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AN HOUR BEHIND
a short story by Mark Kolke
November 28, 2011
It was late Sunday afternoon, March 13th, when I headed back to Colorado Springs.In normal conditions it was an hour and forty minutes.Sunday afternoon traffic and the rain/snow mix falling told me I should expect an extra hour at least.
So I left at 4:30.I needed to get home early enough to do some laundry, get prepared for my client meetings on Monday morning.It doesnít impress clients, or get them to sign up, if their life insurance agent comes to a meeting unprepared.
The change in time, to daylight saving, overnight had thrown my body-clock off all day.
As it does every year.
I woke up an hour behind, and the day didnít seem to catch me up at all - an hour behind before the day starts. And Iíd worked hard all week, so getting some extra sleep on the weekend rather than being short-changed an hour would have been good.Add to that, a round trip to Boulder was not my idea of relaxation.Trusting a reservation at the local Best Western didnít bode well. Two nights of party-animals on one side of me and a crying baby on the other were more than a sane person should handle. I complained but that served little purpose other than the ten per-cent they took off my bill when I checked out.
I worked hard all week but getting sleep in Boulder wasnít possible.I wasnít in my own bed, Saturday with Aunt Bettie was exhausting physically and emotionally. And Kendall was playing on my mind.
Sleep is my great friend, when I get it, when I get it easy, when I get it alone Ė and even more when I used to get it, pressed against Kendallís radiant heat.
My mind was wandering Ė daydreaming and mulling over in my mind that e-mail from Kendall this morning . . .
What to say after I hit ďreplyĒ? That I think of you often? That you were very important to me and I treasure what we had but I donít want to go back there? That Iím worried I wonít find someone as wonderful as you in the future, but you werenít right for me? That Iím disappointed and angry you havenít respected my request to stop contacting me as it just sends me into a downward spiral?
After I slipped into a bottle of scotch last week, my therapist has recommended anti-depressants to help me cope with the issues that I used to drown instead of face. He was reluctant at first to recommend the anti-depressants because Iím such a high functioning ďdepressiveĒ. But I can feel its effects Ė Iím uninspired, uninterested and unmotivated. Sure Ė Iím going through motions. Most people have no idea Iím feeling that way, but when I canít get up the energy to go to an important volleyball team meeting, I know Iím in trouble. I feel like Gracie Ė moaning and writhing around the apartment in her latest heat Ė in pain with no relief in sight.
But you arenít my solution, Gail. I am. If you were part of my life and I loved you, it would be easier to stay sober. If you were part of my life and I didnít love you, that would feed my problems, as your writing to me does now. Iím asking you again to please respect my wishes and stop the pain that I feel every time you contact me and remind me that you canít understand my decision. Be well.
Like I said, just before the crash, my mind so focused on that email from my drunken ex, and on that green Impala.
On my way back to Colorado Springs, after spending a wearying weekend in that damned emergency room at the Boulder Community Hospital with Bettie.
Iíve stayed in touch since mom died out of a sense of obligation.Bettie never was very warm with any of us when we were young. She was just momís old-maid sister and now that mom is gone, Iím the only one within three states-distance who could come.Her ovarian cancer has advanced to the point she canít be in the nursing home anymore, so it was time to admit her to hospital, but there was no room in the palliative care unit. They got the timing wrong Ė three patients, Bettie and two old guys Ernie and Steve . . . but the folks in palliative care, ones who were expected to die that week didnít.
Itís funny I suppose, but keeping company with Bettie on her gurney in the back hallway of the emergency room was no picnic as she drifted in and out, morphine drip doing its job and mine was to hold her hand when the morphine wasnít working.
Bettie didnít have anyone else to look out for her. The staff was great and Iím sure, in a day or two, they really will have a room in the palliative care unit for her to ease out of this life with some tender care to make the end as comfortable as possible.
And speaking of lonely old maids, I shouldnít talk so loud.Iím hoping to find someone, eventually, but Kendall has stopped me from thinking about much of anything logical at a time when I need to do just that. I know it doesnít make sense to wait for him, or set myself up for one more rejection.But how do I move on?How can I find another, love another, when I know Iím not done with him.He has made it so clear Ė and I think he is doing it to save me grief rather than because he really means it Ė that he is done with me.
Across the valley in Broomfield, undulating prairie landscape carried its burden of new homes. Rows upon rows of them, three-storey types with walk-out basements, weaving along the ridge overlooking the valley below.That valley edge is a jutting art-form of coulees, centuries of erosion forming a skirt-like view below those homes as if they were a display in miniature on the edge of a table with the coulees draped below them.
Dry grasses left from last year, summer-heat scorched to sage-mix of gray, green and brown Ė natureís camouflage mesmerized me, but I needed to refocus on driving, or should I say crawling along in choc-a-block lanes of exhaust spewing machines, everyone anxious to make it home for dinner.
Diesel fumes wafted into my car. I tried every setting imaginable to change the air flow Ė from heat, to A/C, and back again, high/low . . . nothing worked.Then I opened my window a crack to let some fresh air in but all I got was a wet face and more diesel.I rolled it up, wiped my face and resigned myself to the stink.
License plate, on the bucket of bolts in front of me, was so old, dry-cracked and peeling it was indistinguishable in terms of the numbers or where it was from. Mind you, I was having trouble seeing. Middle-aged eyes were not my problem, but worn wiper blades, an empty windshield washer reservoir, a pitted and cracked windshield exacerbated my vision problem.
But I was curious, you see.
