The preliminary police report rendered me dead upon impact.
A drunk driving a Marathon cab fitted with an extended, reinforced steel bumper had broadsided us. He was clocking up to 70 in a 30-mph zone when he ran a red light and collided with the VW Bug I was easing into a parking spot as Liz sat next to me in the suicide seat.
The impact was ferocious. While peripheral vision allowed me a glimpse of my killer, there was no other warning. No screeching of brakes. No screaming of pedestrians. No sense of impending doom. Just a mild feeling of astonishment before whispering, “Oh my God, I’m dead.” That’s what I said.
Our car was ripped apart (lengthwise) from hood to trunk, welding the sheared pieces to the front end of the taxi. Twenty feet away, our flung wreckage had come to a halt at the entrance of a branch bank. I hung down twisted and broken through the remains, my face hovering just above the pavement, my auburn curls resembling a red rag mop.
Most gay couples are drawn and quartered by such tragedy. They’re impeded by laws awarding jurisdiction to distant family members. They’re intimidated by protocol and prodded by propriety. Their feelings and wishes are summarily dismissed as irrelevant. Barred from the ambulance. Excluded from intensive care. Denied decision-making.
“She’s my sister,” Liz lied emphatically. It instantly ended any question of her authority.
The first time she lied was to the officers who barricaded the wreckage, then tried to restrain her from reaching back for me. They’d dragged her clear, insisting I was beyond help.
How she broke loose, and what transpired is a wonder.
I must have responded to the energy of her touch. I must have been warmed to the blending of her tears in my stone-cold eyes. I must have sensed the silent incantations of her heart imploring mine to hold the course of ‘us’ as one, against all obstacles and odds.
“Hey, babe!” I breathed.
Her second lie was to the ambulance attendants. The third, to emergency room doctors. The fourth, to nurses. And then to technicians, aides, and investigators. She didn’t hesitate to claim me as her sister, knowing involuntary deceit had long been coerced from gays in lieu of being banished and public humiliation.
Lies were once our only conceivable lifeline.
Fortunately, I was a corporate executive for a large conglomerate. It gave me special insurance privileges that provided her with unlimited hospital access. She stayed in my room. She partook in every detail of my care and was privy to all my medical information. My doctors consulted her. My nurses kept her updated.
Nevertheless, when it came to certain courses of action, not everything suggested was automatically allowed.
It’s because (even now) most lesbians mistrust the medical profession. We cringe at the prospect of contact with male doctors. We shy to probes pertaining to our personal lives and intimate behavior. And, even though many older women entered conventional relationships in an effort to hide their true sexual identities, there are vast numbers of lesbians who have never engaged in intimacy with a man. Women who know being gay goes far beyond an aversion to heterosexual sex; that the differences in our genetic codes include a wiring that circuits a deep-seated aversion and basic incompatibility with all dominant aspects of the opposite gender.
It’s as if (equivalent to the distinction found between Asian and African elephants trumpeting in the night) science will someday discover that we, too, are a similar — but different — species.
So it came as no surprise to Liz when I refused to be catheterized, even though catheterization was necessary to save me. Regardless of the brutal total body trauma I suffered, this perfectly natural anomaly had triggered my sense of dignity, demanding decorum. Only the empathy and courage of a surgical nurse named Christine could clear the emergency room of male doctors and provide me with the symbiosis I needed to survive.
Forty-one years have passed since the crash that forever altered our lives. I insist the change was for the best, even though I pass each day in fluctuating degrees of pain, and walk with a cane, and sleep with my neck and left leg braced. My brain still spasms on rare occasions, jerking my head violently to the left. My hand sometimes trembles. My body sometimes buckles. My ears burn shades of crimson whenever my emotions run high, or my energy runs low.
And, even though I can no longer sit for more than 30 minutes at a stretch, nor walk for longer than 20 without resting, nor stand on cement surfaces for any length of time, from all outward appearances you’d never suspect there was anything amiss with me.
No criminal proceeding ever materialized since, back then, drunk driving was a misdemeanor. And it took well over a year before the civil action found its way onto a court docket. By then the driver had vanished, while both the taxicab company and its insurance agency filed for bankruptcy.
That left the state to assume jurisdiction over the proceedings, and it would only approve payment of a dime on every dollar litigated, with a preset ceiling attached.
My lawyer told me to settle for $30,000 against bills that would total 10 times that in just 10 years.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because you lied about being sisters,” he said. “And if we went to court, that lie will come up. It’s a character issue. You’ll have no presumed credibility.”
“A character issue?” charged Liz. “Whose character?”
My attorney remained silent except for his shuffling of documents.
“The drunk driver?” she asked. “His employer? The insurance broker? The court demanding a decision?”
“Settle,” he suggested a second time.
“And if I don’t?” I challenged.
“I’m not certain my firm can work a trial date into our calendar. I’m afraid, if you don’t settle, you’ll have to find other representation.”
So I settled.
Honestly? I was just so damn happy to be alive, grateful for every second of every extra day.
“And, when you think about it,” Liz reasoned as we left the courthouse heading home, “for the rest of our lives they have to be them. But we get to be us.”
It’s a cause for celebration.
# # # #
This freshly updated essay by Marguerite Quantaine first appeared in the third person in The St. Petersburg Times (2008) and Venus Magazine in the first person (2010). Copyright by M. Quantaine © 2008 / 2010 / 2013.
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