Pin It “Yeah, you go ahead,” I said. “I’ll be right behind you.”
The first thing in ages -- beyond ages -- he’d ever done for himself, was buy a Harley. His permit let him practice off of major highways, without a passenger. He ate, slept, and breathed this thing. He couldn’t believe it was really his, he kept saying. For weeks the only thing out of his mouth was all of the things we’d do with this bike; was getting a helmet, a sissy-bar so I could ride, and pipes. And how he couldn’t believe it was really his. My husband isn’t an easily excited man; this thing… this thing did it.
His parents watched the kids for us all night, but we needed to be there by 9:00 a.m. to pick them up. I’d follow in the car so that he could ride the bike. I’ll be right behind you, I said. But on my way out the door I stopped to feed the cat, and then I knocked out some dishes while the house was still quiet. And then I left.
An officer flagged me away. Turn around. My heard stopped. It was right outside of his parent’s turn.
No. No, I was only being dramatic. It probably wasn’t even an accident. My heart didn’t race, my palms didn’t sweat. I took seven, then turned onto forty from another direction. I kept the radio off, but I knew he was fine. He’s always fine. I never really thought for even a second, it could be my husband. That while I was doing the dishes, he was flipping lifelessly over a car.
I could see the officer from this side of the accident when I pulled into the neighborhood. A red car parked sideways in the road. My legs went numb crunching into the drive. The bike wasn’t there. The bike wasn’t there. The bike wasn’t there.
I interrupted her. Where is Spencer! Confusion. Shrug.
I slammed into the door, I tried to say, THERE WAS AN ACCIDENT. I couldn’t get the words out, just noise. Just noise again. Why couldn’t I talk? I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t walk. ALICIA! ALICIA! She screamed after me, coming outside. “You can’t go. You can’t drive like this. Stay with the kids.”
Mary asked one time what was wrong, but she had to know, and she didn’t push. I took the baby from the highchair. I ignored the question. I walked to the door to watch my mother in law peel out of the driveway, take the corner hard. So much noise was coming out of me, and I couldn’t stop it. It wasn’t crying. It was me trying to breathe. Trying not to fall. Trying not to scare the kids. Trying not to drop the baby. Still trying to breathe.
We prepared for this, Spencer and I, after the school bus accident that killed Zach. How we would tell the kids. What we would do if they were around when one of us had to react. We wouldn’t have the luxury of losing it. This was part of being a parent. It was bigger than being a wife or a husband, we agreed, at least in this moment. Mind over matter, we promised each other, for the sake of the babies. And this was the day. It wasn’t the school bus accident. That was only a prelude to the real thing. Zach died to prepare me for this. Spencer died today. He’s dead and now I have to tell the kids. Somehow I have to tell the kids. I started to fall.
But first I have to hold the baby. First, this is all I have to do. Remember to breathe. My hand is over my mouth, to keep the noise in. I can’t react yet. I have the kids. Keep the noise in. Don’t’ let them see this.
The SUV could have flipped, she took the corner so fast. Tires screamed. Then she was screaming. In the kitchen, screaming, “A MOTORCYCLE. A MOTORCYCLE. THEY WON’T LET ME IN! ALICIA, IT’S HIM! ALICIA, IT’S HIM!” She grabbed the phone, calling the hospital. “My son, Joseph Stucky was in a motorcycle accident. Is he there?”
I clung to the baby. I couldn’t look in the direction of the kids. They were watching a movie in the connected room. Mary heard it all, she had to have, but she never come in the room, never asked what was happening. Matthew giggled over the movie Tangled. I couldn’t hear the movie, but I heard him laughing.
An officer called my phone. I was on my way to the hospital. Trauma.
He was in a neck brace, on a stretcher. Blood, everywhere. The tips of his fingers to the end of his toes; hair was missing from his head, where the pavement shaved it off. His fingers glittered with shards of tiny glass. His face was swollen, his teeth were chipped and crooked. His head wasn’t the shape it was supposed to be.
Blood on his brain. Family poured in, grabbing me, hugging him. Crying in corners and into his chest. This is what kills people who make it to the hospital, we all knew it. Everyone there knew what it was like to lose someone like this. Everyone, but me. I realized he was scared. A reaction no one had ever seen on him so it was hard to recognize. He was cold and chattering, asking why he was shaking. If it were happening to anyone else, he would have known something like that. He wasn't being himself. He told me not to stop touching him, even when I knew it hurt.
I held his hand, clasped in mine against my stomach while a nurse prepped him for surgery. She wrote a B in black marker on his temple, above his ear. Stroke, they said. Brain surgery. They always include me, like I’m going through it too. They did it with Scarlett and now they were doing it with him. Nodding at me, to make sure I understood what was happening when they talked. They put a cap on him, they wheeled him away, they walked me to a room where I fell asleep three hours later, two chairs next to his dad, after everyone else left for the night. We woke up at 2:00 a.m. to see him, bandages over his skull; a clear hose, draining a golf ball swelling of blood and traces of cardinal red tissue from underneath. Like the feeding tube that Scarlett had, but worse. Worse because it was blood and worse because this time, I had to leave.
I came home to an empty house last night. A puzzle on the floor. A wine glass sitting out from the end of our date last night. Biscuits on the counter we left before we could eat this morning. The remnants of our life scattered in and out of every room, still with the quiet of an empty house. This could have been it. I could have lost him.
I fed the cat and I put away the dishes before I went to bed, thinking about the day. About clinging to the baby, imagining what his mother was turning that corner to see. About losing all sense of reason in the panic, when I always told myself I wouldn’t… I wouldn’t do that to my kids. I should have thought about them. No, I should have thought more about Spencer. No, I should have thought about his mom, his poor mom, like she thought of me.
He was sitting at a red light when it happened, when I was standing right here, doing the dishes. The car came at him at full speed, never even tapped the breaks, never saw him sitting there. Spencer looked down at his right mirror in just enough time to know that this was going to kill him. No time to react. No helmet to protect him. The bike shot our from him like a rocket, landed thirty yards away. He remembers slamming into the windshield, like a dream. He flipped over the length of the car then skid for a ways. Road rash ripped his t-shirt and shaved his skin. Witnesses say he got up immediately, his body in shock, stood himself up and left a bloody handprint on the back of the car, catching his balance. He walked to the median, and he collapsed.
I should have been there. I should have been there.
Last night I fell asleep with the cat thinking, this could have been my life, wondering what we were supposed to learn from all this. I don’t know the answer to that. But I know I should have been there for him. I should have been there, and I don’t ever want this house to be quiet again.