November 15, 1981
With the weekend over we said goodbye to my older brothers and left their boarding academy for the 2.5 hour drive back to Detroit. We stopped by this small gas station and David and I were allowed to have candy, which was monumental in the health crazed family we had thanks to my dad. I ate the candy quietly in the backseat savoring the rarity of it then started to look out the window in my post-candy glee. I was a talkative kid but didn’t say much that time as I looked at the trees glinting in the sun on this sunny November day. I slowly drifted off to sleep behind the driver’s seat where my mom was driving and the next thing I knew it was later. How much later? I hadn’t a clue but and it was like waking up from a dream, really foggy, this nurse looked rather mean as she tied me down to the bed and I kinda drifted in and out watching the lights in the hallway as they moved me from ICU to another part of the hospital. My mom was a nurse and I’d had two operations on my eye back when I had to wear a patch so I wasn’t afraid of hospitals. I probably thought I’d had another operation of some sort so I was chilling. In my experience one wakes up foggy after operations.
My room had a tv. We weren’t allowed to watch tv at home and the one we had had no picture in it anyway so it was a step down from a radio since one needs context for the sounds. I had a remote and a tv and no one was in my room to tell me not to look at tv so I was only focused on the tv. I changed channels and watched whatever caught my attention since I wasn’t picky and had very little context of tv in general. I can’t quite recall what I was watching but the segment where they give you a heads up on what will be on the news later came up with this twisted gray Ford car with red sets came up on it. I didn’t think anything about it but the nurse ran in and turned off the tv. I was confused but resigned that my dad had probably gotten word that I wasn’t allowed to watch tv. TV made people not think on their own and to top it off it told them how to think. I was raised to think. Yeah he’d gotten word to them so I accepted that watching my own tv was nice while it lasted.
A few tv-less minutes passed and a handful of hospital staff started to fill the room. Mostly nurses and I knew this because they wore those comfortable white shoes my mom wore. Something about being a nurse and standing up all the time meant that the most comfortable shoes ever were set aside in stores specifically for nurses and nurses preferred white shoes since white is what nurses wore. A couple were doctors and due to stopping by my mom’s work infrequently I knew one or two weren’t either doctors or nurses. They formed a half-circle around the foot of my bed, between the off tv that brought me such joy up until a few minutes ago. They looked uncomfortable and I felt that they were overdoing letting me know that that my dad had let them know that I couldn’t watch tv.. A doctor, I could tell that he was in charge, finally spoke up and said they had something to tell me. I already knew they were going to tell me how they were sorry they’d let me watch tv but they seemed so uncomfortable about it. I’d probably have to reassure them that I understood and I shouldn’t have watched tv since I already knew I couldn’t.
The doctor in charge cleared his throat then said “We’re sorry to tell you that you and your family were in a car accident and your mommy and daddy have died and your little brother is downstairs in ICU and he may not make it”. They stared at me intently but I knew what death was because we’d been to two funerals that year of family members. One who was my great uncle who used to make me laugh and lived not too far from us in Detroit and when he died we were given his car. The other was my great grandmother who was mixed, she had a Swedish mom, but she looked like an old white woman to me, which wasn’t an issue I just thought it was weird that she was my mom’s grandmother because my mom and grandmother weren’t white. Either way she was a nice old white lady with kind eyes that drank my brother and I in when we sat across the kitchen table from her in Tennessee looking at her wrinkles and kind eyes. I was pretty sad when she died and we talked about death on the way to her funeral, or wake, no one explained the difference to me at the time.
The half circle of hospital staff kept staring at me firmly stated to myself in my mind “you have to be a big boy now and not cry” after looking at the staff I reaffirmed that crying in front of the strangers was weird. I made a note to check on David. They all kinda filtered out of the room weirdly as if they didn’t get what they thought they’d get. I was told I could turn on the tv again and saw that commercial for the news was a picture of my parents’ car. I don’t think they let me watch the news that night but I ended up seeing segments in later days because they kept following our story.
They let me get in my wheelchair and pushed me down to David. David had casts on each limb and I thought that he’d enjoy the fact that there were lot of places for people to write cool stuff on and I asked for a pen and wrote on each one. David looked normal to me except for the casts and they’d leave me in his room sometimes by myself. I’d encourage him to wake up and made sure to force the few people that visited me to buy him the same toys they bought me from the hospital gift shop since I didn’t want him to wake up and I had gotten more than he had. I’d later find out that he was swollen all over but to me he looked normal with casts and he needed to wake up. He never did. My brothers and I were at his funeral which was at the graveyard with very few people. He had this suit on in the casket, I think it was mine, I didn’t mind because he was my little brother but I thought about that as we drove away in the car. I thought about that I’d never see him and looked out the window.
People would visit me at the hospital and they’d always search my face for some reason. Some would turn away mid-sentence but most had that look the hospital staff had where they needed something from me but I wasn’t doing whatever it is they felt they needed. I was doing something in that I wasn’t crying because i needed to be a big boy. I started to hate that way they looked at me and it only got worse and it lasted for years and years. People would pat me on the head or shake their heads slowly while it was announced in front of me yet again that I the orphan kid who survived the car accident. They’d tell me how awesome my dad or mom was then search my face. My parents had seemingly thousands of best friends. That made me different. Little did I know I’d have more of those moments from losing more people while people were searching my face and shaking their heads and it made me not like anyone else. It makes me not like you.
35 years ago today I was sitting in that car enjoying the rarity of being able to eat candy and looking out the window still normal.
RIP to my Mom, Dad and David