As I step into the crosswalk, there’s a sudden, deafening sound. An explosion maybe? Then I’m airborne, thrown onto the hood of a car. What the hell? I silently scream to the universe or God or no one. Seriously? All I can hear is an earsplitting cacophony; all I feel is wild, uncontrolled movement.
Stop the car! Stop the car! The car is catapulted down North San Pedro Road, my head banging against its windshield. I slip off the hood onto the ground. Alive.
I can’t move. Can’t speak. I lift my head and blink my eyes a few times. Things come into focus. To my right, people crowd the sidewalk, staring at me with their mouths open in horror. Like in Munch’s painting. I hear someone yelling, “Oh, my God. Oh, my God!” I slowly turn my head in the direction of the sound but see nameless faces. Cars are turned in different directions. People are running toward me. I’m lying splayed in the middle of the street and feel my short cotton print dress hiked up, naked thighs on display. Like that matters. I keep blinking, but the scene doesn’t change.
A white pickup truck stops in the middle of the street. A man wearing an Oakland A’s jersey jumps out and runs toward me.
“You’re fine,” he says. “You’ll be fine.” A woman is yelling at him to stop talking to me. Why is she angry with him?
He says I’m fine. Maybe he’s right. I don’t see any blood. But how could I be fine? Horns blare. I think that’s my friend’s teenaged son on the other side of the street. “Is that Joanne?” I hear him ask, panicked. He gets back into his mother’s car, and they drive off. Maybe this is a dream.
Janet, who teaches exercise classes at the Jewish Community Center (JCC), where I work, runs toward me in slow motion. A police officer hands her my purse. He’s holding my orange and black shoes. She’s calm, trained for emergencies, and crouches down next to me. Pulling my cell phone out of the purse, she says we must call Fred, my husband. I hear my voice slowly dictating his number.
“Joanne’s okay, but she’s been in an accident,” she says, her voice measured, composed.
Still on the street right in front of the JCC and our beloved synagogue, I reach for the phone. “Meet me at the hospital.” The phone falls to the ground. The cop and Janet start to spin. Or am I spinning? A taste of bile is sour in my throat. I drop my head.
Sirens are wailing. The police officer is trying to get me to stand up. No. Don’t. Shouldn’t he leave me here until the paramedics come? Now there’s pain, and it’s blinding. Before, there was no pain. I gesture toward my right side. Didn’t know that pain can literally make you see stars. Someone else arrives. A paramedic. Kind face. We lock eyes. I’m on a gurney, being loaded into the back of an ambulance. I hold onto his gaze like a lifeline. A woman is screaming.
“It’s totaled,” she yells. “I don’t know what I’m going to do! I can’t believe this happened!”
Stop it! Is she the person who was driving the car that hit me? Can’t see her. Why is she in this ambulance? Make her stop, I silently beg the paramedic with deep-set eyes.
He gives me a shot of something, and I’m slipping. More nausea, but less pain. I exhale. The short drive is a blur. Sounds. Colors. Helpless. As we pull up at the emergency room entrance,
By Accident • 3
I see Fred’s face, his brow furrowed, the color gone from his cheeks. He’s here. I’m not alone.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper, aware, even in my altered state, that the phone call he just received was his greatest nightmare.
I learned of Fred’s tragic past in 1978, after we’d been dating for a while. While he certainly knew that his parents had both died when he was seven years old, he didn’t realize until his twenties that he was technically an orphan, a testament to how his grandparents enveloped the children with love after that fateful night,
November 4, 1962. Marvin and Martha, Fred’s parents, were driving with his older sister, Sandy, when they were hit head-on by a drunk driver. Sandy, the only one to survive the accident, was hospitalized and missed three months of school. Fred, a whirling dervish of energy, adored baby of the family, was asleep at home when the police came and knocked on the door looking for an adult. Fred’s brother Neal, six years older, sent the officers to his aunt and uncle’s house nearby. Fred’s memories of the following few days are sketchy. Grownups crying. Eating Hostess cupcakes and drinking milk in front of the television set. Holding Pug, the family’s Boston terrier. Crying in the arms of his second-grade teacher, Miss Yamamoto.
In The World According to Garp, there’s a scene in which Garp and his wife are touring a house that they’re thinking of buying. Suddenly, a small plane comes crashing into the house and Garp smiles and says, “We’ll take it!”
The real estate agent looks at him incredulously, and Garp says, “What are the odds of that ever happening again?”
It’s a scene that Fred and I remembered when our teenage sons were driving around with friends who, despite all assurances to the contrary, were probably drinking.
“What’s the chance that one of us will be in an accident with a drunk driver?” we joked. “That already happened.”
Yet, on October 3, 2012, Fred got the call about my accident, and I couldn’t help but feel responsible for his pain.