HEXBREAKER: Time Starts Now
I had it all lined up. My journal entry from Monday, March 14 proclaimed IT ALL STARTS TOMORROW. I had lists. I was going to find a job and a place to live in a new city in a new state. I was feeling the fear and doing it anyway. And then, after a weird series of small, unusual events, it all stopped. I was driving along the Mass Pike in the rain, which honestly I hate almost as much as snow because NO ONE SLOWS DOWN. It was a trip I’d taken so many times since 1999. I was keeping my eyes on the road and my hands upon the wheel. I was singing along to All You Need is Love.
And then…time stopped.
No, it didn’t.
Nothing stopped until my car was upside down in a ditch. It couldn’t have been more than a few seconds, that pause, that space, that beat. I never lost consciousness. It was dark, it was silent, not even the noise of the crash ringing in my ears. I remember each little sound after that pause. The door handle as I tried the most logical thing first. Just open the goddamn door. I heard the tiny scrape as the door didn’t budge. Click click click went the window controls. Have you ever pulled up to a drive-thru and lowered your rear window? That didn’t happen. The dash lights were on but the engine was silent. I still don’t know how or why I ever thought of this: I turned the key off and turned it back on again. Just like a normal “oh my goodness my car stalled out at a red light.” Only my car was upside down and I could feel all the blood rushing to my head. It was a really unpleasant pressure and it was a couple of hours later I was convinced that I was a) fully alive and b) did not have an aneurysm.
Did you know it’s possible to have a concussion without losing consciousness? I didn’t know that until a few days later. One of the medics – Steve, I think, because Ovie was driving – told me in a loud, almost patient voice that I was concussed. This lead to confusion and near-panic on my part as I was sure I hadn’t blacked out. All I remember was a small bump of my head on the ceiling of the car after I released the seat belt. Maybe it was a bigger bump. Maybe that’s how I got that bruise over my right temple. But it’s more likely I got the bruise after I crawled out of the car. Or as I crawled out of the car.
I’m 5’8″ and 165 pounds on a good day. Monday, March 14 was a decent day. I was wearing skinny jeans and black Doc Marten 1460s. I was wearing my black WMPG windbreaker and under that my red LL Bean miracle-polymer vest. I was wearing a black v-neck long-sleeved t-shirt. I had underdressed for the weather; all I had was the windbreaker, so I must have been wearing a sweater or a hoodie over the v-neck. My old gray cotton sweater from Old Navy Men? No, it wasn’t that sweater because I don’t remember putting it in the grocery bag with my wet, muddy, stinky jeans and jacket when I got back to my parents’ house.
What the fuck sweater was I wearing? I stayed in two hotels that weekend. The Hampton Inn by the mall with Ron, and the Howard Johnson’s on Route 1 by myself. I remember the spectacular outfit I wore on Sunday for my last radio show – middle-aged rock star, Stevie Nicks’s taller cousin. I spent the whole day in 4″ heels! But I wore the same outfit on Monday that I’d worn on Saturday. Which was: jeans, Docs, vest, windbreaker, v-neck. There must have been a sweater or a hoodie that I can’t remember and a month later that seems like a significant personal failure.
You know how you meet someone at a party and you make out for hours and you remember every detail forever, until suddenly you don’t? It’s like that. Possibly the most significant event of my life and I can’t remember what sweater I was wearing, or if I was wearing one at all.
So I opened the window and released my seat belt and bumped my head a little or a lot. I didn’t know it at the time but I was covered in mud before I got out of the car. That’s because all the vents were open. When the car slid down the embankment, it plowed up a ton of mud that came through the vents with surprising force. I know I told you this before: I had mud in my mouth, my nose, my eyes, my ears. My head was covered in mud, itchy and gross. My windbreaker pockets were full of mud. My wallet was inside my little black purse and it was full of mud. I threw the wallet out but kept the purse. It’s the perfect size and when am I ever going to find a $15 purse at J.Jill again?
I crawled out the driver’s window, my legs briefly tangled in the steering wheel. I had a sizable gash on my left shin, probably from the window edge. I didn’t see it until I got undressed in the bathroom at the hospital. It didn’t bleed until I got home, and then it bled a lot. I can still see it a month later.
