From Mother to Daughter
There is something about the sound of crunching metal, combined with the shattering of glass. It’s eerie, in a way, especially when the entire world is spinning out around you. Impossible, how events seem to slow down. One minute, I’m chatting with my mom about the church event we’re going to and fixing my skirt over my knees, and then, suddenly, the world is wrong side up. Yet somehow, there’s plenty of time to notice the puffy white clouds floating slowly across the sky before up is down and you’re suddenly trapped by a locked seatbelt.
The impact left me stunned and I sat there for a long moment, unsure what was going on. I’d been in a situation like this once before, the night my father had died protecting me, but this time I felt woozy and off balance, certainly more than I had in the prior accident. And I didn’t remember this searing agony that seemed to radiate through my entire body. I looked around, trying to get my bearings, but everything was wrong. I think I was sideways, which meant the car had to be on its side. I glanced to the right and saw the black of the asphalt against the broken glass beneath my shoulder. Above me, my mother was held in place by her seat belt, dangling motionless above me. My head was throbbing in agony, my vision blurry from the loss of my glasses, but I was very sure we were both trapped.
I couldn’t really focus on anything clearly, but as I looked to my left, I thought I could see that the driver’s door wasn’t shaped right. I tried to focus on my mother, to see how she was since she was hanging so absolutely still, turned toward me like she’d tried to put her body between me and the other car, just like my father had. I could see something else, barely. A dark slash of metallic grey against the spreading red color that was expanding over her t-shirt. Wide and flat, it seemed to spear through her shoulder, back to front. I could see more dark crimson over her forehead and weeping downward, drip after steady drop from her forehead and through her hair.
I was in a strange state of mind, analyzing events almost emotionlessly. Even as I focused on items and circumstances, I didn’t really process what it all might mean. The steering wheel looked out of place, pressed into my mother and holding her securely into place. I didn’t remember it being this bad when my father had died, but I couldn’t be sure that I was thinking clearly. There seemed to be a lot of that vital fluid, and it was splashing downward in ruby droplets that stood out starkly against the rest of the backdrop. It came from my mother, from her chest and soaking her hair, cascading down the strands toward me and then dropping from the ends. It seemed too much blood for someone to survive.
My mind briefly lingered on the fact that, if it was cascading downward from my mother, it was landing on me. If I’d been thinking clearly, I might have been grossed out by the idea of being covered in that crimson fluid. I’d also have realized that to lose so much, my mother had to be gravely injured. I couldn’t think, my discomfort growing into tingling, evolving into excruciating burning. It made it hard to breathe, like a great weight on my chest. The window beneath me was destroyed, an ineffectual barrier against the hard asphalt below. The entire right side of my body was in extreme torment, centering around my shoulder. The dashboard in front of me didn’t look right, bent inward, and I could feel pressure on my legs as I tried to move. The middle console wasn’t right either, torn out of place with the stress of the crash. I could feel it against me, sharp and stabbing where it rested close to my skin.
My glasses were gone and I couldn’t see where they were. Everything was blurry—color and touch were my main way to perceive things without my glasses. My long hair was trapped beneath me, holding my head in place somewhere close to the ground, even as the locked seat belt held the rest of me in place. There was so much blood all over me, more than I ever knew could be in one person. It continued to drip downward, hitting my skin in a trickling waterfall of red. My vision started to go dark around the edges, the darkness creeping in until it was all I could see.
When I came to, I could hear a siren in the distance and it was growing louder. The amount of light I could see wasn’t much different than it had been when we’d left home, so I could tell that not much time had passed. I could feel the car shifting, the clamor of voices outside, echoing in the car like they were a good distance away. Then the car moved once more and I could hear the crunch of metal. I became aware of my mother moving around in the seat. Then I saw something metallic gray shoot through my blurry vision and heard the sound of it thumping into the back seat behind me.
I tried to focus on what my mother was doing. I couldn’t see more than unclear outlines, relying more on color. I could see the tear in her shirt where earlier something had been sticking out of her shoulder. Whatever it was, it was no longer there, only the seepage of blood around the area on her shirt showing where it had been. My vision was fading in and out, but I wasn’t sure how she’d been able to get it out of her shoulder and now the steering wheel wasn’t as close as it had been before.
An incredible ache started in my leg that was pressed against the ruined center console. That torment then spread, up my thigh and into my torso, creeping through my body, inch by inch. I coughed up blood, my chest spasming and I was unable to wipe it off as it sprayed the dashboard in front of me. My eyes were starting to fade into blackness, but I could see the change in light as the driver’s side door was ripped off, metal tearing with a loud screech. I could hear my mother’s voice as someone reached in to help her out through the opening.
It was just a bit longer before they got to me. Someone I didn’t recognize climbed into the car to cut me free, not only of my seat belt but chunks of the car that were trapping my legs. Even a chunk of my hair was sacrificed to whatever it was stuck beneath. By the time they looped a harness around me, my entire body was tingling. Every part of me was on fire, my skin, muscles, and nerves were excruciatingly sensitive. I lost consciousness as they started to lift me up, my leg screaming out in protest. I prayed that my mother was all right. She was all that I had left in the world. She couldn’t be hurt so bad I’d lose her.
