Spring had been dancing in and out of our lives for weeks, but this was a morning that solidly declared that winter was no longer welcome. It was late April and the day demanded attention. So I surveyed the laundry mountain that had taken up residence in the living room (clean, but begging for an organized return to drawers), and we headed out into the front yard. With my two month old strapped onto my chest, I opened the garage and began surveying the potential entertainment for the older two. Our five year old had been thoroughly enjoying his “scoot” bike the past week, ambitiously graduating from the previous year’s safe zone of The Driveway to his new track, which began at the front door, headed straight out the front walk, before picking up speed down the sidewalk, and ending with a quick turn into the driveway. We live on a ridiculously steep hill, a dead-end that spills dangerously out into a main road that crosses the border between the city and the flight-filled suburbs to our east. The road is almost impossible to cross on foot or in a car, despite the changing traffic light swinging above the intersection. Drivers capitalize on the long stretch of road that somehow fosters speeds double the limit and, far too often, is combined with a complete disregard for the yellow–sometimes red–light.
I hauled out the bike while my two year old retrieved some sidewalk chalk and my husband busied himself with leaving. I was highly aware of the story that was writing just beneath the business of the day (his siblings were assembling in the midst of an unraveling cancer diagnosis for their father) and I kept the kids focused on the work of making space for some serious play. As Aaron drove away in our only car, I saw Emma, who lived just beyond the treacherous border of the main road, coming up the hill, one child attached to her in a similar assembly as mine, dog on the end of a leash and her daughter excited to join the fray.
The kids settled into their play, Judah riding over and over again from the front door to the driveway, his friend K. watching and dancing out of his way, while his sister drew intricate patterns on whatever surfaces she could find. Emma and I stood beneath the new leaves of the tree, talking in fragments as we always seemed to do, and I unstrapped Arthur so that I could watch him take in all of the newness surrounding us. It had the potential to be a perfect day.
And then I saw it. Judah turned the corner onto the sidewalk, K. stepped left instead of right and he lost control, crashing with the full force of gravity and velocity into the brick retaining wall that had just moments before served as a canvas for an elaborate chalk art masterpiece. Bike, child and peace crumpled onto the ground. I lay Arthur on the blanket I’d spread out earlier, and crossed the yard in strikingly calm strides. I gathered my screaming child into what had always been a safe embrace. The blood was coming from somewhere that I couldn’t identify and I was highly aware of the stream of water trickling down the sidewalk from the neighbor who was washing his car.
“Stop,” I commanded. “Stop and let me see inside your mouth. I need to see where the blood is coming from.”
He opening his mouth and I saw gleaming white teeth…no blood. Pink tongue. No blood. But the blood was everywhere! I tried to calm him and tell him that he was okay, explaining that there wasn’t any blood in his mouth. I kept telling him that he was okay. I reached under his chin to unstrap his helmet, wondering if the blood was coming from his head, and I saw another flash of white, but this was from his jawbone. The skin that was supposed to stretch and grow with him, that would one day sprout whiskers, was hanging open, revealing the whitest white I think I have ever seen.
“Call 911,” I yelled to Emma and took my sweatshirt off to hold against the unnatural hole. I sat down in the growing puddle of water, cradled my sweet child and did what I knew I was supposed to do: I applied pressure. I reassured him in a calm voice that he was okay. I kept his neck steady and his body still. I made sure that my daughter was safely away from the road. I made him focus on me and on my voice. I listened as the sirens came closer and the world expanded. I finally broke away from my son’s eyes and released him into the hands of the paramedics.
The hours after were comparatively uneventful: ambulance ride (I heard them say no sirens necessary), stitches (too many to count), scans and x-rays (no cranial damage; clear spine); anesthesia that took far too long to wear off. Aaron came, children were attended to by various relatives in different homes nearby, and I left the hospital, at one point, to nurse poor Arthur, who needed it as much as I did.
I spent the rest of that spring trying to gather up the courage to walk my children across that road at the bottom of the hill. What had once been an annoying obstacle that required careful consideration now paralyzed me. I could not walk them across the road. I just couldn’t. I surrendered to the fear and we drove the short distance to the playground and even to visit Emma, but the stroller and bikes stayed in the garage. I now knew that the world could break my children.
**I did overcome my fear of crossing the street with the kids and the eldest, now able to examine how the whiskers skip around the scar that marks his jawline, often takes off on his bike, crossing that road alone and moving out beyond my view.