I got out of the car hands and head first. I rolled onto my side, the left, I think. But I have almost no memory of left or right and barely any memory of up or down. It was pitch dark. Maybe my eyes were closed. It was raining hard. I rolled onto my side and for a couple of quick seconds I lay on my side in the mud. Then I rolled to my hands and knees and pushed up. I wobbled and honestly don’t know if I was facing the road or if I had to turn around. I have no idea which way the car was facing.
Things I Said To Myself and Others
From a half-second before the initial impact, until Luis the Angel Trucker grabbed me at the side of the road, I was talking. I don’t think I stopped talking until the ambulance was moving. NO! I shouted when I saw the BMW about to hit me. NO! I screamed as I went off the road. No, no, no, I muttered as I fiddled with the window controls. NO, I moaned as I rolled over in the mud. No, no, no! I was crying as I crawled up the embankment. Hey! Hey! Help! Help me! I screamed at the side of the road. I might not have been screaming. I could barely breathe. Maybe it was dream-screaming. Maybe I’m the only one who heard it.
In the cab of Luis’s truck I asked if I was dead. I asked to use his phone. I left my parents a creepy-calm voicemail. I acknowledged the trooper who found me in Luis’s truck. I spoke and joked with the medics. I kept apologizing, over and over. I don’t know why. I asked repeatedly if I’d hurt someone. They kept saying no. I didn’t believe them any more than I’d believed Luis when he said I wasn’t dead.
Trooper (most likely Tpr. Mark Augusta) gave me a professional boyish grin and said “that’s why they’re called accidents.” I answered his questions more or less calmly. He didn’t ask many. I joked with Steve and Ovie, the medics. I probably wasn’t all that funny. They just kept me talking.
I answered every question I was asked at the hospital. I remembered my parents’ address. I remembered my phone number, and theirs. When I still hadn’t heard from them, before I booted up my computer, I asked the social worker to call Ron. I guess this was after I’d left another voicemail for my parents and one for my brother Brendan, the only other phone number I could remember. I didn’t know Ron’s number but I knew his full name, including his middle name, Louis, and the very important “Junior” at the end. I remembered his street address. Turns out the social worker didn’t call him and I was relieved because she probably would have woken him up and freaked him out.
I kept talking. I described my symptoms to nurses and a doctor. My parents arrived and I kept talking. I started apologizing again. I hate to inconvenience people, but I seem to do it a lot. My mother gave me her phone and my sister was on the other end. I started crying and told her my car was upside down. My voice was high and pinched and she asked me to repeat it, I think partly because she couldn’t hear me, and partly because this was the first she’d heard what actually happened.
So Dad drove us home from Worcester in his Rav, on the Pike and in the same heavy rain. I was very, very nervous. I talked in the car, pretty much nonstop, rambling, free-associating, making or at least attempting jokes. Dad listened and responded, all the while getting us home safely. I talked to the dogs when we got home. Leo was his usual spastic self but Little Bob knew something was wrong. I talked to my parents and joked about getting the first shower. I kind of muttered to myself in the shower, washing my hair twice, watching mud go down the drain. I went to bed. Poor Wee Leo decided to sleep in my room. He got up on the chair in my room and barked at an orange that was on the table. I gave him the orange and talked to him as he chased the orange around my bed, gnawing on it and yelping every time he got through the rind.
Finally I fell asleep, talking to a Shih Tzu who was showing an orange who’s boss.
And that’s what I said. It didn’t always match what I was thinking, though.
Thoughts That I Was Thinking
At first my mouth and my brain were in sync. My mouth shouted NO as I thought NO. But then my brain went on its merry way, express train off the rails, as I talked and talked and talked.
Oh, is this it? Are you kidding me? This can’t be it. This can’t be how it ends. It isn’t ending. This can’t possibly be how I die. But I’m going to die. Right…now.
I’m upside down, but I may not be dead. There is too much blood in my brain. Oh, the door won’t open.
Shit, that’s my suitcase. That’s my laptop bag. Who’s going to pick that up? I can’t get up this hill. Why am I still breathing? Should I get my things? Oh, what a mess.
I’m dead. If I’m not dead, I’m dying. I’m going to die any minute now. It’s possible I’m already dead. How can I tell the difference? Oh god something bad is going to happen. Oh god something bad did happen. I’m dead. That’s what happened.
Two people standing. Black car. Wrong way. In the median.
Another trucker comes to my rescue. Truckers are angels. Angels are truckers.
I’ve never seen a Latino truck driver. I am twice this guy’s size. I think he’s really a dancer.
What’s Trooper so pissed off about? What did I do wrong? Oh jesus christ I killed someone. Oh my god a state trooper is mad at me.
