There’s no real way to do justice, in writing or doodling, to what happened five years ago. Still, it’s something Lance and I refer to often; as our friend Christie says, life at that moment “was divided into two eras: ‘Before the Accident’ and ‘After the Accident.'”
I was in graduate school at the time, killing time between classes when I got the call from one of Lance’s co-workers. “Lance was in a car accident,” she said between rapid breaths. “We didn’t have your number…Lance told us your number…”
There wasn’t any more information: just that Lance had been hit by a car and was in the hospital across town. I hopped in a cab, my heart racing as fast as traffic was slow. Lance’s boss called me while I was in the cab. “He’s in Trauma,” he said. “He’s talking. Christie and Mandy were hit, too.”
Trauma? What did that mean? Was it traumatic? What is “traumatic” in hospital-ese? What happened to Christie and Mandy?
I finally got to the hospital. Lance’s boss, Mark, was there in the ER waiting room.
“Can I see him?” I sputtered.
If you’ve ever been in an inner-city emergency room, you understand that it’s the place where a million nightmares are born. Screaming, crying, apologies, a frenzy.
Lance was on a gurney up against a wall in a hallway, neck wrapped in a brace. My heart skipped a beat.
“Hi honey,” he said, a weak smile on his face as I approached. This was the first time I ever cried in front of Lance (the handful of other times are reserved for sad sequences in Pixar films).
“Are my teeth okay?” Lance suddenly panicked.
“What?” I asked, befuddled.
“My teeth? Did I chip a tooth??” Lance is fiercely protective of his nasty-ass brown teeth.
“No, no. They’re fine.” I answered. “Can you…are you okay?” The neck brace…
“Yeah, it’s just a precaution, they said,” Lance responded. “They cut off my jeans. I don’t have any pants.”
The EMTs at the scene found Lance unconscious on the sidewalk. Lance and his co-worker, Mandy, had gone for a coffee run with our friend Christie, who also had to stop at a nearby animal adoption center for work. While walking along the sidewalk, they stopped at an intersection, where a guy happened to run a red light, hitting another car and pushing it up into the sidewalk, right into Lance, Christie and Mandy.
Lance’s jeans were cut off while trying to stabilize him for the stretcher. The EMTs went for his jacket, too, but Lance somehow regained consciousness and the strength to fight them off. “This jacket is discontinued! It can’t be re-bought!!” I believe is what he said.
Mandy was rushed to a different hospital, where we found out later she suffered a pretty severe concussion after being thrown against a brick wall. Lance broke his leg. Christie…we didn’t know anything about at first. People were telling us “it wasn’t looking good,” but we had no idea what that was supposed to mean.
We were to find out over the next several hours, days, weeks, months, as Christie underwent an extensive list of surgeries and physical therapy, that she’d suffered serious injuries in the accident. Eventually, Christie would have to amputate the lower half of one of her legs due to the amount of muscle loss.
Like I said, I don’t have the skill to do justice to what happened, especially since I was only tangentially involved in the experience. It’s that sort of thing that lingers in the back of your mind but is always there; it never goes away. At the same time, though, it served as a weird, twisted bonding experience for Lance, Christie, and Mandy. It’s something they’ll always share, for better or worse. They’re more connected because of it. Lance and I had our wedding reception at Christie’s beautiful house, three years after the accident.
Oddly enough, this experience also led to my first meeting with Lance’s family. At the time, I was the “caring friend” who went back to Lance’s apartment to get a fresh set of clothes for when Lance was discharged. Though everybody knew who I really was, we all played along given that the situation was bigger than any squabbling about religion and identity politics.
So, in a hamfisted attempt to end this on a positive note, since Lance broke his leg, he was given the week off from work following the accident. Of course, between the trauma and inability to move around all that much, we just ended up eating a lot of take-out in Lance’s bed (this was before we lived together officially). Lance would stuff chicken sandwiches and pizza into his face all day long. Lance gained like ten pounds.