I was hit by a truck on a beautiful Florida evening. I learned who had been driving it as I lay in the intensive care unit.
The shirt is here; the one that wrapped around my alabaster skin when I was dying that evening. a shield made of cotton that doubled as armor and was designed for fashion. The pair of black terry cloth sweatpants that came with it didn’t make it. Some of the threads broke apart when I hit them, and the rest stuck to the meat of my right thigh.
“Are you ready to throw this away yet?” Every year, as I tenderly unfold the fuchsia halter top from the back shelf of my cherry wood armoire and hug it close to my body, my mother gently inquires. During our annual clothing purge, the question has become a tradition.
I can’t help but notice that the fabric has lost its shine and the shape of its straps, as if it too was taken from it that night.
On a beautiful, humid night in South Florida in 2001, there was a strong stench of a approaching rainstorm in the air. And I would never make it, as I had done countless times before, crossing a road to get to my car.
My 100-pound (45-kg) frame collided with more than 3,000 pounds (1,360 kg) of steel, but I can remember the erratic driver of a pickup truck barreling toward me. I cannot recall the exact moment.
I attempted to flee. However, there was no way for me to escape.
I have remembered those couple of steps that were the last snapshots of my “then” life endlessly. My mind still connects a web of memories like it was yesterday, of my sandals pounding into the slick asphalt, my legs gaining speed, and my heart racing with adrenaline. I was as yet protected, still solid, still Marisa at these times. I was until I wasn’t.
I respond, “It’s proof, mum,” mindful of my sour tone as soon as the words leave my mouth.
“A sign of beating demise. How can something like that be eliminated?”
However, it’s possible that what represents survival for me also represents a loss for my mother. Even though her child made it through, a clear line of demarcation was drawn that evening, and we both experienced the trauma of it far too many times to count.
I clearly remember a trauma surgeon telling her, woozy from the morphine: We will have a much clearer picture of her prognosis if she survives until morning. Although I was only a few feet away, I was concerned that he might already have given up on me.
My brain plays on repeat, and I just can’t sleep. I fooled myself into believing that death could not take me that night if I could only remain conscious.
“I will walk once more”
In order to give my five liver wounds time to heal without placing additional strain on the organ, I spent weeks lying flat in my hospital bed in the trauma intensive care unit. I was not allowed to fully sit up.
As a battle cry for those of us who were not ready to give up, machines rang out, singing choruses to one another.
I was the only conscious patient among the few patients in the trauma unit, the nurses informed me. Conscious, but being held captive.
I was very aware of my injuries, which included, among other things, broken ribs, internal bleeding, a fractured pelvis, a lacerated liver, and a head injury; mindful of my misfortune – my school vocation now on break, the need to seek help to figure out how to walk once more; and aware of the unpredictability of life and the ways in which unexpected events put our resolve and patience to the test.
Every day, I spent countless hours silently giving myself motivational speeches, reminding myself of my ability to compartmentalize and process difficult life situations or past traumas in order to move forward.
I centered my attention on the fact that I was just a few semesters away from graduating from nursing school. Even more, my motivation to recover came from the fact that extraordinary nurses were taking care of me and assisting me with my daily progress.
I will help somebody through their injury one day, I told myself.
This was my arrangement for the future until three formally dressed men went into my room one evening, their non-verbal communication serious however their eyes loaded up with empathy and concern.
After brief, formal comforts, one man moved a seat away from the wall, setting it close to the top of my bed. He is the analyst working on it, one I would speak with consistently in the not so distant future.
“Marisa, we captured the individual who ran you over. He was impaired at that point, it seems to be liquor and precious stone meth,” he murmured and turned away his eyes from mine to his knee, where his thumb flicked the sides of administrative work he was conveying in his grasp.
I saw his brunette hair. There were traces of red suggestions flagging it had been kissed by the Florida sun. He was attractive, not mature enough to be my dad, not youthful enough to be a companion.