Don’t scare my parents. Fucking cop. I need to call them. He doesn’t care. He’s going to scare them. Oh god they’re going to be so scared.
I bet they never have patients as funny as I am. As calm, as quick, and so goddamn funny. What a treat for the medics.
Why is the trooper wearing a red vest? Oh, wait. I’m wearing a red vest.
There’s something wrong with my head. There’s something wrong with my head. I’m having an aneurysm. I’m having a stroke.
This can’t possibly be happening. This is so absolutely fucking ridiculous. These things don’t really happen. Not to me anyway. Who am I kidding? This kind of shit always happens to me. And I’m so goddamn embarrassed. Maryhope has fucked up again. If in fact this happened and I’m not sure it did.
If my car just flipped over on the Pike, why am I unattended on a gurney in the hallway of the ER? Why do I not have oxygen? Why did they not put a collar on me? I’m dead. I’m just fucking dead. That’s why they left me here.
This isn’t a doctor. He’s in a sitcom about doctors. He’s not funny. That nurse is way too pregnant to be taking my blood pressure.
I want Ron to come down. But I don’t want him to drive all freaked out in the rain in that stupid old car. Plus he’s so tired from the weekend. Heh.
What kind of dog barks at an orange?
Just One Time, I Didn’t Go From Point A to Point B!
Here’s the difference between me and my parents: Point A to Point B. They have a very fluid, relaxed concept of time. They explore, they meander, they stop for coffee. They stop at Cabela’s, they stop at REI. They get there when they get there. And I’m the opposite. I plan road trips to avoid as much traffic as possible. In summer I always left Maine on a Friday and came back on Sunday. Leaving Portland, I’d think, okay, I’ll stop at the New Hampshire Liquor Barn to pee and then at Charlton if absolutely necessary. Or, okay, it’s midnight, I’ll power through to Springfield. I-295 to I-95 to I-495 to I-90. That’s it. A to B.
On Monday, March 14, it was bizarro world. It took me forever for the trip to even start. I texted Mom I’d be on the road by 5:30, 6:00 at the latest, don’t wait up. She replied: be safe.
I saw my psychiatrist in Portland for the last time at 4:00. I hugged him. He’s awesome. I went over to the pharmacy at Maine Med. That never takes more than 15 or 20 minutes. That day I was there over an hour! I had to move the car so I wouldn’t get a ticket. But I got my meds.
I’d been avoiding Scarborough ever since I’d gotten pulled over twice last summer for the inspection sticker. I got the car inspected before my doctor’s appointment on the 14th and thought I’d head down to Pine Point before I got on the road, say goodbye to the ocean. I got a latte, convinced I’d see Officer Hon, my Scarborough PD hero. I didn’t. But there was a freaking power line down on Route 9 – the detour sent me on a road I’d never been on. It went on forever. I followed the pickup in front of me, all the way to…downtown Old Orchard? I bypassed Pine Point completely!
It was foggy and OOB was nearly deserted. But that one pizza place on the corner was open, the red neon flashing in the mist. Oh. My. God. I needed fried dough more than I’d ever needed anything in my life. I parked and went in. A nice young man sadly informed me that they were only doing fried dough on weekends until summer. I was crushed. I did a U-turn in the middle of Old Orchard Beach and followed Route 5 to I-95, the Maine Turnpike
It was freezing rain on I-95 and I instantly regretted every free-wheelin’ decision I’d made that day. I got anxious. I ground my teeth. I stopped at the New Hampshire Liquor Barn to pee. I texted my mom with my new ETA and I texted Ron. He wanted me to text him when I got to my parents’. I got back on the road with a nice long playlist called Hit The Road! Ouch. It was an excellent mix of everything I like to drive to, a lot of 80s dance, Beatles, and balls-out rock & roll.
I-495 is interminable. Middle of the day, middle of the night, doesn’t matter. I fussed with my stupid iPhone transmitter, watching the road the whole time. Too much static and I turned it off. Finally I got to Exit 22, I-90, the Massachusetts Turnpike. That’s Exit 11A on the Pike. There’s a long, two-lane on-ramp and for a little bit the Pike is four lanes. Then that fourth lane ends and I’m in the middle lane in the rain, gripping the wheel. I take my hand off long enough to turn on the awesome Toyota factory sound system. Praise Jeebus! No static.
