Thursday, 28 August 2014

Whales, Walker, Jet-lag

I'm a writer trying to get back on my bike. I have two fractures in my pelvic bone, a house that must have shrunk when we were in Alaska, a jet-lagged teen, and a million things to do that are waiting for me to figure out how to do them while pushing a walker.

Like hanging clothes on the line. How do I get them from the washing machine to the clothesline? My favorite chore is now a challenge, and my arse can't sit on this chair for very long. I will have to figure out how to write standing up. Or laying down.

We were in a car crash July 24th. Lily was not hurt. When I looked at her in the back seat she looked like a fairy, her long hair covered in sparkles of glass, her face speckled with freckles of mud splashed on her through the blown out windows. My old Mom was hunched in the seat next to me, groaning. 'We will be okay,' I said. Then men came. They were just changing shift at the Department of Transportation. They rang the ambulance. The dispatcher wanted to know if we needed one ambulance or two. 'I don't know, just get us out of here.' My door was stuck. I wanted out. Mom's door was open, but moving her was not an option. Lily's was stuck, too. The airbags were small round white donuts, flattened and smoking. I was afraid of fire. A trooper came to my window. His presence calmed me. A pretty young woman in a pink shirt appeared at Lily's window. She asked Lily a few questions, kept her mind off of the 20 minute wait we didn't know we had until our doors were chainsawed open. I wondered who that pink angel was.

She was the driver who gunned her engine and sent our car flying into a light pole at 55 miles an hour. The light pole was engineered to collapse on impact. It bent like a straw. The car flipped end over end. We are alive.

And for a while, I don't know how long it will take, my life will be divided into Before Accident and After Accident.

Before Accident we had fun with family and friends; we settled into life in Mom and Peggy's house and took trips to the library, the bookshop, and to Homer. A few weeks later we went to Seldovia. We missed the Tustumena ferry from Homer to Seldovia, so we flew on Homer Air. A man from Nanwalek who was a child when I flew across Kachemak Bay to work years ago was on the plane. It was so good to see him. Lily shook with excitement as we flew over the Homer Spit, her smile as big as Alaska. Our friends in Seldovia took her up the slew in a three holed kayak. They were so good to us. After a few days in lovely Seldovia we took the fast ferry, owned and operated by the Seldovia Native Association, back to Homer.

Half way there the captain announced that there were whales--humback whales--he stopped the boat, invited Lily to stand by him and pointed to where a whale would surface in a few minutes. But there was more than one. There must have been two dozen. We sat in the pod for half an hour. A tail to port, another one just off the bow, Jesus, two to starboard! Their black backs bent into perfect C's, slow humps of joy, followed a second later by their beautiful W-shaped tails. The sea moved under and around us, peppered with a city of small black colored birds who were also feeding on krill. Black thrills, gentle grey swells, sunny lavender sky, Lily and the Captain. The silent swoop of black backs, the great exhale. The tail. Such a huge dose of magic; visuals we will carry forever.

After the Accident we had to stay a few weeks longer than planned in Alaska because I was not fit to fly. It was all very weird. The panic about my mother and her cracked ribs; the agony of her intense pain, so many questions about a woman in her nineties recovering from such physical trauma. My own pain. The reality of our family in crisis. The rudeness of well-meaning people; the insurance man wanting a statement when we were barely able to talk. The sweetness of friends who brought meals to Jean's house, where Mom was nursed by my cousin Suzanne. The non-refundable tickets back to Ireland. The stack of nasty letters from banks and credit cards. The ice cream and card games. Lily's guitar lessons from Mike Morgan. Floating hostilities, small miracles. The slopes in sidewalks that accommodate my walker. The nice people who pushed our wheelchairs in Seattle and Chicago. The tallness of life in a short wheelchair. All those writing deadlines I missed. My mother's remarkable will to live. My fear of driving and digging deep enough into the 'get on with it' well.

I think of all of this as my clothes sit in the washing machine. And I wonder if I will hit the post on this first bit of writing After Accident. And I think of the young lady in pink and hope she is coping. And the humpback whales. I fall asleep and wake thinking about them.


  1. That is a very affecting post. Most people can only imagine what being at 'ground zero' of such accident seems like. It's really best if that isn't something they'll have to carry in their minds, but accident survivors say otherwise. Perhaps, it's time to listen to them, and join them in their ongoing calls for justice. Thanks for sharing that! All the best!

    Sabrina Craig @ Medical Attorney NY

  2. Thanks Sabrina. I see you are a birth injury attorney. Best wishes to you in your important work.

  3. Thanks for this story, Mary....I knew parts, but the detail is powerful.

  4. What you're going through is, in the final analysis, a sad and agonizing inconvenience that you shouldn't have to be put through in the first place. It angers, as well as it makes one sober up. So yes, all the frustrations are understandable, and all the persistence are awe-aspiring, indeed. Just keep on and stay steady, restitution is within your reach. Thanks for sharing that! I wish you all the best!

    Roman Barnes @ J and J Law