I was jerked awake by the swerving of the car as it raced towards the median. I remember the sound of hands, my aunt’s hands; she pounded the steering wheel trying to make it stop spinning, make the car stop moving. I screamed, we all screamed. I sucked my teeth, said this isn’t happening, can’t be happening. Silence right before impact, the screams of metal and voices vacuumed out of the car; so quiet only heartbeats remained.
The vehicle rolled approximately three times, the first roll was a barrel roll, driver’s side leading, after striking a fixed object.
I woke with the belief that my skin was made of ice, a chill, a chatter deep inside my bones. Grit in my mouth. I spit the grit, pieces of my teeth in my hand and I wanted to be on a warm beach holding a handful of sand. I wanted to let the wind take the sand from my hand and be left with tiny white slivers of seashells. There was a lot of blood, my blood, and there was a woman’s voice. When I stared at the blood soaking the tissue or towel or blanket she told me to press the something to my face to stop the bleeding. I thought I was going to die a virgin. It was cold and dark though it was morning. Someone cocooned me in blankets. The only light I saw was when I looked up. My mother screamed. Helicopter blades sliced open the sky. The man in the helicopter had warm eyes and he was on the beach with me and we held flecks of shells in our hands. It was so easy to speak to him through my eyes, to be intimate with a stranger when I thought I might die. He tried to start an IV and the needle hurt. I was bleeding from my face, spitting out teeth, and my body was numb, yet the needle hurt.
11/29/97 treated for SHOCK/TRAUMA
This will sting a little, the doctor said. Needles into the gashes to numb. He pieced my face back together. A stitch, a stitch, another stitch. A radio was on in the background. My brain sometimes adds details to the story that weren’t there that day, like the song on the radio was Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind” for Princess Diana. She died in a car crash on August 31, 1997. In this created memory I say to myself, at least I can be sewn back together.
This will sting a little.
There’s a part of the brain that controls fear called the amygdala. It is almond shaped. My amygdala has a super power. It transforms every car I ride in into a gray Mercury Sable GS with 82,876 miles on it. It sends me back to the New Jersey Turnpike on November 29, 1997. I get to be 19 again and again. My amygdala rewired my body; my right leg now directly connected to fear. Whenever I’m a passenger in a car my leg pounds the floor in search of a brake. Sometimes I have to hold my thigh to calm my leg. I don’t have the power to turn this off. The motion is like a breath, like a heartbeat. I don’t know how to make my stomach feel like it is not being jerked, like it is not heading towards a median, like it is not flipping over three times across the highway after striking a fixed object. I don’t know how to make my brain shut up.
When in cars I talk to my amygdala.
I hush it. (but the vehicle rolled three times)
I rock it. (but the first roll was a barrel roll)
I tell it (but it struck a fixed object)
to be okay.
(But I can’t forget)
The first time I saw my face in the mirror, I thought, “Frankenstein made a new monster.” A line of stitches, from the right side of my mouth and down across my neck. These new mouths sewn tightly shut but they mumbled so loud.
This will sting a little. Pink skin bubbled out of my scar like lava, forming a new tough skin. A pink protrusion. When the bubbling stopped, I looked in the mirror and saw someone that was not the real me, an evil twin. How would people know this wasn’t the real me?
On physical examination there are two very distinct and two very minor scars of the right side of the face. The distinct areas are at the lower facial border at the angle of the mandible and on the left upper neck. The larger of the scars is 4.5 x 1 cm in size, this crosses the mandibular angle. The prominent scar of the left neck is 4 x 1.2 cm.
Prominent. A few synonyms: protruding or sticking out or
keloid. Defined as irregular or abnormal scar tissue. Also defined as when your body becomes wet pavement after the rain and a slimy and thick pink or brown earthworm crawls across your skin and settles in, this spot is comfortable. Or you are a tree and your body grows berries, skin fruit that hangs at the site of your ear piercing or your belly piercing or your acne scars. You, with your irregular and abnormal skin fruit for all to see, bulging.
This will sting a little. I covered my mirrors, borrowing something I learned from Jewish friends, sitting shiva for my former self. Here lies a pretty 19-year-old girl. Who will ever love her?
And the sting kept stinging. Not a little. It held venom that paralyzed me. It was hard to get out of bed. I managed to go through the motions for college classes but my average dropped because sometimes I felt like the cracks in my face had been super glued back together, another fall would destroy me. I raged. I wrote pages of stinging words: I’m a monster and no man will ever want me. I got lost inside the sting; I couldn’t escape its grasp. I was too afraid to tell my friends and family how I was feeling. I let them see a stronger version of me, window dressing to hide the pain that ate me from the inside out.
There, in the mirror, is a gray car that flipped three times. There, in the mirror is the bloody face and broken body and all the things I remember and all the things I don’t. There, are the things beyond my control. I go to the bathroom to brush my teeth and wash my face and sometimes the accident is there. Good morning, car accident. How are you today?
How many people will be in car accidents today? I don’t know, but every time a person is killed in a car crash in the U.S. their body is marked on a list of the Fatality Analysis Reporting System. In 2013, 32,719 people died in car accidents. That’s 89 people dead a day. They’re probably still counting the bodies from 2014.
Raise your hand if you’ve been in a car accident. Raise your hand if you were nervous or terrified about getting back into a car after that accident. Raise your hand if your heart beats fast just thinking about getting into a car. Raise your hand if you never drive. Raise your hand if you are a prisoner of that road or street or stretch of highway. Are they counting our hands? I wish I could see your hands. I wish I could calm your legs when you press those imaginary brakes. You are my people. Are you scared? Are you scarred? How do you cope? Is it meds? Is it meditation? Do people tell you that you should get over it already? Sing this song to the get over it people:
scar tissue that I wish you saw
sarcastic mister know-it-all…
with the bird I’ll share this lonely view.
42,013 died in car accidents in 1997. 115 people in the U.S. probably died on November 29, 1997. I was not one of them.
I was not one of them. Not anymore, not normal. I didn’t want the normals to look at me because they would see my scar, two very distinct and two very minor scars of the right side of the face. All the normal people who knew me, their eyes changed. I saw sorry, I’m so sorry in their eyes. I saw them remembering the old me. (This lonely view.) With them I tried to wear the I’m still the same person hat. I wore real hats. I wore my hair combed in my face. I wore a scarf to cover my neck and mouth when I went outside. Don’t look at me, my eyes pleaded, don’t look at the very distinct bull’s eye on my face.
I wasn’t prepared for how much words from strangers would sting.
You’re pretty, still, he said. Continue Reading…