On the third ring, I realized it was not a dream. Fumbling in the dark, I grabbed the receiver before it could ring another time. “Hello?”
“Mrs. Miller?” said a serious but unfamiliar voice. As I struggled from sleep two thoughts collided: What time is it? and This is not an annoying wrong number.
“Yes?” I said quietly in order not to wake Stuart, who hadn’t been sleeping well lately.
“My name is Brian. I’m calling from Mercy Hospital…” My muscles stiffened and the hair on my arms stood up. “Your daughter was in an accident. She’s okay,” he hurried on before I’d digested this information, “but she’ll need a ride home.”
Okay, whatever it is, it’s not that bad. We’ll deal with the car later. I took a few deep breaths. “Um, did you say Mercy Hospital? I don’t really know exactly where that is. Can you give me directions?”
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Miller. I’m new to the area. Let me get someone to help you.”
Seconds later a woman’s voice. “Where you comin’ from, hon?” Hearing her Baltimore accent was such a relief, I almost laughed. I told her, and she gave directions.
I glanced at the clock. 12:06. “Honey,” I whispered in Stuart’s ear. “Laura’s been in a car accident. She’s fine, but I guess the car is undrivable. I have to go get her. I’m not sure when I’ll be home.”
“Mmmmm….?” Silently, I grabbed my sweats and sneakers and tiptoed out to dress, scribbled a quick note for Stuart and was out the door.
Mercy Hospital is downtown. I hate driving into the city with the construction that’s always in progress, the one-way streets so confusing—and all so much worse at night. However, it wasn’t so bad, very little traffic, and Mercy has its own parking lot. I went straight to the emergency room. Surprisingly, for a Friday night, there were few people waiting. I looked around for a nurse or someone who could tell me where Laura was. That’s when I spotted Kevin.
A Bit of Confusion
I was relieved to see a friendly face but also surprised since, though he and Laura were still living together, they had decided several months ago to sell the house and see other people. He saw me and we walked toward each other. When he hugged me, alarm wracked through my body. In the five years they’ve been together, Kevin had NEVER hugged me! “Where’s Laura?” I almost demanded.
“She’s in X-ray.”
“Is she okay? What happened?” Kevin shrugged and nodded towards two young men and a woman who were a few feet away. “Who are they?” I asked, following his gaze.
“I don’t know. Friends of Laura’s.”
“What are they doing here?”
“They were with Laura when it happened.”
I was confused. “Where were you?”
“Home. Laura called me, so I came.” I was trying to make my brain work. She wasn’t so hurt that she couldn’t make a phone call. That was good. But why call Kevin if she’s with what appeared to be perfectly healthy people?
I walked over to the little group. “I’m Laura’s mother. What happened?”
“Oh, Mrs. Miller. I’m Brian. I spoke to you on the phone.”
“Brian? I thought you were from the hospital. Kevin said you’re a friend of Laura’s …”
“Yes, we were all together. I um… I didn’t want to say too much on the phone. Um … I, um… I didn’t want you to drive down here upset…”
“Well, now I AM upset! What happened to Laura? Where is she? Tell me!” I’m not sure if I was screaming or crying or both.
“Well, she’s in X-ray.” Again with the X-ray.
“Tell me what happened!”
“We’d been out to dinner,” he said, gesturing towards the other two, “and then sat at the bar awhile before we got ready to go.” He took a deep breath that seemed eternal, during which time I was imagining my child in an inebriated state crashing her car, “…and we were walking toward the parking garage where we’d left our cars”… another deep breath and then the words tumbled out… “and these three guys walked up to us and one of them asked me what time it was and I looked at my watch and told him and then they said thanks and walked away and then when we walked past an alcove between buildings they came back out and demanded money but we didn’t have any ‘cause we’d spent it at the restaurant and bar but one of them told me he’d take my watch which was a Rolex my parents gave me when I graduated from med school so I gave it to him and Yeung… “ (Here he pointed to his friend) gave him five dollars which was all he had and Mindy (again pointing) had a couple of bucks too but Laura didn’t have any cash at all and the guy said ‘gimme your suitcase’ and Laura said ‘No, buy your own damn briefcase’ and then…” He seemed to have run out of steam.
