Saturday, January 25, 2020

She wasn't driving the car my mother died in. But she helped me forgive the boy who was.

In the park I visit most days there is a plaque for two teens killed in a car crash. I like reading it, not only because I remember writing about the crash for the local newspaper, but because I lost a loved one in a crash. Seeing the touching words written to those kids gives me comfort. 

One day I saw a young woman watering the trees planted near the memorial.
"Did you know the kids who died?" I asked, my reporter's hat on my head. "Are you a family member?"
She barely hesitated before saying, "I caused the accident."
Her honesty knocked my reporter's hat off and I was suddenly 15 again, muttering about how my mother died in a car with a teenager behind the wheel. 

But when the woman began explaining that she was waiting to hear back from medical schools because her recovery from the crash made her want to be a doctor, I put my reporter hat back on and asked if I could write about her life since that day. And she agreed.

That was cool.

Erica said she doesn't remember turning left in front of that pick-up truck, only waking up to a horrible scene inside her car and a man's face looking through her crumpled windshield. Next she remembers a woman standing over her hospital bed, calmly promising, "As long as you're here with me, I'll be here with you."

Now Erica is in medical school, studying to be an osteopath like that woman who held her hand while they waited for Erica's mother to drive to the hospital from hours away. But first she had to work through the guilt and blame, which came mostly from herself. 

"One thing that I heard over and over from everyone was that it wasn't my fault, but it literally, literally was. There were crash analysts who surveyed the scene. There were witnesses who saw it happen. Saying to my face that it wasn't my fault was a lie and we all knew it."

Having Erica be so honest about how she blamed herself for the crash, even when others wouldn't, and struggled to live with the guilt, shame and regret, I realized how much I had wanted to hear those words from the 17-year-old who killed my mother by driving into the path of a semi-truck.

I knew nothing of that boy until I saw him in the hospital, covered in bandages and attached to beeping machines. He was severely injured but still alive, and I remember closing my eyes at the window outside his room and imagining those beeps were keeping my mother alive instead. Since the grill of the truck had stopped in her lap, had she survived she never would have walked again. But she could still talk, and I could talk to her.

Weeks later I saw the boy again at his house, my father and I sitting in his living room while his mother hovered around nervously. I don't remember what was said, only the questions in my head that were never asked: "Why was my mother in your car? Did you guys find the bird you were looking for? Did she see the truck before it hit you? Did she know she was going to die? Did she scream?"

Then I never saw or heard from him again, this boy who changed my life forever. And I never really thought about him, either. Until I met Erica. Because writing about her struggles to heal helped me heal a wound I never knew I had.

I don't remember ever feeling angry at the boy or wishing bad things would happen to him. But I know now that I want him to feel bad. I want to know that he has also struggled to forgive himself for the part he played in the crash (in his report, the crash investigator noted that the boy's actions could be considered "vehicular homicide") and that he has hoped over the years for our forgiveness, too. And that while he could never give my mother back her life, never give my father back his wife, and never give my sister and me back our mother, he can certainly vow to help others the way Erica has vowed to.

So now when I think of him, I try not to think of him breathing through all those beeping machines while my mother lies on her silent slab. I try to imagine him coming up to another patient and helping them heal as Erica wants to do.

And I thank her for that, because she already helped me heal. I may never hear the words I want from that driver, but I heard them from Erica. And that is enough.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

My Grandmother's Journals: Life of a frugal, independent woman at 79. January, 1995

My grandmother in the 1990s.
Every day my grandmother wrote down what time she woke up, where she ate breakfast (at places like McDonald's, Burger King and Kmart) what movie she went to see, what mail and phone calls she received, what she read and what she watched on TV before going to sleep.

In 1995, she was 79 years old and living alone in a mobile home park. I wouldn't describe her as lonely; she was an extremely independent, persnickety woman whom I never knew to live with another person or even a pet. A bookkeeper for much of her life, she was very frugal and took herself on trips to China, Russia, Singapore and to Paris, her favorite city, numerous times. In fact, she visited Paris twice in 1995, first in April and again in December with me.  

A short walk from her home in Santa Cruz, Calif., was the famous surfing spot called Pleasure Point, and one of her favorite things to do was to walk along the cliffs above the water and watch the surfers. When she died at 97 in 2013, I took her ashes to Pleasure Point with a friend of hers and we each put some in the ocean. Seconds after I dropped mine, a surfer emerged from the water where I stood.

That was cool. 

In January of 1995, she was watching the O.J. Simpson Trial and studying French to prepare for her next trip to France.

Sunday, Jan. 1, 1995
Up at 8:30 a.m., (breakfast) here, (watched) some football. Finished book, took to library.
Ate (Burger King), saw "Little Women" at 4 p.m. Very crowded, good presentation.
Home 6:50 p.m., ate here. Ran Bolshoi Nutcracker, watched 60 Minutes: Interview with Paul Newman, now 70 years old. Good, voice hoarse. (Salvi apprehended, person who shot in Brooklyn abortion clinic.)

