The first face I saw after the crash was a girl’s. The pain was so horrible, I begged her, then the men who cut me out of the wreckage, Kill me, please, kill me. With their pry-bars and axes, it would have been quick and painless. I begged a sheriff’s deputy for his revolver. I blacked out, came to, faded. Pain came in waves. Kill me. They only worked faster.
Her face: I touched it. Then I begged it again that same simple mercy….
They told me later that she stood in a pool of gasoline and refused to leave as they cut away the metal. When they bent the bumper of the other car away from my leg, I cursed them. Cowards. Dogs.
I never saw her again. Any of them.
Between my junior and senior years of college, I played in a rock and roll band. Returning from a gig, the brakes of our VW bus failed, and we barreled through an intersection and head-on’d a Ford Galaxy. The Galaxy’s bumper tore through my leg, but severed no arteries. The windscreen post caved in the left side of my face and splintered bone fragments into my left eye orbit.
The hospital, day one: they saved the leg. Saving my left eye from the bone fragments would require intricate sculpture, wire, and latex. They X-rayed and consulted and elected to got for it on day three.
My parents had arrived within hours of the accident, and one, the other, or both never left my side. The nurses tasked Dad with forcing me drink liquids to replace fluids pouring from my nasal cavity—and to replace the tears, hours of tears, silent tears, lonely tears, tears facing the wall. Family and friends came to visit. I turned away in silence.
The night before the facial surgery, my dad sat bedside as he had all day as we waited for the next morphine shot, the last hour’s wait, the worst. Dosages never carried over to the next, so sometimes Dad had to hold me down; sometimes he just held me.
Near daybreak, Dad said, “Hal, I know the pain is unimaginable. But something else…are you afraid? Of the surgery?”
I didn’t answer right away.
“No. I’m so ashamed…the terrible things I said to those men at the wreck…How can I ever thank them? Or that girl? Or the nurses? After what I said…Dad, they should have lit a match.”
And this is what my Dad said—and this I believe:
“Hal, allowing people to care for you is an act of grace that gives them a chance to be more fully human. Give them that gift.”
The tears came again…the terrible things I said to those men….
The tears softened. Sleep….
The nurse barreled into my room, late, syringe at the ready. I never stirred.
Dad said, “Let him sleep; he’s not hurting as much now.”
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