It Can All Be Gone In An Instant

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Many times I think educators in general and librarians in particular get so consumed in minutiae that we don’t realize the really BIG picture. We get caught up in book orders and classes coming in and out and trying to keep up with the latest Web 2.0 tools that we often don’t pick our heads up long enough to take a look at who and what’s around us. We aren’t just working with colleagues, some of whom we love dearly and some of whom were put on this earth to be the bane of our existence. We aren’t just teaching and waiting on students, some of whom we dearly love and some of whom were put on this earth to be the bane of our existence. We are interacting with people who have issues and hopes and dreams and lots of times our library and our schools are not an ingrained part of that dream. The bright new teacher who comes in the library workroom to get coffee may be dreaming of writing a novel or moving to a tropical island. I say all this to say this: we need to dream and we need to hope and we need to laugh and love because as much as we may or may not care about our jobs or careers, one thing is certain . . . they buildings will outlast us, but the people may not. Pick your head up tomorrow and look around. Everyone you see could be gone in an instant and what was the last thing you said to them? You may be gone in an instant and what is the last thing people will remember about you?

I know this may seem morbid, but I’m melancholy and slightly morbid by nature. That has nothing to do with this post. This frailty and mercurial quality of life was just brought home to me in a brutal and shockingly upclose and personal way on my ride home this afternoon.

I saw the black pickup crest the hill and I saw the teal sedan pull out of my subdivision to turn left and I knew that the laws of physics were about to be put to the test once again. The crash was absolutely horrific. The pickup struck the sedan full force in the driver’s side door. The driver had no time to brake after topping the hill. The sedan careened across the road in a crazy spiral and came to rest in the ditch on the far side. I pulled around the carnage and up into a driveway of the subdivision. I already had my phone in my hand dialing *47 for the highway patrol. The dispatcher asked me a series of questions that I barely remember, but judging by soon to come events I must have answered them well. All I clearly remember until reaching the girl was saying to the dispatcher, “You need to get an ambulance rolling RIGHT NOW because this does NOT look good at all.”

Two well-meaning passersby had stopped and for reasons known only to God and their animal instincts to avoid car explosions, pulled the young woman from the wrecked sedan. I was livid, but said nothing since their act was not one of malice but of misunderstanding. Kneeling by the young girl’s side, I took her hand as she slowly regained conciousness. Her face was a jigsaw puzzle of glass cuts and she had a LUMP coming up on the left side of her head that promised greatness. Her left leg was gashed a full six inches long down her calf. She was covered in blood. She was wearing one of the tube/halter-tops that are popular now and a pair of short shorts. She had blonde hair rapidly turning crimson. As she came around, she immediately wanted to sit up. I and one of the other ladies gently pushed her back to the ground. She was bleeding out of her mouth but she started talking and begging us to let her up so she could leave. When I bent closer, I knew why.

She reeked of alcohol. This was bad. She was going to jail if she lived for DUI with injury. Plus, the alcohol was making her blood thinner. I got her talking and asked her for her name, which was Beth. She wasn’t really clear on the year, her age, or where she lived, but judging from the car and the sister-in-law I spoke to later, this latter may not have been solely the result of the concussion. I asked her about her plentiful tatoos including one beautiful star on her neck. She kept wanting to touch her face and she kept asking me what was wrong with her face and where all this blood was coming from. How do you tell an obviously very fetching young woman that the next time she can look in a mirror, assuming she ever can, the face she sees will be very different than the one she left the house with that morning? One thing that struck me as incongruous was the way she kept pulling at her top in a universally feminine gesture with bloodstained hands to keep it from slipping down to expose her strapless bra. Drunk and gravely injured, modesty must be preserved.

After what seemed hours but in reality proved only ten minutes, the paramedics and rescue squad arrived. The professionals took over but I must have appeared to know what I was doing because they didn’t order me out of the way. I asked her who needed to be called to meet her at the hospital. She at first said, “no one”, but finally relented and gave me a relative’s number, which seemed a good sign. I called the relative who proved to be a sister-in-law and told her the story. She screamed and cried and then pulled herself together to start calling family and friends.

Then Beth was in the ambulance and on her way to hospital. It was over and I drove the two hundred yards home. It was only when I walked in the house and got to the mirror in the bathroom that the full extent of what had just happened hit me. I had bloody hands and blood streaks on my face from wiping my eyes. I had blood on my clothes and shoes. I wondered if I needed to go to the hospital myself since I’d deliberately disobeyed every rule laid out to us in the annual blood-borne pathogens video. I decided against it and took a shower with antibacterial soap, shaking like a leaf all the while.

So there you have it. Yes, Beth was stupid and irresponsible for drinking and then driving. She may yet pay for that stupidity with her life. Her father called, a prince of a man I am certain, and, after asking if I’d taken anything from her car, proceeded to tell me that Beth was still in the trauma ward with swelling on the brain. This was five hours later. Five minutes to five and Beth had been sitting around a table filled with beer bottles talking with similarly inebriated friends. By five fifteen, instead of being at the gas station like she’d planned, she was lying in a ditch with a face full of glass and a complete stranger holding her hand and asking about her tattoos.

Look around folks. Look around. It really can all be gone in an instant. Don’t believe it, just ask Beth.

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One response »

  1. I am glad to know that you chose to hang around and be an example of what the right thing to do is. Please let us know the outcome if you ever find out. Amzingly well written, Dean. I do believe there is a budding author here. Riveting, and I could not stop until I finished.

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