New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve is always melancholy for me. It’s the arbitrary end of the year, which can be a mixed blessing. More importantly, it’s the anniversary of my car accident – 24 years ago tonight. Sometimes it feels like yesterday.

The facts are simple: we exited the Brooklyn Bridge, the exit ramp is sharp and short, and we slipped on a patch of ice. The car slid and we ran head-first into the concrete bridge footing. The emotional memory is far more complex. I had gone to NYC to spend New Year’s with my boyfriend. Being young, in college, and possibly a little hypomanic, this seemed like a good idea at the time. So did the idea of hopping into a SUV with four boys to see the ball come down in Times Square. “Bad weather” doesn’t mean much to a teenager. Life is a cruel teacher.

I don’t remember everything. They thought I might have hit my head. My two front teeth were never found. But I remember the last few moments before impact. They say that in situations like this that your life flashes before your eyes. Bullshit. Time slows down. Your brain registers every nanosecond. And you think really stupid things. One minute you are laughing and talking, the next your brain is calculating. See bridge footing. Check. Impact imminent. Check. Bridge footing getting closer. Check. Am I supposed to relax my muscles or brace for impact? Time’s up.

My next conscious memory is of the paramedics ripping the door open. Strong arms beneath my armpits dragging me across the frozen grass.  I couldn’t feel anything. Shock can be a blessing.  I recall watching my legs bounce along the grass.  My left leg was on the opposite side of my right.  Something didn’t add up, but I couldn’t quite figure out what. I was cold. So cold. They kept asking me how to contact my parents. I recited my brother’s phone number over and over again. Really, I just wanted them to leave me alone and stop asking questions they already knew the answers to. There was a nice lady paramedic who held my hand and talked to me. I don’t remember what she said. I just remember she was nice, I was cold, and I was really sick of repeating my brother’s phone number. I didn’t even like him that much.

Next memory: the ambulance.  Shock started to wear off.  My nerve endings came back to life.  I felt every bump the streets of New York had to offer. I yelled. I cursed.  I asked the driver if he could find anymore fucking potholes to run over. The sound of emergency sirens blazed trails of emotional memory in my brain. Mercifully, the trip finally ended.  They ripped open the back of the ambulance. As the pulled me out, the driver said to me, “Happy New Year.”

The rest of the evening is a blur. (I posted some of this in Donation.) Someone shoved a clipboard under my nose and asked me to sign. It didn’t look like my signature. Was that important?  I was in and out of consciousness. I swore. A lot. Where does it hurt? Fucking everywhere.  Later, it didn’t hurt anywhere.  I couldn’t feel anything below my neck.  That’s when I screamed.

Meanwhile, my parents got a call from the nice paramedic lady.  Five words a parent never wants to hear: “You should go to her.”

I woke up strapped to a board.  One of the most terrifying moments I’ve ever experienced.  You can’t even move your fingers. They couldn’t operate on my leg until the neurologist came to drill holes in my skull for the halo traction. A nurse fed me ice chips while we waited for surgery.  A priest stood by my side all night, ready to give me last rites should I need them.  When my parents arrived, they told them to be prepared.  I only had a 40% chance of surviving surgery and I would never walk again.

Good thing no one ever told me the odds or I might have given up. I don’t know if I would have or not. I am a stubborn S.O.B. And I was hell bent and determined to go back to college.  Eight months and one cane later, I was back in school full time.

Eleven years later, I had my Ph.D.

I never take the easy route.  But you wouldn’t be reading this if I had.

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