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Survival

It was a wet, dreary, and chilly day in Columbus, Ohio, on October 7, 1987 – cold enough for a sweater, but not quite cold enough for a winter coat. I was 20 years old at the time, and my baby girl was turning two years old today.  I wanted to go pick up a birthday cake from Resch’s, my favorite bakery on Livingston Avenue, and my mother wanted to go shopping to buy her a present. We discussed where we would go first, and I reluctantly agreed to head to Schottensteins.  I hated Schottensteins with a passion.

As a child my mother would take my sister and I to Schottesteins for school clothes. All I ever remember about this place was that it was always full of rude women desperately rummaging through piles and racks of disorganized clothing that resembled hand-me downs. searching for a deal. The carpet was stained, and you could always spot whining babies suckling Kool-Aid bottles with half clean or dirty strollers, snotty noses and dirty faces nearby. The dressing room reeked of ass, underarm pits, dirty diapers, and musty crotch.

We jumped in my mother’s 1977 sky-blue, Ford Granada and headed to Schottensteins. I remember it taking a lot of strength to open the long heavy, steel car doors. And they creaked and cracked from rusty old hinges when you opened or closed them. I put Lauren in the back seat with just a seat belt on because she had outgrown her infant car seat, and since car seats weren’t required for toddlers back then, and I was broke, she didn’t have one.

My mother drove and I sat in the passenger seat. Mom didn’t believe in wearing seat belts. She said she was afraid of being trapped in hers should she ever get in a car accident. I would’ve worn mine, but the seat belt, much like most things in this old piece of junk, didn’t work. The right rear door wouldn’t open, the brakes were worn down to the rotors, and a drunken, mechanic friend of my mothers had just repaired the power steering.

We headed towards the highway and merged into traffic. It began raining. I sat in the passenger seat thinking about the dreaded shopping experience I was about to endure. Then all of the sudden our car began swerving all over the road. My mother screamed, “Oh my God, Angela, there’s something wrong with the car”. I reached over from the passenger seat and grabbed the steering wheel in an effort to help her regain control but it was pointless.

The steering wheel felt like it was a spinning disc with nothing attached to it. We began to slide into the median. Time must have stopped because I remember it as if I was watching a movie in slow motion. When I was a child we would jump into the back seat of the car whenever we spotted what we called a “semi” or 18 wheeler and
make a motion with our hands as if we were pulling a rope down from the ceiling to get the truck drivers to sound their horns. I remember thinking about that childhood memory, seeing the 18 wheeler get closer and closer to our window, and hearing the 18-wheeler’s horn blow a long, loud bellow that seemed to never stop.

I smelled something strange and strong. The smell was so strong it was almost like a slap in the face. I struggled to wake up, but quickly fell back asleep. Then there it was again – that strange smell. I finally woke up to strange faces, voices, and sirens.

My mind was asking; “Where was I?” “What happened?” “Why were all these people hovering over me?”

A man standing over me asked if I was all right – he was the one holding the smelling salts. He repeated himself, “Are you alright, are you ok, can you hear me?” I instinctively pushed his hand away and said, “Yes, I’m alright.” “What happened?” “Where am I?”

He exclaimed as he shook his head, “I can’t believe you’re alive!” Then continued, “You were in a really bad automobile accident, but you’re going to be ok.”

My vision was still somewhat blurry; I was totally confused and going in and out of consciousness. I squinted my eyes in an attempt to see his face and to see the others whom voices I heard around me.

I could make out a male cop and a male and female paramedic. The cop asked me if I remembered what happened. Suddenly my thoughts drifted over to my baby girl. I tried to jump up out of the gurney, but was strapped down too tight to move. I panicked and demanded, “Where is my baby?” “I need to know where my baby is.” The cop answered, “Your little girl is fine.” “She’s in another ambulance on her way to the hospital, but she’s alright, I promise.” For some reason, I trusted him – relieved and exhausted I fell fast asleep.

The next time I came to, I was in a hospital. There were hospital beds surrounding me on all sides. I heard a woman moaning and screaming in pain. I was still groggy, weak and fading in and out of consciousness. As I listened to this woman screaming, I thought to myself “I wish there was something I could do to take away her pain.”

I was distracted when I heard another hospital bed being wheeled up beside me. I looked over to see who was in it and it was Lauren. She was in a metal hospital crib for babies and toddlers that resembled a rolling, animal cage.

Still confused, I was happy to see that she was all right. When one of the nurses passed by, I yelled out for her to come to over to me. I then asked the nurse if Lauren was ok and if she could wheel the cage-like hospital crib close enough so that I could touch her. The nurse said ok and wheeled her closer. Lauren looked around curiously; totally unaware of what was going on. As her bed was being wheeled toward mine she caught a glimpse of me and her
chubby round face lit up with joy. She was in a seated position and although she reached towards me with her hands and arms she never attempted to stand up.

The woman a few beds away from me was still moaning and screaming. I was finally able to get a glimpse of her. She was my mother. She had to be in excruciating pain because she had a very high tolerance for pain and definitely wasn’t a moaner. I wanted to help her but there was nothing I could do. A police officer came by and began questioning me. He asked me if I knew why we were in the hospital or how we ended up in the car accident. I had no idea. I couldn’t remember anything then. He told me that we were lucky to be alive. I asked him what happened. He told me that we were in a very bad car accident and that we were t-boned by a semi (18 wheel tractor trailer) on the highway. He just kept shaking his head saying that we were lucky to be alive and that no one could believe we survived. He asked me if I remembered walking along the side of the highway. I didn’t.

He told me they had to pull my mother out of the car with the Jaws-of-Life and that the accident caused a multi-vehicle pile-up. He also said my mother had sustained a concussion, broken ribs and a broken hip. One of the nurses or paramedics (I really don’t remember which) came by just as the police officer was filling me in
on our experience – I was told by another person that no one could believe we survived.

I was in so much pain. My right shoulder hurt so badly. I could tell by the fading sounds of her moans down the hospital corridor, my mother was being wheeled away. Nurses, doctors and paramedics kept stopping by shaking their heads in disbelief to say the same thing, “I can’t believe you guys survived”.

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