DISCOVERING DAIN BRAMAGE: No *Bleepin'* Laughing Matter
Updated: Feb 17
“What happened?” the taxi driver asks me as I lurch my way in and wrangle the seatbelt around me.
“Drunk driver rammed me on the freeway.”
His eyes fly open. “By Uintah?”
“And you’re WALKING?”
I shrug. “Mm-hmm. They say I’m fine.
There’s movement off to the side of me. Dad has come in from the kitchen. I lean back farther on the couch to look at him because I can’t turn my head. His mouth is moving. He’s saying something, but I can’t—
I can’t hear him.
I haven’t gone deaf. The TV is still on. More mouths moving. Background laughter from the sitcom crowd. A little ditty of music as the scene flips.
Dad tilts his head. He gets that look. I know that look. He’s repeating himself.
And I can’t hear him.
I try to tell him. I try to explain what's happening but I don't understand it myself. My mouth is hanging open. I can feel it. My throat contracts.
Nothing comes out.
All I can do is stare up at him like that day I sank to the bottom of the pool but I can’t move my arms, can’t lift them toward him, and he has no way to reach into these waters and pull me back up from where I’m drowning.
He looks over his shoulder, growls something at the kitchen. Mom comes in. Those big eyes. I know that look, too. They’re both standing over me. Gawking at me. Confusion. Concern. Expectation.
I can’t meet it.
Can’t do anything but listen to that stupid sitcom and stare.
And the crowd all laughs.
The knife is still jammed in the base of my spine. It’s always there. No matter how I sit, how I lie down, how I move and stretch, it’s always gouging. When the spasms hit, they bolt me upright, which sends two red-hot spears up my spine and slams an anvil into my neck. Whiplash all over again. It cinches the helmet down tighter around my head. Magneto’s Helmet, all made of pain. More spears jab through my eyeballs and there’s a vice clamped onto the hinges of my jaws.
I can’t sleep. If it’s not one kind of pain waking me up, it’s another. But I can’t stay awake either. No more than two hours at a time. Everything is too bright, too loud, too fast, too much. All day drooling. All day staring at nothing. Staring and sleeping. That’s all I do. I watch a lot of TV but it’s not really there.
I’m not really here.
Except when the spasms hit. In those seconds and in the groaning aftermath—oh, I’m here, alright. I’m not entirely convinced that I want to be.
Mom brought me to a meeting for Mothers Against Drunk Driving. (1) Eight women. We survivors, our caretakers, and all the bereaved. We shouldn’t be in the same room together--the breathing ghosts and the grieving. I listen to their horror stories. I tell my own. But I don’t tell them the truth.
“I just wish she’d killed me. I’m not actually alive. This is not life. Not any kind of life I’d want to stick around for.” (2)
I hold it back, stuffing it down my throat because I don’t enjoy eviscerating people, and these ones would give anything for one more hour with the ones they’ve lost. My parents would be destroyed if they’d lost me. Well, if my spirit had been fully catapulted out of this hunk of twisted, spasming flesh-and-bone that it still animates.
Not very animated right now.
Lots of drool. My chiropractor says that’s normal. At every adjustment, I make a puddle on the floor beneath his table through the face slat. I drool through the paper sheet that protects the table cushion from the oil of my face. My zitty, nasty face that has exploded. So has my back and chest. I even have a zit on my ass. Not that I can turn and see it in the mirror. But I can feel it. It’s actually not a zit. It’s a boil. A big-ass boil on my butt. Hurts to sit on it.
I’m always on it. I’ve been sitting so much that I have a hole worn through the skin that covers my twisted coccyx. “Jeep butt,” my chiropractor tries to joke, but that’s its nickname because people who ride a lot in jolting jeeps get it, too. I’ve had no joy ride. Just too much sitting.
At least I’m not in a wheelchair like one of the leaders of the MADD support group. She can’t sit upright. Can’t speak right. Half her face is sliding down her skull but she didn’t have a stroke. She was riding behind her boyfriend on his motorcycle when a drunk rammed them. Pulverized her lower back. Trashed her brain.
And then the fucker laughed.
He was in line at a grocery store, bragging to his buddy about what he’d done to her. He had no idea her sister was operating the checkout register and heard every word. I listen as this sweet, intelligent, personable woman tells me the tale, slumped over in her wheelchair, slurring and stuttering worse than I do. All the others have heard this story and they froth in support. I froth, too.
They did wind up arresting the prick, and she had to face him in court. He laughed at her there, too.
I’ve never experienced homicidal urges before. Not during the decades trapped at that school. Not even for the alcoholic asshole who raped and abused me. Now they flicker in, whisper like devils, then flash away with my wave of revulsion. More often, it goes the other direction.
I want to ask if she ever wishes that he’d just killed her.
In fact, I think I might have. Lying in my bed in the dark, I am struck with a snapshot of horrified eyes. Mouths shooting open. Heads retracting in abhorrence. Yup. I think I actually said it out loud. I’ve been doing that a lot lately. Things I never would have voiced in a million-and-one years. They just sorta fall out my face now.
Like a stinky, steaming mass on the table between us. Or splattered down the front of somebody I love, all covered in bile frosting with a shiny, red “FUCK” on top.
I can’t stop swearing.
The MADD gals say that’s normal, because my head slammed against the driver’s side door. I might not be able to get sentences that make sense out my gob, and I might be flop-flipping half my words—or the first walf o’ my herds—but boy-howdy, can I swear!
