All through high school, I was carpool
ed. I was 13 as a sophomore and didn't turn 16 until I was a senior, so by then I was so used to it that I didn't bug mom and dad for a license or a car. They couldn't afford to get me a car anyways. First I got carpooled by my English teacher, Mr. Isett, along with 3 boys who lived in my area and who tormented me every morning and afternoon as I bobbed up and down in the rumble seat in the back of Mr. Isett's station wagon
; sometimes I sat up front with him because I could see what the boys were up to from the reflection in my ugly, red-framed, Sally Jesse fuckin' Raphael glasses (don't ask, I don't know either). We drove an hour to school, across the Maryland
line into Delaware because our parents would rather send us to a podunk
, middle of nowhere Christian school than risk sending us to a shitty local public school. Adam and Alan Cassell, two of the boys who rode with me, also went to the middle school I did, another podunk Christian school that was less far away. Adam would die the next year in a fatal truck accident coming home from his girlfriend's house one Thursday night in the fall
The next year, a new girl came to our class. Our school, and most Christian schools in rural Maryland, tended to take in bad kids that the public schools couldn't handle. Jennifer was such a girl. She would introduce me, through her string of delinquent girlfriends, to drinking, sneaking out of the house, smoking, and my first and worst sexual encounter. I didn't let my parents in on this, of course, because I thought Jennifer was cool. I thought, by hanging around with her, that I would get something my life lacked, substance. Jennifer also had a license and her own car. She and I and another girl in our class, Eve, began carpooling, as we all lived pretty close together on our side of the Mason-Dixon.
Jennifer had an 80's model Colt, a dingy silver 2 door hatchback. I usually sat in the back, as I'd become accustomed over the years to catching up on the hour sleep I'd lost earlier that morning, when my father nudged me awake before daylight to get ready for school. One morning in particular I woke up from sleep unable to see.
The car was stopped. Everything was still. I couldn't figure out why I couldn't see. I rubbed my eyes, thinking my contacts, a new addition in an effort to spruce up my self-esteem, had clouded over somehow. I was sitting longwise in the back. My left foot was numb. I could feel the tear in my nylons, and my shoe was off. I couldn't find my shoe. Then I heard Jennifer sobbing in the front seat.
Are we dead? Are we dead?
"We're not dead, Laura. Shut up."
Well, that's good.
Some time later, I heard sirens, but before then I can't remember whether or not I'd heard voices from passersby who came to the car to check in on us. I remember a lot of voices after that, and hearing the back window of the car begin to break and crumble around me; before this I don't recall touching any broken glass. Someone put a neck brace around my head and the next thing I remember is feeling my vision return as the inside of an ambulance became more and more clear. I saw through the little window the tops of trees and thought for a moment that I was in a helicopter. Neat, I thought. Never ridden in a helicopter before. But it wasn't.
With the neckbrace on, I couldn't see much, and I couldn't feel much when people began sticking things into me, an IV, a shot to numb my foot, or the stitches they inserted to close a gash in the outer side of my left foot. Somehow in the impact, my foot must have snagged on something. Impact? I didn't remember any impact. And then, it happened.
I leaned over and threw up. It was thick brown. It was my birthday cake from the night before; we had celebrated a day early. The orderly, an older black man, looked at me and said jokingly, "Look at the mess you made!" I tried to laugh, and as far as I rememeber, it hadn't occured to me to cry.
Moments passed and soon the faces of our school's principal and my parents popped up in my line of vision, which at this point was still directed at the ceiling due to the brace. I left the hospital not long after that, my foot bandaged and me hobbling to my parents' car in a patient's shirt, trying to carry some gauze in my free hand that was rolling around in one of those kidney shaped plastic trays.
Jennifer bit the steering wheel and broke her collarbone. Eve broke her leg in two places and put her head through the windshield. I didn't break a single bone. None of us were wearing our seatbelts. A woman ran a red light and nearly killed us, Jennifer's tiny car compacting like an accordian during a swift exhale. But we were all alive.
I will never forget what happened on September 25th, 1990, partly because of the birthday cake incident. Because of that accident, I have 20% disability in my back and dead nerves on the left side of my foot, but I can live with that. Thank God I didn't die from that.
It's a great day to be alive, despite anything I may have previously told you.