When I regained awareness, someone was locking me into place, I jerked suddenly, trying to push to get out of the car where I last remember being locked into place. I couldn’t get my arms free, my head was strapped into place. I must have made a sound because I saw a somewhat familiar face center in my blurred vision telling me to be calm. He was wearing a uniform and he tightened a strap across my chest. There were whispered words I was having trouble understanding. My eyes focused upward, not really seeing anything but the blue of the open sky above. At least I wasn’t in the car any longer. But where were they taking me? Where was my mother? Didn’t they understand that I needed my mother?
I shifted against what I came to realize was a gurney, whimpering when the movement pulled on my injured shoulder. I had to get out of this contraption they had me in. My mother needed me. Gentle hands touched my shoulder and eased me back. I knew her touch. My mother was already there, standing beside me. Her clothes were stained red, but as my hand wrapped around hers, it seemed she was all right. Not even on a gurney, she seemed as healthy and well as always.
The gurney shuddered a little as it was lifted up into the ambulance and then someone hooked the straps into the floor. A couple of clicks echoed in the small space. As soon as my gurney was strapped in, my mother reached out, wrapped one hand around mine and held on tight as the paramedic started messing around with my other hand. I felt the prick of a needle sliding into the back of my hand, through the skin and likely into a vein, adding to the total torment I felt. My hand went cold as something traveled from the overhead bag into the needle in my hand. I glanced away from my mother and over to the paramedic as I felt the liquid entering my veins through the needle.
“Her eyes are dilated and a really pale shade of blue,” I could hear a male voice nearby say, though it seemed to come from a distance. “Rebecca, is that Kaylee’s normal color or is this a change?”
I glanced out the back as movement caught my eye, unable to garner much interest in the color of my eyes. I saw another gurney several feet away, sitting on the ground. It looked like someone was on it, though they were covered in a thin white sheet. It was hard to see exactly, but I was pretty sure even the head was covered. Of the cars behind that gurney, I could only see colors and a vague outline, but it seemed like they weren’t really shaped like cars anymore.
“No, that’s her normal eye color,” I heard my mother respond just as someone darted into the frame of my vision, past the ambulance door.
A large figure that seemed to be a man stopped at the gurney and the white sheet was lifted up out of the way so he could see beneath it. I heard a cry of suffering, a sob of anger as the sheet was replaced. Then the figure, so vague in my ruined vision turned toward the mangled cars. Ours had been a dark shade of red while the other was white; a truck from what was left of the outline.
The obscure figure leapt toward what was left of our abused vehicle, visible to me only because of the color and movement. It looked like he was punching and kicking at the mangled remains of our car. My view was disturbed as the doors closed on me, one by one and I leaned to one side, trying to keep it in my vision as long as I could.
“Headed out,” the paramedic beside me said, drawing my eyes back to him as he slid onto the bench seat beside my mother.
I was in and out the entire way, aware that the siren was blaring, aware that someone had died, and becoming aware that perhaps it was a miracle that my mother and I hadn’t died as well.
The hospital wasn’t a long drive; there was only one in the entire town. Agony didn’t allow me to sink too far under, but they’d put something in the IV that kept trying to drag me into sleep.
The tingling that had started in my thigh and spread through my body had made it to my head and that is what battled with the medication in the IV for my attention. It was too incredible to just sleep through, quite easily the most intense pain I had ever experienced. I tried to bite back a moan as the overwhelming feeling started to take over, but it slipped out of my control. That made the paramedic lean over to check my vitals, and then a moment later, I felt a tug on the IV. The cold, burning feeling in my hand grew stronger. Then, as the ambulance arrived at the hospital and the back door opened, oblivion washed over me and then took me under completely.
Whatever they’d given me must have been potent because I didn’t wake for several hours. By the time I came to, I was firmly settled in a hospital room and still very groggy. My mother was at my side, looking just like she always did. She’d cleaned up and changed clothes, looking fresh and normal just like I remembered her being that morning before we’d left for church. I, however, was clad in a hospital gown and my thigh, my head, my right arm felt wrapped and my arm was strapped up against my body.
“How are you feeling, pup?” my mother asked as she walked from the window to sit on the chair beside the bed.
I looked back at her, aware that I had surely taken a blow to the head and wasn’t exactly alert now. Even so, I could swear I had seen some pretty serious injuries when I was in the car with her, not to mention the extreme amount of blood I was sure had been dripping down on me from her. It didn’t seem to matter what I thought I remembered, she was just as she always was, not even moving like she hurt. Not that I could see her perfectly, considering I still didn’t have any glasses.
“Mom? What are you doing up and about?” That feeling of wrongness did not leave me as I looked at her. “You should be in a bed next to me.”
“I’m just fine, Kaylee. I got crunched up behind the wheel a bit, but I slid right out once they pried the car open. I climbed out under my own power,” she answered me with a soft smile.