Because this car Ė ready for the scrap heap if you ask me, dinted green fenders, one brown door, a dangling mud flap and only one working brake light Ė kept showing up beside me, in front of me and behind me as we crawled along the jammed road.This road isnít a freeway, but it was feeling like one of those LA freeway traffic jam scenes from a B-movie.
Everyone was changing lanes, sharing our gridlocked frustration in an evaporating afternoon with our waning hour of extra daylight Ė as one lane on either side would appear to be moving faster it was difficult to restrain the urge to change lanes, only to find a few minutes later, that car which had been behind me would go cruising right by, as if to look over at me sneering (do cars sneer?) because that could have been me scooting ahead.
As I found myself behind that green Impala with the ratty old license plate again, I got to thinking my plate was deteriorating too, my overdue registration form lingering in my briefcase in the folder labeled Ďerrandsí. I was thinking, I should go in soon, if for no other reason than to avoid the inevitable ticket that would be issued if I was stopped for speeding or a burned-out tail light . . .
Other vehicles passed me, and were passed by me, on that drive but none stood out in my mind like that Impala.I couldnít catch a glimpse of the driver.I had a picture in my mind of some grizzled old codger without two nickels to rub together keeping that thing running with chewing gum and rubber bands. I imagined two-days of stubble, dirty hat and grey mutton-chop sideburns.A ranch hand maybe. Or a junkyard laborer. I know Ė a guy from an auto-wrecker! That must be it.
Just then, at that moment, the world Ė and my Prius turned upside down.The Impala was changing lanes, cutting in front of me, when his left rear bumper collided with my right front fender Ė hooking it and lifting that corner of my car. I hit the brakes which were no help at all at that point Ė in fact, it may have been the first link in the chain reaction crash.
I think I screamed then or maybe it was a moment later when the truck behind me popped me from behind sending me airborne over the Impala and into the oncoming lane where two other cars hit me.Airbags popping, metal scraping metal, the smell of burning rubber, gas tank explosions and the infernal diesel filled my mind in what must have been only ninety seconds, but it seemed like a half-hour to me now. I didnít see any of it from behind my airbag but the sounds and smells stay with me still.
I donít recall any of the conversations Ė there were so many, with police, paramedics, more police and more paramedics.
They got me out on a back-board, then on to a gurney. I suppose the shock, being in shock, keeps the wounded pain-free for a while.Adrenalin kept me oblivious to what I would learn later in the emergency room Ė both my legs were broken, my right arm too, and the rest of me was pretty shook up as well but fortunately no internal injuries.
While I lay there strapped to that gurney with a neck brace keeping my head immobile, I could see, out of the corner of my right eye, the firefighters opening up the green Impala with the jaws of life.My heart sank, knowing I was likely as much the cause of this accident as he was.
Was he OK?
I couldnít see. My view was blocked by too many people in the way, and then two massive paramedics hauled me away. I remember the smell of wreckage and death as sirens wailed and my ambulance sped off.
I donít remember the next few days of the ordeal.In bits and pieces I learned that Iíd been taken to BoulderCommunityHospital where the less severe cases were taken. The more seriously injured were air-lifted by helicopter to the University of Colorado Medical Center in Denver.
I was absolutely shocked to learn that 14 vehicles were involved in the chain reaction crash.Two people were dead, four moderately injured were here in Boulder and three were in critical condition in Denver.
I was kept in the intensive care unit, right next to the emergency room, for three days until they were certain I was stabilized. Strung up in traction, my limbs set in casts, I was connected to nine different pieces of equipment. I felt completely stripped of dignity, having never been catheterized before, covered by the skimpiest of hospital gowns with two controls within grasp of my left hand Ė the nurse-buzzer button, and my morphine drip.
On the fourth day, Thursday I guess it was, they moved me from ICU to a regular room.As we rolled down the corridor, I saw her.Aunt Bettie was still parked there in the corridor.
ďStopĒ, I yelled out.ďThatís my Aunt Bettie. Why is she still here?She was supposed to go to the palliative care unit on Monday or Tuesday!Ē
The orderly stopped, inquired of the nurse in the area who gave me the good news, and the bad news, and then more bad news.
The good news - it wasnít Aunt Bettie.It was somebody elseís aunt, waiting for the same reason Ė waiting for someone to die so they could be moved to the palliative care unit.
Aunt Bettie?Yes, she had been moved on Monday.
But she died this morning.
Could it get worse?
I guess I could be dead, but Iím not.
But other people are, and it seems like it is partially my fault.
Police officers from Boulder and Broomfield Police Departments have been in to see me, asking questions and asking me to sign things.Since my right arm is broken, I can sign nothing, but even if it wasnít I probably shouldnít be signing anything until I talk with a lawyer.
The dilemma for police and hospital staff notifying my next of kin; closest geographically, was Aunt Bettie, but sheís no longer available.Efforts to contact my brother Barry in Cleveland have been unsuccessful so far. He is away on business in Europe and not expected back until this weekend.My sister Meg in Chicago is on vacation in Belize and doesnít have a phone attached to her snorkel so there is no way to know when messages will reach her.
Ryan Jacobsen, one of the guys from my office came to visit yesterday. He brought his wife Laura and their little boy Darren. And they brought flowers. And a get-well card signed by everyone at the office.
Yes, they called Kendall.
They found his business card in my purse.He told a police officer he couldnít come because he didnít want to, and because he was drunk.
The green Impala?
Driven by James Beecham.
Apparently he lived in my building in Colorado Springs, two floors below me.
He was 44, just one year older than me.He worked at the car parts place across the street from my office.
Police figure he recognized me and was trying to stay close to me in traffic or to get my attention. They showed me his picture. I donít remember seeing him before.
But seeing his picture, I would like to have met him.