I originally learned profanity the same way Ralphie does in Christmas Story, at the right hand of my father. We have the French Curse of fiery temperaments and incendiary mouths. Plus, I’ve always been a tomboy. I hang out with a lot of guys and adopted the lingo. I’m fluent in Dude.
But I can also be Miss Office Extraordinaire or Miss Elegance in my red velvet gown with the 18-inch fringe and red suede pumps.
Well, not anymore.
The thought of shoes with a heel almost sends my back into spasms just thinking about it. And elegance?
Swearing is an art, right?
It sure is now.
I kinda think it’s funny. Watching those jagged, glowing words pop off my tongue to sucker-punch every other thing I say. I couldn’t stop it if I tried. Sometimes it’s the only thing I can get out my mouth. (4)
Nobody around me thinks it’s very funny. Especially my mom. She’s sensitive like that. Cringes away from me. Embarrassed. (If I tell the super-duper honest truth, ever since I realized I'm doing it, I am, too.) Hopefully it’ll heal. Hopefully a lot of things will heal, because some of them are really annoying.
Having zero control over what comes out my mouth? Not being able to keep my thoughts straight or my emotions in check or remember what I just said to somebody five minutes ago? It’s actually not funny at all, but if I don’t laugh about all this, there’s only one alternative.
Okay, two. The first one makes people squirmy from the violence of how much snot can be projectiled out of my nose and the sheer amount of tears that can pour from this little body and the length of time I can muster up that much energy before I finally collapse into the drooling, nose-plugged coma of the day. (Or the hour.)
The other alternative (5) leaves inanimate objects as pulverized as that gal’s spine.
People don’t find my humor or my similes very entertaining these days.
Fuck it. I fuckin’ do.
Mom looks like she’s about to have an aneurism if she doesn’t get to speak her mind. I think she needs to imbibe a bit of my profanity-cocktail as she hangs up the phone. She just spoke with the DA’s office. The MADD gals gave us a list of things we should ask them, things we should do, along with a packet of information. There was a list of brain injury symptoms in there, too. (6)
I have many of them. In the first category, I have them all. And here I thought my bodily injuries were the thing I needed to worry about, professional dancer that I am.
Oh yeah. Did I forget to tell you that the hospital was wrong? That I’m actually not “perfectly fine”? I found that out the day after I woke up.
They’re lucky I did. After all, they sent me home in the middle of the night to fall asleep with nobody to wake me up and re-check my symptoms after a few hours. Why would they? They didn’t even mention the word “concussion” much less “closed head injury.” That’s what it’s called when your skin isn’t cut and your skull isn’t cracked open, but your brains get rattled around in there. Apparently the inside of the skull is full of some nasty, sharp edges that, when a brain is sloshed in eighteen different directions like mine was that night, it’s a bit of a bad thing. (7)
So is brain swelling in the days afterwards. (8)
When I woke up that next morning, I was a little sore, a little stiff, a little sluggish. No surprise. I arranged a sub for the Moroccan restaurant where I danced. Since I attempt as often as possible to be a responsible little soul-in-a-meatsuit, I also left a message with the restaurant to say that we should find someone to cover me for the whole weekend. I figured I’d give myself a nice rest and be back at it by the next week.
Maybe that’s why one of my myriad nicknames is Isadorable.
Anyway, next I called in to the internet company where I’m an office manager to ask if there was anybody who could pick me up for work because my car was…somewhere? I didn’t even know where it was. I finally saw it a few days ago in a lot with the other car-corpses.
Me the day I saw my car. December 2000
I think it’s gone to car heaven. I’m pretty sad about that. I loved that car. Really loved the sun roof.
ANYway, my boss told me not to move after hearing the description of my wreck — the MADD gals have taught me well. We don’t call these incidents “accidents.” If you’re impaired from consuming some substance and then choose to get behind the wheel and hurt someone, THAT’S NO ACCIDENT.
It’s actually a felony. “Vehicular Assault.”
If you kill them, it’s “Vehicular Homicide.”
ANNNYWAY…(They tell me my inability to keep my thoughts straight is normal for a head injury, too.) So my boss sent told me not to move. He sent his sister-in-law to my apartment because she’s a chiropractor. Since she was visiting from out of state, she couldn’t adjust me, but he wanted her to look me over just in case.
She put me face down on the couch and lifted my hair. Her gasp made my heart skip. “Don’t move!”
There was a golfball-size lump on the right side of my neck, so she made a makeshift neck brace out of a towel and insisted that I get the X-rays they should have taken at the hospital. “They should have just cut your necklace off,” she growled.
Sidenote: This will become a phrase uttered over and over throughout the next two decades, as well as, “You should have sued them.”
Yes. I should have. Because my mother hangs up her phone call with the DA’s office to tell me that the only case against the woman who hit me is the DUI charge. The MADD gals said I needed to get the criminal case rolling and register for Victim’s Restitution. (9)
But the courthouse told my mom, “There was no victim in that case. It’s a traffic case.”
And lo, the Sitcom Peanut Gallery resounds with the chirping of crickets.
For about 8.32 seconds, I have no air with which to speak. Ohhhh, that’s right. The hospital told the police that I was perfectly fine, remember? So that’s what the police told the court system. That’s what they also told the woman who hit me. (Don’t forget that. It’ll be important later.)
Filed under T for Traffic.
These words hover in the air of my apartment, as glowing and fragrant as my F-Bombs. I can’t even muster up a good ole cuss word.
Until I can.
Even my mom pukes out some profanity.
To everyone’s shock, my father is completely silent.
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