“But,” I stopped after the word, not even sure what I wanted to say exactly. “Are you sure? I remember all this blood. And I thought I saw a lot of blood on your shoulder, like something went all the way through.”
Now I wasn’t sure what I remembered. That was impossible, wasn’t it? I couldn’t have hallucinated all of that, even with a blow to the head.
“Be still, darling,” she said as she brushed my hair off my face.
My mother had an unusual accent and no one had ever been able to place just where she was from. Even I didn’t know, but although a lot of people called it strange, she sounded like my mother to me. People had insisted she was from Ireland, some thought she was from the South, but she never admitted to any of it.
“I’m just fine. You’ve been through a hard morning, little one,” she assured me, her touch soothing on my aching head. “As you can see, I’m not injured or unwell.”
I was so tired and I knew most of that was from the drugs in my system. Even so, I just wanted to go home. I didn’t like what it meant to be in the hospital, to be that bad off.
“Can we go home?” I pleaded. My words were soft, but I’m sure she heard me.
“You banged your head up right good when the passenger side of the car hit the pavement, little one,” she told me. “You have a concussion, at the very least, so with the other injuries, they want you to stay overnight for watching. I agree. At least here, if you try to get out of bed too soon, I can have them strap you down.”
If I hadn’t been fully aware of my mother’s strange sense of humor, that might have given me a moment’s pause, but I knew her too well for that.
“It stinks here,” I said as I wrinkled up my nose, the antiseptic smell just too strong in my nostrils. Beneath that, I could smell the overwhelming scent of blood and other chemicals.
“I know, love,” she said as she leaned over to kiss my cheek. “But morning will come soon enough, and then we’ll both head home together. Jessica stopped by quite upset earlier, so I asked her to make a run for clean clothes. She was so sure by looking at the smashed car, that one or both of us was dead.”
“Don’t leave me” I begged, the loss of my father in the forefront of my mind. I didn’t want to be away from her right then.
“Of course, pup!” she insisted. “No one else can take care of you like I can. Besides, they keep showing up to poke and prod at you more, so I’ve been keeping them away.”
She winked, though I knew there was truth to her teasing comment. My mother tolerated doctors, but only when I had no other choice. Otherwise she would wrinkle up her nose and tell me about some obscure plant that would do the job better. Of course, none of these plants helped my asthma effectively enough to do away with the doctors completely, to her great chagrin. Though we did try.
She leaned down to kiss me on the cheek as she reached up at the same time to grab a button hanging over the side of the bed. I knew the kiss had been an attempt at distraction, but I wasn’t mad at her because it showed me she loved me. I could feel the needle site go cold a moment before my head started to swim again and I lost consciousness.
I woke several times in the night, surprising both my mother and the doctors, who were determined that I get as much rest as possible. Each time, they checked my eyes, asked some questions to make sure that I wasn’t having issues with the concussion and then hit that button beside the bed that knocked me senseless for several hours.
Through the night, every time I would wake, the smell was so strong it burned my nostrils as I breathed and I could start to discern even more beneath that burning rubbing alcohol sting. Vomit, feces, even baby powder, grew stronger and stronger until I was desperate for some fresh air, begging for fresh air, but the windows were not those that could be opened. It took so long to get to sleep, with the stench in my nose.
I could hear my mother, speaking to me as the darkness closed in on me, her rough hands on my face.
“I’m sorry, pup. I’m so sorry. I hoped I was wrong, but I’m not,” she said so softly I could barely hear. “I only hope you will find the strength to forgive me. Someday.”
I kept sliding in and out of awareness through the rest of the night, like my body was fighting whatever they were giving me to make me sleep. Most of the time, I would just float back under after moments of awareness. Near the morning, I thought it was morning by the dim light from the windows, I heard voices around the drawn curtain as I started to wake. I could hear my mother talking to someone I thought could be the assistant principal at my school, Mrs. Barrett. It sounded like her.
They were talking about my injuries, when I might be back at school; I wasn’t sure because I was having issues concentrating. I was further distracted by the scent of something really nice overwhelming the hospital stench—like burnt sage and mint soap. I turned my head, careful because it was still pounding with unbelievable agony. Peeking around the curtain was Ben Barrett, one of the boys from school and the assistant principal’s son.
I inhaled, appreciating the break from the burning in my nose. He eased around the curtain as his mom talked with mine and came to sit in the chair next to me. His hand wrapped around mine, one of the few places not bandaged up, and he looked sad as he looked down at me.
“Kaylee,” he whispered softly.
“I’m glad you didn’t die like Shawn,” he said softly, making me wonder which Shawn had died.
“You look horrible. I’m not even sure you know what I’m saying, but you need to get better,” he continued. “The whole town is freaking out.”
I wanted to talk to him, but the painkillers were still so strong and I was barely awake. I wasn’t sure I was even going to remember him visiting me.
“I have to go. We can’t stay long,” he said, looking up at the curtain. “But remember, get better.”
He got up and walked out, leaving the scent of him remaining in the room. It was pleasant enough in my nose that when the drugs took me back under, it was filled with something much more pleasant than the antiseptic nastiness of the hospital.