“We live in a world where secondhand tragedy blinks and flashes and flickers. It’s found in newsfeeds, on small screens, in 140 characters or less. And we scroll — dragging our pointer fingers slowly over the carnage and anguish — and then glance up, nonplussed, and ask for the remote to change the channel from ISIS coverage on MSNBC. But then someday, inevitably, it’s someone you know, whom you love, whose broken bones or broken heart are sitting in your palm. Connected by wires masquerading as heartstrings.
My mom knew something was wrong when she called my grandmother for two days straight and there was no answer; or rather, the answer came when the caller-ID lit up with “St. Mary’s Hospital.” That’s when she knew. It was Wednesday night around 7:00. She was alone — my dad was traveling, my brother performing in a college one-act called “Trifles,” my youngest siblings at a youth group event I was chaperoning — and apparently dissolved into a messy panic.
The type of panic that worries my dog until she starts whining, wanting to be held and to lick the salty tears from your cheeks. The type that you’re both glad and scared to be alone for — glad because real-life crying isn’t pretty, scared because you feel like you’ve been smacked in the face by a wave. Static for just a moment, then all too aware that you can’t balance or breathe.
I called my mom that evening when I was on my way home with Michael and Emma. It went straight to voicemail. I called back again, and this time it rang twice before clicking over to the voicemail. I felt a twinge in my stomach (Maybe I was paranoid because every event at my church ends with a talk of heaven and hell, and thereby death in general). I tried the home phone. No answer. I tried her cell once more — your call has been forwarded to an automated voice message system… She was no more than seven minutes away, but I suddenly wanted an answer right then. Just as I turned into our subdivision my phone buzzed in the cup holder. I let up on the gas pedal and fumbled to punch the button to answer.
My mom has nurtured a kind of strength that I’m convinced only mothers can possess (the kind where if one of her children was trapped under a car she would be able to lift a Ford Expedition off our backs) but in order to do this, she has to detach in moments of panic. Upon my picking up, she calmly told me that her parents had been in an accident the night before, a pretty brutal one, and then calmly relayed their combined injuries with no more weight in her voice than if she was rattling off items from a grocery list.
Eight broken ribs.
Potential fluid on the brain.
Shattered eye socket (may not regain sight).
Cuts, bruises, lesions etc.
She used real language — common nouns and adjectives combined to become more frightful than complex medical jargon. Real language to describe real people becomes visceral. It connected my brain with my body with my mind’s eye; it made me want to gently touch each body part she mentioned, simply to check the status of my person.”
Read the rest at Medium’s “Human Parts.”