*This piece is almost four years old. Be kind.
Her feet plunged into the mud as she pushed her way through the tall green plants. She wouldn’t let herself look back, because along with that is a bit of pause, allowing the insects a taste. She continued running. Pulling her shirt over her head and tripping on the bottoms of her unbuttoning jeans. Tears fell onto her cheek like the match bits from lighting a cigarette. Her shoes were long gone and desperate steps left her feet bruised and bloody.
In the summer of 2004, almost immediately after graduating from college, a large dog bit me. Change and interruption were apparently my middle name at the time. I had just completed four years at Marymount, I was three months shy of the one year anniversary of my mother’s death, my afro was a month and a half old, and suddenly I was being bit on my left forearm by a large and previously stray animal. Shit like this cannot be predicted. It could not be any clearer that my mother was calling out for my attention.
Earlier in the evening, I stood within an inch of water behind the bar, giggling and gabbing with the bartender, Lauren. I was covering a hostess shift at the restaurant where we worked. Lauren and I were discussing our usual reel of missing men and fingertip dreams. A woman came in and interrupted our conversation by ordering 4 martinis. I pulled back and stood off to the side as Lauren made the drinks and I stared out of the window. Lauren lined the martinis up on the bar and the woman paid with her credit card. Four martinis would need a tray, so I told her I would help her walk them out to the courtyard. Repeatedly, she said that she didn’t need any help, but for some reason I insisted on accompanying her to her table outside.
I juggled the tray with two drinks and as I approached the table, I recognized her rowdy group from previously seating them. They had a massive dog that had been unfriendly throughout the night and was barking at anything crossing its path. The dog seemed uncomfortable as his owner and friends became extremely intoxicated. I set down all of their drinks in a neat row, and the group responded with blubbering “thank yous”. I feigned interest in the disoriented and terrified dog and coo-ed in an attempt at being polite.
Someone in the group spat out,
“You can pet him. It’s okay.”
Followed by more vodka voices,
“Yeah, pet him.”
And still, wanting to be cool and polite, I reached out and pet the animal, simultaneously recalling my mother’s regular admonishment for touching strange pets. It is certainly not ironic that spiritual connection occurred through the four-legged beasts that she kept me away from.
It was as quick and memorable as a nightmare. The dog’s eyes caught fire and he leapt up, latching onto my arm. The owner was jerked forward into sobriety as the dog’s teeth clenched my arm and yanked my body forward like a rag doll—unable to fight back. The fresh drinks that I shed blood to deliver were spilled across the faux wood and concrete, leaving shards as evidence. All sound and cognizance were sealed in my head, and like a rocket, I soared back to earth, and was dumped onto the restaurant patio. The muffled tones became audible and I could understand several pleas of, “Are you alright?” and “Are you okay?” A dishonest “yeah” came out as I stared down at my broken skin, trying to connect my mind to my body to this broken flesh in front of me. Lauren ran up to me calling out, and I could only stare back at her in response. I felt embarrassed and guilty.
Her left hand slapped her face as a cornstalk rejected her, releasing a wail from the edges of her face, not slowing her down.
In the December prior, I was working a typical and chaotic brunch. The wait staff swayed like dancers to the theme from the Bodyguard that played as accompaniment-- gliding between blowouts and UGG boots to deliver eggs and deceptively decaf coffees.
On one of the phones repeated rings, I picked up the receiver answering to the escalated volume from the folks from the 77th St. location. John Baber was hit by taxi on his way into work. Seeing red, I sucked in a slap of air and dropped the phone. I took one step back.
“John Baber had been hit by a car.”
I remember Ali picking the receiver up off the counter and speaking to the person on the other end. I stood there, worried, and on display. Emotionally, I was a wreck but I had become pretty good at hiding it. My mother was killed in a car accident about five months before. My wound had barely begun to bleed. I managed to siphon it off with extra classes and more hours at work. One nudge to the left and the pipe would explode. The knot had been untied and making this news that day’s breaking point.
Ali finished talking and hung up the phone. She looked at me and said, “I’m sure he’s okay.”
After my last class the following day, I ran as far east as I could to Lenox Hill Hospital. I was not surprised to find him smiling, and clearly relieved to see a friendly face. He was wearing his glasses and tugging his sheets, feeling embarrassed about his appearance. Just like John, wanting to entertain company from his hospital bed. My eyes were tight and I struggled to not bore him with my lack of control. I had to remember who had the tubes shoved in their arm and was spending their third day in a hospital bed.
Ripped, her underwear we’re still inside her jeans, when exhaustion out weighs tidiness. With no clearing in sight, she stopped. Her bra flung into the air; allowing the animal to cry out from within her, snarl her lips and arch her back.
We talked about life and recalled memories. John was unfortunately helpless complaining about the restaurant where we worked and the miserable owners. We were margin dwellers yes, deserving of that caste, no. Especially not broken and injured. I went to visit him all five of the days before the holidays. I did not want him to be alone and I refused to feel as if I had not contributed to his wellbeing. His mere thoughts during my initial grieving of my mother warmed me from afar. Somehow we were commiserating—deepening our bond as family and loved ones.
She wept, shaking, and crumbled onto the ground.
My wound was finally able to bleed, and in the presence of a loved one.
As I re-read this piece, I notice that I tell the events in opposite order of the actual experience. I think the largest lesson in grieving a loved one is the elimination of such things—order, time. The effect of these crucial elements cannot be predicted. And almost six years later, I am experiencing an idiosyncratic paranoia normally related to being initially informed with the fatality. 10/09
That same year, about a week into Danielle’s first job right out of college, a large file cabinet fell on her and almost crushed her leg. She was left with a gash on her face, another large gash above her knee and a sprained ankle. Two days later, she rode her bike the 8 blocks to my apartment to return a sweater.
Ben’s front tooth was chipped by a microphone while he performed as Titus in a punk rock version of Titus Andronicus.
They say scars are
the unexpected phenomena that flavor life.
It can sometimes become necessary to have full living rattled into us.
The current of life is to uncover gems when your gaze is decidedly elsewhere.