I didn't have a clue how long I was out. It was dark and I hurt. God damn it, I hurt. It felt as though every square inch of my body had been hit with a baseball bat a million times over.
"Concentrate," I kept telling myself, trying to clear my head. Shit, it was hard. It took a minute before I finally realized I was still strapped into my car seat, but no longer sitting upright. I was at a weird angle and for a second couldn't remember where I was. I could barely focus through the pain. I forced my eyes closed telling myself to concentrate one more time as I took a couple of deep breathes trying to clear my mind and figure this out. For some reason I thought back to the time I had been mountain bike riding and took a huge spill. I lay there in a crumbled heap on the ground with my bike on top of me. One by one I tried my limbs and thanked God when I knew they all worked. This time I wasn't so lucky.
Looking back, it was a stupid argument that never should have taken place. I know I let my anger get away from me, but hell, what was my wife thinking? That Holly is a shopaholic goes without question— mostly when it comes to shoes—but damn it, we were barely squeaking by each month. Between rent, food, gas, car payments and car insurance, and school loans we were making it, just barely. We had maybe only a couple hundred left over to pay for all the extras that crept up every month.
That night she came home late from work with a shopping bag from her favorite department store. Smiling from ear to ear, she threw her jacket onto the ottoman in the living room and flopped down on the couch.
"You've just got to see what I bought today," Holly announced. Beaming she pulled out a large box from the bag. "They were fifty percent off on their final winter clearance sale. Can you believe it?" She then proudly produced what was in the box, showing me a pair of tall, dark brown leather boots. She slipped them on her feet, zipped them up, and just sat there with her legs outstretched, admiring her new purchase. "Don't you just love them?"
I cringed before asking the first thing that popped into my brain.
"Holly, I hate to ask, but what did they cost?"
"Only eighty dollars! And can you believe how lucky I was to find them in my size?"
"But don't you already own a pair that are almost identical?" I asked, trying my best not to sound confrontational, even though I wasn't at all happy.
"Steve, those are a light chocolate and these are dark brown. Also, the heels are totally different." Like that was supposed to mean something to me?
"Hon, we've got auto insurance coming due at the end of this month, and with everything else we're not supposed to be spending any extra money right now." I was being nice, simply trying to get my point across without setting her off. Well, I was trying to, anyway.
"Steve, they were half off! I saved us a ton of money."
"Holly, if you hadn't bought them in the first place, we would have saved the eighty dollars you spent."
I thought it was a logical statement, but Holly sat there looking at me like I'd sprouted another head or had started talking in tongues.
"You want me to take them back? Seriously?"
"Don't you remember we talked about cutting back on all our extra spending? Besides, you've got a closet full of shoes and boots already. Why do you need another pair?"
I knew as soon as it was out of my mouth it was a silly question. It was never a question of need—it was more a question of want—when it came to a lot of Holly's purchases.
"Fine, I'll take them back tomorrow," she said through gritted teeth, with the look in her eyes that told me I could forget about any closeness or love making tonight and probably all weekend.
"Maybe in another month when we have a few extra bucks..." I started to say but was quickly interrupted. Holly retaliated, not at all happy with my suggestion.
"Steve, they're on sale now, not a month from now." She took them off, tossing them back into the box from which she'd lovingly taken them. "Just wait until the next time you want something, two can play this game, Stephen."
Stephen? Shit, Holly never called me Stephen unless she was absolutely pissed at me.
Holly and I have been married for just under two years and really were happy, that is unless you counted our arguing about money. She had lived at home with her parents until we officially tied the knot. Her family was pretty well-to- do, and whatever daddy's little girl wanted, daddy's little girl got. That, however, wasn't cutting it with me anymore.
When we got married I didn't owe a red cent to anyone and wanted to keep it that way. Much to my dismay, it didn't last. I somehow always got outvoted one to nothing over and over again when it came to money.
The first year I know I gave into her way too much, but isn't that what new husbands do? A newer car, tons of clothes, and an apartment just off the downtown, were only a few of the things she talked me into. Well, truth be known, it really wasn't her talking that convinced me, if you know what I mean.
Dinner that evening was hot, well, the food was, the temperature in the kitchen was just above freezing. Holly was going to make me pay. I was determined to be strong this time around.
"The buck stops here, tonight," I kept repeating that mantra over and over in my head, trying to convince myself I was right, and I was.
Our dinner conversation consisted of three-word answers to all the questions I posed to her about her day and what she wanted to do this weekend.
After her last, "I don't know" and "I don't care," I took what was left of my dinner and flushed it down the garbage disposal. Grabbing a beer I headed to the den, alone. The den was really our spare bedroom that held the rest of Holly's clothes and our desktop computer. My self- induced solitude lasted for all of ten minutes.