I’m hungry. It’s nearly 8:30 ;and I’m still mourning the lack of fried dough in OOB. I’m curling my toes. My feet are sweaty and cold in my Docs. My WMPG knit cap itches my forehead. I try to ungrind my teeth. Some asshole is way too close behind me. I’m in the middle lane, I say out loud. Just fucking pass me. I sing along to All You Need Is Love, nice and loud and perfect. And then I stop singing.
The Monkey Is Dead. Long Live The Monkey
My plates read BAD MNKY. I made that up on the spot on July 1, 2000, and those were my plates until March 14, 2016. From the sweet Escort wagon to the Focus wagon that drove like a soup can on wheels, the transmission shot at 95,000 miles. Then my badass black 1999 Camry LE, spoiler, sunroof, low to the ground. I loved that car. Finally, the tan 2007 Corolla LE. My dad test-drove two Corollas and wanted me to buy the ’07 because it had power locks and windows. “And hey,” he said, “I got it up to 90 on the highway with no problem!” Good, I thought. I can audition for that remake of Bullitt.
BAD MNKY made people smile. What does that mean, they would ask. A Simpsons quote, I’d say. Or I’d say, I wasn’t always a sensible middle-aged lady Or I’d tell the truth: it means nothing. I just like the sound of it.
And I was a responsible, sensible, law-abiding middle-aged lady. At least until I ran out of money. I never imagined driving a car that wasn’t inspected, or registered, or insured. For a brief time in 2015, I was 0 for 3. The bright green sticker that expired in November 2014 attracted a lot of attention from law enforcement. I got warnings in Scarborough and a $135 ticket in Cape Elizabeth. March 14, 2016 was my last day in Portland and I got the car inspected at Duval’s, where I’d been taking my cars since 1999. After not being inspected for two and a half years, the Corolla needed a license plate bulb and the headlights cleaned. That was it. I chatted with people at Duval’s, and everyone had something to say about BAD MNKY. I shook my head. I need to get rid of those plates, I said. I’m too conspicuous! Seven hours later, I got rid of the plates. Or rather, an asshole in a Beamer forced me off the road and when I saw the Corolla in the tow yard the next day, I really didn’t give a shit about vanity plates.
A Story of Springtime
I emerged from the water, covered in mud, and climbed up to rejoin the world, the light provided by a surprising number of stopped 18-wheelers. I left behind my glasses and phone: my old ways of seeing and communicating with the world. The EMTs cleared the mud out of my eyes and mouth so I could see and communicate anew.
A trucker appeared out of nowhere and wrapped me in a blanket and watched over me until the troopers found me.
Rebirth. I have nothing to lose. Here I come, world.
Un Peu de Trop?
Really? A little on the nose, wouldn’t you say? Rebirth just days before the Equinox? Maybe. But it’s what happened. And dig this: last week I took off my socks and my boots and ran into the ocean and it woke me up from my cold red toes to my clean, shiny hair.
I got a new phone. The old one was fading anyway. I’m getting my new glasses tomorrow. The old ones were four years old. I know where I’m going, a new city in a new state. Still unsure of some pretty major details, but hi! Guess what? I’m alive. My parents, my sisters, my brothers, my nieces and my nephew couldn’t be happier. My cousins and friends are thrilled. Little Bob and Poor Wee Leo like having me around. (Treats are good for them, right?)
And me? Monstrous debt and a shattered credit rating will make getting a new place very tricky. Ditto a new car. I’m out of the workplace over four years. My shoulder may be messed up for quite a while. And I lost my WMPG knit cap, my good pink gloves, and all my copies of the Bollard with me on the cover and my article inside.
But I have all my teeth, both eyes, 10 fingers, 10 toes, and arms and legs to display them. My watch, the one Ron gave me, took a licking and keeps on ticking. I don’t have to replace my license, passport, or debit card. My rainbow messenger bag and my laptop bag with the grid map of San Francisco are good as new. My laptop is working (sort 0f).
Last week I drove past mile marker 91.6 on I-90 westbound. I held out my phone and took pictures out the window. I think I found the spot where I went over. The embankment is impossibly steep. I haven’t seen the police report, but I think my car flipped end-over-end. I’ll probably never remember that part. I don’t mind.
And yes. I will probably have vanity plates again; it all depends on how many characters that new state has on its plates. Five, I think, or maybe six. MHOPET. NT HOPE. XPARRT. LUCKY. IMSTILLHEREBITCHEZ.