“Yes? And then?” My heart was beating so fast I thought it was going to jump out of my chest! Why in the world wouldn’t she give up her briefcase? She had a great job and could easily have bought another. She has such a sense of right and wrong, and sometimes she gets a little feisty when she thinks she’s being wronged. But still, this was a dangerous situation!
Confusion Turns to Horror
“Well, it was one of the younger ones who was trying to get her briefcase and the older one came over after he got Yeung’s five bucks and said, ‘Whatsa matter?’ and the other one said, ‘She ain’t givin’ me her suitcase’ and the older one took out a gun…” (Now my heart went from racing to stopped)… and said ‘Oh yeah?’ and whacked her right in the middle of her forehead with the handle of the gun and she fell down and then they all kicked her and then ran away. She was still hanging onto that briefcase, though,” he said with some awe. Oh, God, if only it had been the minor car accident I had envisioned.
I turned to Kevin. “Did you hear this story?” He nodded, wiped his eyes and turned away. He still loves her, I thought. Frantically, I looked around for a doctor, a nurse, someone to tell me something. Finally, I spotted a nurse and asked about Laura’s condition.
“She’s in X-ray, hon. We’ll know something soon enough.” I recognized her voice as the direction-giver. For some reason, this gave me comfort. “Please, is she going to be okay?”
“She’s banged up some, but it’s nothin’ she can’t recover from. I promise.”
“Will I be able to take her home?”
Her kind eyes were level. “Well, you can ask the doc, but I’m bettin’ maybe she’ll be here at least overnight for observation. Past that, well, I’m not really sure.”
Maybe half an hour lapsed before they wheeled her back into the ER on a stretcher. When I saw my beautiful daughter looking like an abandoned rag doll with a huge gap between her eyes from which dark blood was pooling into her blonde hair, eyes already black and blue, I could feel the bile rising into my throat. I kissed her and held her hand. “I’m sorry, Mom,” she whispered.
“For what, Ponytail? You didn’t do anything.”
“For making you come down here. I didn’t tell them to call you. I thought Kevin could take me home.”
It didn’t take a genius to see the extent of her injuries. “Laura, honey, I don’t think you’re going home for at least a few days.”
Just then, the doctor walked over. “Are you her mother?”
“Yes. Please tell me about her injuries and what happens next.”
“Well, we’re going to have to sew up that huge gap, but we need a plastics guy to do it. I’m a general surgeon,” he said with a soft southern drawl. “I called Dr. McFadden, and he’s on his way.” I glanced at the wall clock—almost two o’clock. How nice is that for a surgeon to come at this time of night!
Until Dr. McFadden arrived, I stayed with Laura, holding a cup into which she vomited every couple of minutes. We were told later that she had some internal injuries and many hairline fractures in her face as well as some dental misalignment. The doctor arrived within the next 20 minutes or so. Introductions were made, and he said to Laura, “I’m going to insert a needle in the middle of the wound to numb it so I can sew it up. Now, it’s going to hurt like hell for about 30 seconds. You let me know when you’re ready.
My Brave Girl
“I’ll never be ready. Just do it.”
He inserted that needle. Laura screamed. My knees became rubber, and I sank almost to the floor. Kevin, standing beside me, caught me and held me. Thirty seconds is an eternity when your child is suffering. I don’t know how either of us survived that.
Laura was in the Critical Care Unit for three days and then moved to the general hospital area. When I finally got around to asking her why in the world she didn’t give up the briefcase she said, “I was making a proposal for a new position that I was lobbying for and had many letters of reference. I didn’t want to lose them.”
“But Laura, you could have explained how you lost them and gotten new ones.”
“Mom, who knew they had a gun? Who knew they’d hurt us? They looked like maybe they were 14 years old! What can I say?”
Laura could have had plastic surgery a year after the healing so she wouldn’t have a scar. But she never did. It’s years later, and whenever I look at her, I see the original wound, and I continue to be wounded.
Ten years after the event, I shared this written story with Laura. She was a bit shocked and told me, “Mom, I had little memory of the true trauma and how I was affected by it.”
Laura, Kevin and Stuart are actual names. All other names are made up.
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