Tuesday, Jan. 3, 1995
Up at 8:15 a.m., breakfast at Kmart. Went to Long's for photos, post office for stamps. Bought Coffee Cat t-shirt {that she later mails to me.}
In mail a card from Linda, new brochure for tour.
Phone call at 4:50 p.m., man asked for Yvonne {Her first name}, but then hung up! Accent, cultured?  
Took Xmas lites down, cut cards for mailing.
Watched Fraiser, Home Improvement, NYPD. Couldn't sleep.

Monday, Jan. 9, 1995
Awoke 8:15 a.m., up 9:10. Breakfast at McDonald's. Woman took my paper!
Walked to the cliffs, wind bad! Young man asked if I was OK!
Home, chores: mended pink money belt, fixed blue sweater sleeve. Worked on taxes.
Watched Murphy Brown, Cybil (funny). Read more of The Changeling, part of "Handmaid's Tale."

Friday, Jan. 13, 1995 
No heavy rain. Up 9 a.m. Breakfast at McDonald's.* 
Got paper goods at Thrifty, went to Seabright Beach, library for 1 hour. To show: "Prêt-à-Porter." Enjoyed! 
Took newspapers to Grey Bears, Thrifty to check prices. Home, dinner, mail: letter from Freda. 
Finished footstool tapestry, some TV: Murder She Wrote, 20/20. Bed, read.

Sunday, Jan. 15, 1995
Awake early.  Watched Steelers 13 - San Diego 17, surprised all. 49ers 38 - Dallas 28.
News. 60 Minutes. Murder. Presumed Innocent. Bed, read a bit.

Monday, Jan. 16, 1995
Up 9:30, breakfast at McDonald's. Got soundtrack to Prêt-à-Porter. Read paper. Saw "Immortal Beloved." Lucky's, home.
Taped "Death in Small Doses" by Sandra Locke (Eastwood's old flame). Bed 12, read until 1:40 a.m. Cold in night.

Thursday, Jan. 19, 1995
Awoke 6:40 a.m., then 10:45! Buttermilk bar + O.J. 
To laundromat. Home, mail. Ad only.
Mall. McDonald's, coffee and apple pie. 
Got Vitamin C at Trader Joe's, checked Drug Emporium also. 
At Longs got TV Guide and Dinty Moore stew, small cans. 
Home 3:15 p.m.
Read, watched Mad About You, good. Washed pink sweater. Rain forecast.

Friday, Jan. 20, 1995
Up 9 a.m. Breakfast at McDonald's. Saw man with white plaid coat on corner.
Rain, home. Mail early. Catalogued videos, No Track 29!
Worked on typing interest forms. Justine called, (she) got two letters. 
{By her correspondence math that meant I also owed her two letters.}
X-Files repeat. Taped Homicide. Bed. Rain most of day.

Sunday, Jan. 22, 1995
Awake every two hours. Up at 9:30, breakfast at McDonald's. 
Drove to Seacliff, walked a bit, then to Rio Del Mar. 
Maltby was there! Nodded, no talk. Home 12:30 p.m.
Read "The Changeling." Weird. {Earlier she called it a "sorry mess."}
Studied French from 2 to 5. 18 killed in Jerusalem by bomb.
Rained all day.

Wednesday, Jan. 25, 1995
No rain. Up 8:40. Library, took Changeling back. Went to The Buttery. 
Judge Ito {she was watching the O.J. Simpson trial} okayed camera in courtroom but under conditions. Johnny Cochran glib. Certainly knows how to speak to Afro-Am's. 
Letter from Mimi.
Trial, then CNN w/angry exchange about Defense not reporting discovery! J. Cochran is slick pimp. 
Bed 12 a.m.

Thursday, Jan. 26, 1995
Up 9 a.m. CNN - More arguments. To library, got some Venice books. 
Ate at Jack's, chicken sandwich. Mail, 1099 from Schwab, adverts.
Watched some of arguments, Chris Darden called defense lawyers "Dream Team."
Read, watched Star Trek, Law & Order. Bed, watched Nightline, Cheers, crossword puzzle.
Rained all nite. Sanders/Chang - 6/7, 6/4, 6/3, 6/4.

Saturday, Jan. 28, 1995
Half day gone, up at  11:15. Breakfast and coffee at 41st. Walked in mall, looked at t-shirts.
To show: "Murder in the First." Explosive. Gary Oldman, Kevin Bacon, Christian Slater - talked to young men.
Ate here, some TV - news, read papers. Almost forgot Aussie. {Australian Open}
Agassi 6/7, 6/1, 7/6, 6/4.  Sampras tired - Hard matches. Bed late.

Sunday, Jan. 29, 1995
Up 9:30. Breakfast at McDonald's. 
Home, read, studied French, watched Super Bowl. Not too bad, rooted for San Diego. Over at 6 p.m. Nothing good on TV. 
Weeds and daffodils in back. Priced redwood boxes - high!
Bed, but ate bread and drank chicken soup. Woke in night with pains. Indigestion or bones?

February entries.

* For this she wrote "Bf McD." I lengthened a lot of her shorthand.