelt and ended up with only a small scratch on her left leg. If I hadn’t jerked the wheel to the right she would have received the same impact as I. Her worst injury was the shock of seeing my condition and that injury I wish on no one.
I had a broken jaw from my head being thrown forward and the right side of my jaw smacking the steering wheel. My jaw was fractured where it had hit the wheel and was shoved to the left and dislocated. I also had a dislocated ankle with a fractured tibia and the talus was broken into three pieces. My ankle injury is considered to be the worst kind usually occurring in car accidents victims and football players. The lesser of my problems was the extensive bruising in the chest from the steering wheel and the seatbelt which had kept the wheel from crushing my sternum or throwing me out of the car. The seatbelt saved my life. I learned my lesson after the first accident.
Crystal’s injuries were not so extensive. The cuts on her upper thighs didn’t penetrate any major arteries or muscle. They didn’t even bleed much since she had so much fat cushioning her legs. She had one fractured bone in her right foot and a fractured ankle both of which would only require six weeks of healing in a cast. I say ‘only’ because after surgery I faced six weeks of my jaw wired shut and possibly up to six months of a non weight bearing cast up to my knee.
The dangers of driving on the dirt roads my parents warned me about came true in every sense of their word. I spent a week in the hospital after six hours of surgery to place two screws and a pin in my left ankle, and a plate was screwed into my jaw under my chin as well as wired shut. The hospital stay was typically terrible being loaded full of morphine, a catheter, and intravenous needles that were never inserted properly. My arm actually swelled up twice its size before the idiot nurse on duty decided that the I.V fluid wasn’t getting through my body. This same nurse yelled at me and told me to stop being a baby because I was crying after several needle stabs in my arms and hands because the bitch was failing to find a large enough vein.
The positives I remember were my friends, teachers and family members visiting but especially Mom who was there most of the time making sure that the every-five-minute morphine pump was activated even while I slept. She didn’t want me to wake in a lot of pain. Like a mom, she took good care of me. She helplessly cried with me when the pain was unbearable. She also protected me from unwanted visitors and got rid of the bitch nurse.
I wore the cast for five and a half months and my jaw was wired shut for six weeks. Not being able to eat was awful for the whole family as well as it was for me. Having my jaw wired shut didn’t stop my mouth from bitching and spewing out foul language regarding hunger and pain. I grew very tired with those nasty tasting canned Ensure Plus drinks and sucking in Jell-O. Toward the last few weeks, I ripped a few rubber bands and wires out of my mouth to make room for some creamy mashed potatoes. Ironically, I still love mashed potatoes. My jaw was unwired in time to be able to crutch out to the football field during half-time and play my clarinet solo for the last game. It was a bittersweet moment.
Though I was charged for the accident for being on the “wrong side of the road;” I didn’t receive any tickets or fines. Crystal received several tickets however, for speeding, not wearing a seat belt, having no license, no insurance, no registration and no license plate. She wasn’t wearing a seatbelt because it wouldn’t go around her 400 pound body mass. She was speeding at 50 MPH, 20 over the limit. According to officers my speed got up to 40 so it was like the two of us hitting a brick wall at ninety miles per hour! I was speeding too but she shouldn’t have been on the road at all. Despite the two witnesses in my car including myself and a number of witness accounts to Crystal’s small pickup not having working headlights in the past she wasn’t fined for driving an ill-equipped vehicle. The damage to her vehicle hid that fact in her favor. Anyone would have seen her lights even over a car driving down the middle of the road. What irony, considering I would not have attempted to pass the white car if I saw the headlights of another car in the distance!
Of course, because of the accident, my parents found out about Garvin sneaking in through my bedroom window. They also put two and two together and realized that it most likely wasn’t the first time. I don’t remember any form of punishment for that. I suppose my parents felt that I was being punished enough. Though Mom knew I was sexually active with Garvin and on the pill I suspect if I had asked if he could spend the night the answer would have been ‘no.’
I had traveled 1,400 miles from Milwaukee to home for the weekend of my sister’s wedding shower and Bachelorette festivities. My flight arrived on Friday evening and Mom picked me up at the airport. We drove the approximate twenty miles west toward home utilizing the time in the car to catch up and talk about details concerning Randi’s wedding, which was coming up in five weeks. Upon arriving I put my things inside then we immediately went to the next door neighbors’ house for a birthday party where Dad was already waiting for Mom and me. After a while Mom decided to go back to the house and go to bed. Dad and I stayed a few hours longer; him drinking beer, me drinking wine, and both of us partaking in the joint that was passed around a large bon fire. We were both pretty lit up and tired so we were ready to go.
After saying goodbye to everyone, we heading back to the house. Dad went to the bedroom where Mom was already tucked in and I headed to what used to be my sister’s bedroom. Lying there after fifteen minutes I noticed the front porch light was still on. The light was shining brightly into the bedroom and my parents’ bedroom since both rooms had a window that overlooked the front porch. I was tired and debated whether or not I should get up and ask my parents about the light. I assumed they didn’t want the light on all night but neither of them wanted to get up to turn it off.
I got up slowly, came out of the bedroom, stumbled down the short hallway and through the kitchen, and then stood just outside my parents’ closed bedroom door. I was hoping at least one of them was still awake. I decided to ask the question instead of turning the light off on an assumption. I hesitated without disguise in a somewhat chuckling stutter in my inebriated state, “Uh, do you want this porch light on?”
Most likely after much debating as to who was going to crawl out of bed to turn off the light, Mom and Dad both immediately and unanimously responded with a resounding “NO!” and in the most gratifying tone.
I laughed “Whoa, in stereo!”
I heard them chuckle as I went back to bed.
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