Sunday, August 03, 2008

Hello, Officer...’s the right tail light, right?
I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t know it was out. But I have a really good explanation.

You see, a couple of years ago my husband was doing some computer work at a parochial school in Waukegan. I think that’s where it started. So, anyway, he and my sons had such a good time with this stuff - don’t ask me to describe it - that they decided to form a not-for-profit foundation to help recycle computers and provide technology for the underserved. Yeah, the name might sound familiar. I do think my husband gave one of your comrades a business card when we were stopped last year for having one headlight.

You’ve probably heard of heads of not-for-profits who pull down seven figure salaries. My husband is not one of them. We can’t afford to buy a car now, so we’re using this van which technically belongs to the foundation. Yes, it has 270,000 miles on it, the windows won’t roll down, the air-conditioning only works half the time, and the muffler is patched together, but I’m not really complaining.

To get back to the tail light? OK, the back hatch doesn’t open, either. Rick was going to ask our Bridget’s boyfriend Aki, a lithe and limber part time model and part time mechanic , to climb through the van and change the light. Because Rick’s mechanical skills are as good as anyone’s, but 30 years of of marriage and 6 children have left him not exactly lithe and limber. And this was right around his 55th birthday, which he found to be something of a bummer. Personally, I’m not bothered by birthdays that end in odd numbers. I didn’t get him a very significant present (nor did I come up with anything stunning for our 30th anniversary which was the day before. He gave me a pitcher and bowl that looked like tomatoes.) and the least I could do was not ask him to demean himself by worming around the back of an ancient mini-van.

Now, this is where it really gets complicated. Bridget and her sister Fran decided to lead a pack of their friends on a field trip to the family farm in Michigan’s Upper Penninsula. I had misgivings about this for a variety of (good) reasons, but everyone else - including my cautious and conservative father-in-law - thought this was great. So there.

Since two girls, their entourage plus two dogs, were out of town, I took off with the other two girls and my son-in-law for a spontaneous road trip to see my sister. I’m not spontaneous, but Dr. ‘Big Ed’ wants to help me work through these issues. And I have been a wretchedly bad sister. I had only been to visit her once since her wedding four years ago. I mean wretchedly bad. She had cancer surgery two years ago and I sent flowers. Oh, I did call, too. But, we’re like the Last of the Mohicans in a way. Just the two of us. And I sent... flowers?

While everyone was scattered about the midwest, Rick was chilling and playing WarCraft with the boys. And the tail light would be changed when Aki returned from the farm. But that’s complicated.

Fran called home before I left town. She sounded vague and asked for her dad. Mothers can pick up on these things. I rationalized that she was tired, hung-over, something normal. But yeah, I knew something was wrong.

The road trip - the first four hours - was fun. Em and Big Ed have a new car. Very nice. Lots of amenities. Working amenities.

We stopped at a Dairy Queen west of Milwaukee because Em and Martha wanted a Thin Mint Flurry. A friend of Martha’s was working there. That was strange.

And we stopped for gas later in the afternoon near a diner that had an incredible oversized rooster out front. My fascination with large fowl was indulged with a quick photo opportunity. And then everything started to unravel.

I remember the how relaxed I was feeling. How totally relaxed. Carefree, enjoying the pleasure of time away with adult children. I was sitting at a picnic table while Em and Ed were buying dinner. Martha was in the car finishing a chapter in her book. Then I saw her answer her phone. This just reinforces why I hate cell phones.

A friend of a friend called her to say that she heard from some other friend that Aki had been seriously maimed in the most delicate of areas (away from the cranium) while setting off fireworks. She made a few more calls. By the time she was done the story was that Aki had been hurt while affixing a large explosive device to his... Well, you can imagine.

Martha tried calling Fran, Bridget, home. Any place reliable. While my mind flipped quickly between prayer and the mantra, “I told you something would go wrong.” I must admit that I laughed intermittently, also, since the whole story became more and more absurd with each telling.

Rick knew. But he didn’t want to ruin my trip. (And he probably wanted to delay the “I told you so’s,” for as long as possible) Of course, with chronic cellular communication, how can anyone expect to keep anything a secret? It wasn’t until we were almost at my sister’s house that we received clarification.

Some idiot had used a rather powerful firework while lying on the ground in some sort of ribald pyrotechnic pantomime of male functioning. And it was so freakin’ funny that Aki decided to try it. Only things were improperly loaded and it fired the wrong direction. Like 180 degrees in the wrong direction.

By the time I had the full story it was about eighteen hours after the fact. Aki was going to live. This was a transitional time for everyone involved. Bridget and Fran spent 45 minutes compressing his wounds while waiting for the paramedics. Covered in blood, Fran gave the details to the police while Bridget rode in the ambulance with Aki. Initially, Ak’s prospects were dim. Then there was the surgery. And the good news that it missed the femoral artery. And his bladder. And all other essential parts. The shrapnel was removed. It would take a week in the hospital but he would make it.

Let me brag here about my girls. They held it together. Fran has had a lot of experience with hemorrhaging dogs and other grisly scenes and it served her well. Bridget may act delicate and prissy on a day to day basis, but she showed her real stuff when needed to hold her significant other’s inner stuff in with both hands. They’ll never be the same. There is something about looking in the abyss - both figuratively and literally - that changes a person. Especially when you also have a hand in the abyss.

(And I’ll give Martha a bit of credit here for having a ‘bad feeling’ about the trip to the farm and acting on it by staying home.)

While I was still reeling from this shock, my sister asked Em and Ed when they were going to have children. Em said, “How about January.” OK, so now I’m going to be a grandmother. Of course I’m excited. Shellshocked but excited. Praise God for so much good news. I think the third miracle of the evening was the fact that I didn’t slip into a full swoon.

Between the good news and the scary news and visiting my sister and the Mall of America, well, I kind of forgot about the tail light. Aki is healing nicely but I don’t know if he is up to climbing in the back of the van. The girls might be good with blood and guts but I haven’t thought to buy a replacement bulb and ask them to perform first aid on the car. Maybe I’ll just do it myself...


Emily said...

So... what did the officer say? I'm assuming this happened today?

Ellyn said... hasn't happened yet. But I've been rehearsing it in my mind. Maybe just as part of processing the whole 4th of July week-end.

(PS - Don't call me at work today. I'm home sick. Really. Either I've caught something or I just had a reaction to the protein bars and choc. covered cherries!)

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