The rope swing looked inviting. Photos of it on Airbnb brought my family to the cottage in Texas. Hanging from a tree as casually as baggy jeans, the swing was the essence of leisure, of Southern hospitality, of escape. When my father decided to give it a try on Thanksgiving morning, the trunk it was tied to broke in half and fell on his head, immediately ending most of his brain activity.
I was in bed when my mom found him. Her screams brought me down to the yard where I saw the tree snapped in two and his body on the ground. I knelt down and pulled him up by the shoulders. Blood sprayed my blue sweatshirt and a few crumpled autumn leaves. We were face-to-face, but his head hung limply, his right eye dislodged, his mouth full of blood, his tongue swirling around with each raspy breath.
What do you do in this situation? I grabbed a washcloth and started mopping up his leaking face. I told my sister not to come outside. She faints when there’s blood.
“Tell me each time he takes a breath,” the 911 dispatcher said in my ear.
“He’s breathing in; he’s breathing out. He’s breathing in; he’s breathing out.” Saying it aloud like a mantra calmed me down slightly, but was it doing anything for him? I decided to go in for mouth-to-mouth; I ended up with a mouthful of blood.
The EMTs arrived and suctioned the blood away from his face to see the damage. “He’s breathing. His heart is beating,” one of them said, “but it’s very serious.” They called for a helicopter and told us to start driving to Austin.
I scrubbed the blood off my lips and took off my soaking sweatshirt. Everything was blurry — adrenaline makes things that way. So does not putting on your contacts. I popped mine into my eyes and got into the car.
“It’s only a matter of time until something terrible happens,” The New York Times’s Ron Lieber wrote in a 2012 piece examining Airbnb’s liability issues. My family’s story — a private matter until now — is that terrible something.
Since the incident, I’ve felt isolated by the burden of this story and my sense of…