September 6, 2001
This new school year, all seven of my children will be attending classes full time. After 16 years of staying home taking care of my little ones, I finally will be free to contemplate life without interruption, to possibly pursue some of my own interests. I had been so passionately immersed in the everyday of bottles, diapers and chaos that I never really thought of my inner ambitions. Maybe I could redecorate the house? I had always wished to rekindle my love of art, drawing and being creative. Perhaps, I could take up racquetball or tennis again? I enjoyed the exercise, competition and the way the ball had effortlessly glided through the autumn winds during my college years. I could even get a part - time job. Before starting my own family, I had worked at a small school helping mentally, visually and hearing impaired children. What job with "mother's hours" could challenge me now?
I craved an opportunity to find out who I really was or wanted to be. I yearned to embrace my forties, to seek adventure and the opportunity to wear a different persona. I was looking forward to a new way of life, one without interruption from nine until three.
This particular morning I had pampered myself by staying in my pajamas, making my cream-filled coffee last for hours. I loved the solitude, the soothing background vocals of James Taylor, and savored a mystery novel, indifferent to the stacks of dirty dishes and piles of laundry surrounding me. I had a hair appointment after lunch and would be home to greet my children when they returned from school. The house would once again be filled with commotion, laughter, and familiarity. In the afternoon, many children from the neighborhood were playing street hockey and kickball in our big yard. The carefree spirit of childhood could be seen in their smiles. They enjoyed running, poking, and nudging one another. My son Paul had a couple of buddies visiting; they were goofing around out back in the dense woods. I recall seeing their sly and grinning expressions as they emerged from the pine needle forest, which told me they were probably up to some adolescent prank. Our eyes locked for a split second before my son abruptly turned and grabbed his bike, while still conversing and joking with his co-conspirators. I no longer existed. Paul, my thirteen-year-old son, was growing up. He was becoming way too cool to want to have anything to do with me. A pang of hurt briefly swept by, but growing up is inevitable; he was going to be an amazing young man. He was already an amazing young boy.
Around five o'clock when the phone rang, I had just started to prepare dinner; as usual, something processed, quick, and kid-friendly. Before the receiver touched my ear, I could hear my neighbor talking rapidly and loudly. It was hard to understand her words. "Dixie, hurry, come to the end of Farrar Road, Paul is hurt." I thought that is what I heard. I did not react right away; I had just seen my son. My neighbor must have been mistaken. I needed details. "What happened, is he okay?" "Dixie, get down here, Paul has been hit by a car; the ambulance is on its way." The phone fell from my hand, slapping and cracking the hardwood floor. I could not move. Blood emptied from my head, forcing a sharp, tingly sensation rippling, stinging through my nerves. My heart started to beat uncontrollably. My limbs went cold, then numb. A stifled scream surfaced. Eventually, I stumbled outside the door into a neighbor's waiting car. Everything was spinning. My throat was closing.
Paul's broken, twisted red bike lay by the side of the intersection. A black SUV idled on the other side of the road. The rush hour traffic, at a standstill, looked like a parking lot at a funeral. Commuters were getting out of their cars. A crowd of people began to hover.
My first instinct was to cradle my son's lifeless body on the hard pavement. Dirt and blood matted his face. A deep, red liquid oozed from the corner of his lips. "Oh, my, God...is he alive?" I touched his dark brown hair. Thick, ruby blood seeped from the back of his head. He had not been wearing a bike helmet. Intense panic ripped through the air and into my lungs. The woman beside me said, "Don't move him." She told me she was a respiratory nurse, and she was attempting to keep his airway open so oxygen could flow to his brain. "Is he breathing?" I demanded. Slowly she nodded yes. "Is the oxygen getting to his brain?" Her eyes did not meet mine. She did not answer. I quickly asked if my son was unconscious; she hesitantly nodded, yes. I was relieved to know this, wanting to believe that my son could not feel or experience the pain and had no knowledge of this horrific moment. I wanted to change places with her. I wanted to be the one holding my son's body. His handsome body, which I had watched grow from infancy, to childhood, to puberty.
I was not hysterical. Strangely, I was behaving calmly, and I only slowly became aware of the disbelieving crowd that was looking on. I stood up and pleaded for everyone to start praying and praying. "Don't stop," I ordered.
A man was standing in the intersection, next to the drip of fluids seeping down the road. In an authoritative tone, he stated that he was a doctor. He repeated several times that Paul was going to be okay. He stood a mile from my son's limp body, making no attempt to assist him. This old man, with his spotted tie and buttoned-up shirt, was adding more chaos and tension to this already terrifying situation. I wanted him to help, or to leave, or to shut up. Cars were blocking the street; the police could not get through. When they arrived, I realized they too were useless—their main task was traffic and crowd control on this quiet country road that had become a circus. I still did not hear the sirens of the ambulance. Where were they? Why was it taking so long? Paul needed help now!
Two panic-stricken teenagers were talking very fast to an officer behind me. I needed to block out their crying, their words, and their hysteria. I did not want to hear the details and to envision Paul and his buddies cruising on their bikes down the steep hill, or to picture the impact of colliding aluminum and metal, which smashed, dented, shattered, twisted, and forced Paul's body and mangled bicycle to somersault spastically, ten feet into the air...ten feet into the air...ten feet into the air, until Paul landed with a sudden forceful thud, bouncing and skidding on the rocks and concrete not far from the black SUV.
I did not want to look at the damaged vehicle, but I noticed the wide windshield was cracked. Glancing down the road, I began to pace, becoming frantic, desperately searching for help. I began to yell, "Was anyone else hurt? Where is the ambulance? What's taking so long?" Shouting louder, my body shook, my voice shook, "What happened?" No one spoke. People came to my side in an effort to hug and comfort me. I swung my arms and thrashed, pushing them away. I fell to the ground beside my son, sobbing. My eyes darted toward unfamiliar and seemingly familiar people standing near the bruised car, tall trees, and small flowers that were emerging from the cracks in the sidewalk. Suddenly I sensed everyone's hearts beating and witnessed every twitch of their muscles and movements...each individual eyelash, blinking...and Paul...silenced, unmoving. Within a millimeter of a second, the magnified and lucid world around me intently began to weave and spin and whirl, until I felt entrapped, held hostage within the confining net of a harsh cocoon. Instantly...everything had changed.