It was one of those orders that brooked no quarter, left no room for debate. That, and the fact that the voice sounded suspiciously and irrationally like my grandfather, compelled me to obey. So I went limp. To this day, I’m not sure if that saved me, or caused more pain, but for the sake of argument, we will go with saved.
A 1976 Chevrolet Suburban is two and a half tons of steel, aluminum and plastic and when traveling at 35 miles per hour is almost guaranteed to make short work of a scrawny, 130 pound fourteen year old, and it did so to me.To be perfectly honest, I don’t remember the impact. I have no recollection of the fender meeting my shin, or my face kissing the hood. I don’t recall flopping across the front of the giant, rusted-tan beast or skidding under it to be introduced to the black asphalt and tar beneath it. In fact, my memory skips straight from a command that my grandfather couldn’t possibly give to laying on my back and trying to make sense of the nearly white gravel pebbles stuck in the deep treads of the rear wheel of a very large tire mere inches from my nose.
It was several more seconds before the pain hit.
It came in waves, and was made all the more confusing by the fact that my other senses were scrambled. I had a first person perspective of what cartoon characters must see when the stars are floating around their heads. The tire I was looking at was intermittently obscured by rapidly flashing white light. The pungent odor of asphalt, old oil and burned rubber was overpowering, but seemed more like someone else describing the smell than me actually smelling it. I heard sounds, but in the same distant, echoing sense I had experienced when I swam too deep at the pool and my eardrums popped. The only thing I could taste was the salted copper that some distant part of my mind associated with blood.
It was another, equally distant part of my brain that was trying desperately to inform the rest of me that I was hurt. Bad. Unfortunately, that distant part was being argued with by the much nearer knowledge that going limp couldn’t possibly cause this much pain and therefor I was fine. So I attempted to sit up. When nothing happened, I realized the right side of my body wasn’t working. So I told the left side to sit up and was able to move my arm enough to leverage my torso into a near vertical position. I regretted that immediately.
Needles of pain rocketed up from my wrist to my shoulder. The flashing lights were replaced by a piercing lance of pure white agony that started, somehow, at the back of my skull. I felt bile rise to the back of my throat and something in the base of my nasal cavity erupted into my mouth and out over swollen lips. I tried to breath, and began choking as my lungs rebelled against their only purpose. Each cough was accompanied by the white lance of pained vision, and between those bursts I was able to see what had become of my right leg.
From the knee up, everything looked fine. About three inches below the knee, though, the leg took a sudden and unnatural turn left. Through the torn flesh, I could see the splintered white of bone that was my shin. I looked at it with a sort of dazed detachment, as if it was some other unfortunate boy’s leg. Somewhere in my chest, I could feel my heart thudding against my ribs. The blood spurting from the slivers of bone was flowing in the same rhythm, making it clear even to my disoriented consciousness that it was indeed my own leg. That sight faded, and so did the white light. As inky blackness came in from both sides, someone, somewhere, screamed.
“Do you know your name?”
If it hadn’t been for the seriousness of the man’s tone, I would have thought he was joking. Of course I knew my name. It was Ben. So I told him that. But somewhere between thinking and speaking, everything got weird and even my ears heard the answer as “Vmphn.” I tried again, and felt something in my teeth keeping me from forming the essential sounds of my own name. Whatever it was felt like a cross between over-chewed bubblegum and the stringy tendons you sometimes get in a steak. I felt almost triumphant when I figured out that something was my lower lip, but then the awful implications of that discovery sank in and I gave up on answering the man’s questions.
Time went all wonky from that point on. There were more questions, more incoherent answers, and more pain as the paramedics maneuvered me into the ambulance. I remember that same voice speaking to someone else and hearing the phrases like “concussed, internal hemorrhaging, and possible compound fracture.” That last one made me want to slap him. Even I knew that my leg was well beyond “possible compound fracture.”
Our arrival at the hospital was accompanied by more voices, more questions, and yes, more pain, as they rushed me from the ambulance and into the sterile halls of Bate’s Memorial. At this point, I became distinctly aware that I was not in me anymore. The pain was fading, and I was looking down at someone that vaguely reminded me of me. I watched, fascinated, as they pried my lower lip away from my teeth and began setting the bones in my right hand and wrist. Then they moved to my leg, and I was me again; just in time to feel bone scraping against bone as they snapped my shin back into a more natural position. I heard that scream again, and it took a couple of seconds to realize it was coming from my own throat.
I woke to more questions. But this time, the questions were being asked by familiar voices and the answers came from someone who sounded calm, but in charge. I opened my eyes and saw a stranger with dark hair and small, professor-looking glasses. He was looking over me and speaking to someone behind me. Most of what he said didn’t make sense. Something about craniums, and bruising and vegetables. There were some percentages thrown in there, and something about wheelchairs, tibias, and rest of life. I heard crying, and the realization that this squinty eyed stranger had just informed my mother that I was probably going to be a vegetable, and if not, I would never walk again without aid. I heard the desperation in her cries, and that gave me the strength to recognize the lie being told. So I reached out and grabbed her hand. Her eyes locked onto mine, and I concentrated to make sure the words came out correctly.
“Mom, I’m gonna be okay.”
And I was right.