It was a typical August afternoon for Florida. Temperatures simmered in the eighties and the humidity was so thick you could cut it with a knife. My mother was outside gardening and I stuck my head out the front door to ask her how she could endure the heat. She replied, I won’t be long, I just want to get these ferns planted. My mother has never demonstrated a talent for gardening, nor a desire. She was covered from head to feet with potting soil and surrounded by her miniature gardening tools.
I laughed at the ludicrous sight of her peering up at me from her unprecedented perch. Her sweat-soaked hair stuck wetly to cheeks blackened by stray potting soil and her bare toes peeked from beneath a flowered sundress too pretty for such arduous work. What’s your sister doing? she asked on a sigh, wiping her brow with the back of her gloved hand. I’m putting away my new school clothes, Mom. Katie, my younger sister by one year, poked her head out her bedroom window, one ear stuck to her hot-pink telephone. Can Chrisi spend the night? Mom nodded her consent.
Katie’s head disappeared back to where it sprang from. You could pour us both a cold glass of lemonade, my mother hinted up at me hopefully. We don’t have any ice left, Mom. Just then my grandmother, 77 years old, pulled up in the driveway sporting her new black 1998 Buick Regal. I sprang across the lawn and greeted her with a hug, calculating that within a month and a half I would be able to drive the sleek machine. My grandmother, who everyone affectionately calls B, had come to invite us to go shopping with her at Beall’s department store. None of us could go.
Mom needed to go grocery shopping, my sister was expecting her friend over and I had already planned on seeing a movie with my friend, Carla. After a few more minutes of generous hugs, kisses and regrets, she was off again. Her car disappeared around the bend that marked the end of our street. Less than an hour had passed since my grandmother’s visit. I was busy getting ready for the movies when the phone rang. Katie answered on the second ring and yelled out that it was our cousin, Jim Jr., calling for Mom.
I could tell by Katie’s face that something was wrong. Taking the portable phone from the kitchen, Katie ran out to give it to Mother. Within seconds total hysteria enveloped the household. My mother ran into the house screaming, get in the car now with no further explanations. I was frightened yet equally angry with her for screaming at us.
My mother, suddenly white beneath her garden grub, snatched at the car keys. Still barefooted, she screamed out, Oh my God, this can’t be true, get in the car now. Mom, please tell us what’s wrong! Katie and I pleaded. You’re scaring us! Mom was practically speechless but she managed to utter out a few words, I will tell you in the car. I had never witnessed my mother lose her control before.
It made me feel frightened and confused to the point of feeling sick to my stomach. I looked at Katie as she fumbled with the car door. She was speechless, wide-eyed and suspended in a bewildered state of consciousness. Tears fell down her cheeks. I wanted to cry too but the situation seemed so devastating that my real emotions froze. I just kept thinking that it was a bad dream.
Any moment I would be awakened and soothed by my mother. She would tell me, in her familiar gentle voice, that I was just having a nightmare. My mother sped down the road, explaining half-hysterically the contents of that awful phone call. Jim had just returned to town from his vacation and spotted a horrific automobile accident on Highway 301 at the intersection of Morning Side Drive. He had slowed down because of the crush of emergency vehicles at the sight.
But one car was unmistakably familiar to him. It was our grandmother’s black Buick Regal. The drive to the accident sight terrified me because my mother drove too fast and carelessly. As we approached the accident scene, we were blocked by traffic slowing down by onlookers of the catastrophe. My mother leaned frantically on the horn for people to get out of the way.
Katie noticed Mom’s friend, Claudia, in the lane next to us. My mother yelled for Katie to tell Claudia that the accident ahead was B and that we needed her help in reaching the accident sight. Claudia had a large vehicle and immediately proceeded to cross the lane and clear a path. My mother dashed up on the median where in plain view was the worst sight I could ever have imagined. My grandmother’s brand-new car was crushed.
Still worse, we couldn’t see her because of all of the emergency personnel and she was on the opposite side from us. A truck hit her on her driver’s side, but our only view was from the passenger’s side. My mother frantically attempted to reach the car to comfort my grandmother but a policeman blocked her path saying, Ma’am, you can’t go over there. The Rescue Squad is trying to cut her out of the car. Are you a relative? She couldn’t articulate a response but it was obvious by her hysterical nods that, indeed, she was.
His face broke into deep concern. She’s to be flown by helicopter to St. Joseph’s Hospital Trauma Center. He promised to keep her updated on my grandmother’s condition. My mother begged the policeman, please tell her that her family is here and that we love her. I looked around in disbelief, struggling to comprehend the disastrous situation unfolding around me.
This couldn’t be happening to my family and me. I was confused as to why people were gathered on the streets as if watching a parade. I felt myself drifting in and out of a strange state of consciousness; the sounds around me were echoing, the visions a blurred daze and then the reality would impose upon me for seconds at a time. The sight of a photographer made me angry. But then I was comforted by the policemen’s words that broke into my surreal world, she said to tell you she is all right and not to worry about her.
His words were comforting for a moment, but the confusion was still too strong. How could she be all right when her vehicle was crushed and they had to use the jaws of life to cut her out of the car? If she was all right, why is a helicopter rushing her to a hospital? These questions and hundreds more raced through my mind. I began to shake as the sounds of my surroundings …