“We will find it, relax.” I said, looking at the same spot of carpet for the fifth time in search of my mother’s wedding ring. It was hot and sticky. Humidity seeped under my t-shirt, and now I was sweating while I pilfered through the front seat of my mothers’ SUV. My mother, sister, and I had been pacing in and out of my sister’s apartment for twenty minutes looking for her wedding ring. She was irritated, and I couldn’t do anything but picture finding that ring so we could get the hell out of this swamp.
The ring was in the backseat of the car staring us in the face the entire time, so we finally had the green-light to get back on the road. Finally, we restarted the trip that should have happened 30 minutes ago. Finally, I could get on with our boring six hour stare at trees creeping out on highway LA-20. Finally, I could assume my role as the person who stares endlessly through the passenger seat window.
The car was completely smashed in the front. The tires had been pancaked parallel to the ground. The front of the vehicle was turned downward, angled and propped at about 65 degrees. When I witnessed the impact through my window, I swear I saw an explosion. The car was crushed. If you could envision the glass on the ground you’d think there surely weren’t enough windows. If you can imagine tall grass scratching your calves as you flip flop towards smoke and fire. If you can picture a screaming girl, falling out of her passenger door painted red with blood on her face, arms, and clothes, then you can visualize what I saw on my trip back home from Louisiana.
“HE HAD A SEIZURE!” She screamed, her pale skin alight by the blood on her arms. I couldn’t think of anything to do with her screaming at me.
“You need to calm down and count to ten!” I said assertively. I remember thinking to myself, you must remain calm. She was scared, she was frightened and so was I, but I had to help. My mother remained behind with the girl, and I ventured further into the wreck site. I dipped under broken branches and climbed over others, I listened to the glass crack beneath my feet. When I approached the open passenger door, I paused to brace myself for what I may see… then obligatorily peered inside.
He dangled from his seat belt, suffocating and seizing and bubbling saliva. The strap was across his neck strangling him. Immediately, I put my hands up to his chest to lift his body and stood with two feet on the ground. I needed close-toed shoes to get in the car. I yelled at my mom to grab them.
My mother didn’t even tie the strings when she slipped on my Nike’s. Distracted by the girl, she was gone. The highway traffic yelled at us some thirty yards away making the scene incredibly loud. I climbed into the car, the boys’ long, lanky legs were trapped under the steering wheel. His feet beneath were shoeless, with only black socks. A phone vibrated somewhere in the dash, buried in mountains of glass and copper coins. Blood covered the left side of his face and the hanging drivers’ left-panel airbag. I looked over his convulsing body, and noticed dog tags clinking to identify him. I put two fingers under his chin to find his pulse at 160 beats per minute. I called out the name from the dog tags, repeated myself, waited.
Repeated myself, waited. He didn’t stir.
I repositioned as I squatted in the floor of the seat and held his slumping head, my nostrils filled with smoke from the burning wires and plastic. Suddenly, his eyes opened.
“I’m Rina, I am here to help you. You were in a car wreck, is your name Nick?” No response.
“I am Rina, I am here to help you. You were in a car wreck, is your name Nick?” I repeated loudly. The continuously vibrating phone began to mirror my anxiety. His eyes were bloodshot, darting left to right, unable to focus. Underneath the seat belt too, his arms were trapped like in a strait jacket. I made another attempt.
“I am Rina. Can you hear me Nick?” He looked in my face, and gaped at me blank. I decided to check for breaks and felt on his ankles, his knees, his ribs, his collar.
“Is your name Nick?” He nodded.
“Do you feel any pain?” Nick shook his head no, unmoved and drooled.
“You’re one lucky guy Nick, look at all these lucky pennies!” I said, offering a reassuring smile. Someone was standing outside of the driver door, I lifted the airbag to see. I pinned the airbag with the visor to keep it from rubbing the now violently twitching Nick.
“Nick relax. I am Rina, I am here to help you, you were in a wreck, but you are okay.” He thrashed a little, it made me uneasy that he was unpredictable.
“Are you on any drugs, something that caused your seizure?” I asked. I rechecked his pulse to find it slowed to 120 bpm. He looked at me. I repeated my question.
“I’m not a cop.” I stated. He shook his head no. With my left arm I propped Nick’s now again unconscious body, and dug with plastic to retrieve the vibrating phone. An iPhone with Nick’s photo in the background only had a mildly cracked screen. I slipped it into his gym shorts.
The driver door screeched metallically as cops tried to pry it open. With my right hand now, I pulled the door handle and braced the top of the car to kick with my right leg to free the door. Unforgivingly, it swung open and a paramedic came into view.
“Were you in this car wreck?” The uniformed man asked me loudly, assessing Nick’s condition. Somehow in this minute I was holding Nick’s clammy hand.
“No,” I responded and told him everything that I observed. Two more paramedics collected. They asked me how much space I had on my side of the car, considering taking him out through the passenger side. The vehicle was four foot in the air from the tilt; I told them our best bet was to use their door. They quickly slipped on a neck brace, we turned his body for the stretcher, and lifted him out of the vehicle.
I remember when we put him on the stretcher his grasp on my hand let go, and he froze. He looked at me one last time, so I smiled to tell him, “You’re gonna be okay,” and I left a lucky penny in his hand.
They strapped him down and he was gone.
I hopped out of the car, landing to see a policeman snapping pictures.
“Whew! That shit was crazy!” I said. Red cuts covered my hands and forearms. I looked down at my untied Nike’s. Glass and pennies spread from where I stood to as far as twenty yards forward into the forest. The cop didn’t speak a word as I turned to walk out of the tree-line back to my mother’s SUV.
Just maybe if we hadn’t turned back only four miles into our return, just maybe if my mother had placed her damn ring exactly where she thought she did, just maybe we would have been thirty minutes too early for me to do one of the most amazing things in my life.