Diet Dr. Pepper

When I was just finishing 8th grade my mother was hit by a drunk driver on her way home from work. It was a head on collision that almost killed her. The passenger was killed instantly and the drunk driver died on the way to the hospital. She was lucky to be alive.

This was 1986, I was 13, and it was just before the seatbelt law went into effect. The bystanders at the scene used toenail clippers to cut my mother out of her seatbelt, fearing the car was going to explode before EMS could get to her. They cut her out and she walked, with help, away from the metal box that protected her. She was transported to Sutter Medical Center Sacramento where they found she had two broken legs, a broken collar bone, her face and chest were smashed, and her abdominal muscles were ripped apart where the seatbelt hit. The same seatbelt that saved her life. The same hospital that saved my husband’s life. And the same hospital that continues to save mine.

I was at home at our new condo at Del Verde Square in Natomas. She had graduated from PA school and paid $53K for her first home purchase. It was a brand new condominium complex and it was ours. She bought me a captain’s bed with drawers on the bottom. We had all new furniture. She used the antique chest of drawers and vanity in her bedroom, not mine. We always had Diet Dr. Pepper in glass bottles but I had to ask before I could drink one. I took the bus home from school that day, like I did every day. My mom’s boyfriend’s brother showed up at the condo, unusual, and told me my mom had been in an accident and he took me to the ER. Her boyfriend Larry was there. I have only vague memories of seeing her. I remember she didn’t recognize me. She wasn’t making sense. She didn’t know who the president was. Traumatic Brain Injury. My visit was brief. They needed to stabilize her. I was in shock. Was she going to die? What do I do now?

Larry’s brother took me to my best friend Sara’s house. I lived with Sara and her mom, Linda, for at least 3 weeks while she was in the hospital. Her home was familiar to me, I already spent as much time as I could there. This was a bonus. They even had an extra bedroom for me. We made quesadillas with salsa and sour cream cooked inside. Linda bought us Bel Air chow mein and we ate it cold. We listened to World Destruction over and over again on the record player and blasted it and danced like we were in a mosh pit. We swam at night in the half-buried doughboy. We read Fifteen and Ruby Fruit Jungle and we called the popcorn party line. We went dress shopping for 8th grade graduation. Baby blue.

My mom left the hospital AMA (against medical advice) to attend my graduation from Sutter Middle. She was an Honored Guest, and Larry pushed her wheelchair to the front row. Both legs were in casts, her right arm was in a cast, she still had two black eyes and scabs everywhere. Someone had helped her get into a dress. She wore a wide brimmed hat.

Larry took her back to the hospital after the ceremony. She wasn’t ready to live her life yet. I went to my Grad Dance. We had a limo. I made out with my date even though he had a scab on his lip. That’s a gift that keeps on giving. Thanks a lot, A.M. I am reminded of you every other year or so, at this point. 😘

As middle schoolers do, I floated through my life pretending the bad stuff didn’t exist. I pretended everything was normal and everything was ok. Fake it til you make it. Your mommy’s alright, your daddy’s alright…surrender.

My mom was the poster child for seat belt legislation in Sacramento. There was an article in the Sacramento Union about her accident, a photo of her on a gurney was front page news. Was that her 15 minutes?

Once again, she survived. I don’t remember that Larry stuck around very long after that. She couldn’t work out for three hours a day and do triathlons anymore. Her near death was too much for him, I guess.

Too much and not enough…

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