"I really want those boots." I heard her say from the doorway behind me. "I'll get my dad to pay for the boots, but I'm not taking them back. They're too good a deal."
I guess I kind of lost it at that statement.
"Holly, why don't you just go down to the blood bank and sell some of your blood to pay for your fix? Or better yet, the street in front of our apartment building is pretty damn busy. What, with a figure like yours I know you could make that eighty bucks in no time at all." I was being ugly and sarcastic as hell trying to make my point—she did not need those boots.
"You're an ass, do you know that? I don't know why I even married you!"
Okay, that one hurt. We'd gone from sarcasm and being angry with one another to cuts that were downright hurtful, all because of a pair of stupid boots.
"Well, fuck you and the horse you rode in on. I can rectify that decision right now."
I slipped on my sandals, grabbed my jacket, and reached for my keys on the rack by the front door.
"If you're going out, make yourself useful, take my car and put some gas in it."
The look I gave her wasn't priceless, and I think at that moment she realized she'd pushed me too far.
I heard the word, "Steve" at the same time that I slammed the apartment door and went storming down the hall to the parking lot.
No wallet, or watch, but unbeknownst and lucky for me, my cell phone was still in my jacket pocket. With my ten-year-old Chevy I did my best to burn rubber out of the parking lot, only that wasn't happening, not with a toned down, automatic, six-cylinder engine. The only thing I could do was to swear out loud and smack the steering wheel with my hands.
I must have said the word 'bitch' a hundred times over.
I vowed to drive all the way down to Miami, get a job on a cruise ship, and leave her ungrateful, pathetic ass. It was then I realized I was going nowhere.
Looking down at my gas gauge, it was registering a little over an eighth of a tank. Hell, at best that would only get me about a hundred miles, even if I was careful. I yelled out bitch one more time.
I looked through all my pockets, hoping to find at least a couple of bucks. I found just sixty-five cents in my ashtray. I had no other choice but to turn around.
I had driven about eighteen miles, and if I had driven back on the same roads I'd come by, I probably wouldn't be in the mess I currently find myself. But, I was in no hurry to get back to the apartment only to be probably frozen out of my own damn bedroom. So I took a left onto the scenic back roads that wind around the two lakes a couple of miles behind our apartment building. It was a beautiful drive during the day, and at night there was hardly any traffic.
Looking back, the guy must have been either drunk or had a major death wish. From over a quarter of a mile away I could see his high beams coming over the crest of the bridge driving down towards me. That's when I took my foot off the gas to slow down. The son of a bitch was driving in the center of the road.
I hit my high beams, honked my horn, and went from the right to the left side of the road and back to the right twice. There were no intersecting side streets or even a shoulder to pull off onto, only a deep gully on both sides of the road. I was fucked.
As he came down off the bridge for just for a split second I thought I was okay since he had finally moved into his own lane, but it didn't last. About two hundred yards before the bridge I moved to the far right side of my lane and hit the gas to put some distance between us. I actually thought I was in the clear until he swerved to the left a split second later, catching the front left fender of my car.
Heading off the right side of the road, over the ditch, towards who knows what, the last thing I remember seeing was the bridge's metal guardrail to my left as I found myself airborne.
I know my car rolled, at least a couple of times, before I was knocked out.
How far down that ravine I'd traveled I hadn't a clue. All I knew when I finally woke up was I was in a world of deep shit.
I did remember I left the apartment somewhere around eight-fifteen, just before darkness had set in. Now, I wasn't sure how long I was out or what time it was, only it was now dark outside and around me were just shadows.
I'm no doctor, but I didn't need one to realize I was pretty messed up. My left shoulder was either dislocated or broken, it throbbed like crazy, but I found I could still move my fingers somewhat. That my right arm was broken was without question. From the bulge in my sleeve, I could tell there was a bone protruding about three inches through my forearm. The sleeve was a dark red mess, and I could only hope the bleeding had stopped. Nonetheless, it was just hanging there lifeless, though not painless.
With my jacket shoulders I was wiping what I thought was sweat dripping into my eyes. I later discovered it was blood running down my face from a number of head wounds. My legs were sore, but I could at least wiggle my toes, thank God, something was intact.
The seat belt was so tight against my stomach it made me want to puke—I fought the urge. I had to get my head straight and figure this out. Then it dawned on me—the damn airbag hadn't gone off because if it had maybe I wouldn't be this messed up. Well, it was too late to worry about why at this point. Someone was going to get sued big time.
For hours I hung there held in by that fucking seat belt, sweating from the intense pain and waiting for the first glimpse of daylight to see where in the hell I was. I went over last night's argument, and a hundred other things in my brain, trying anything to distract me from the pain I was in.
Sometime over the next couple of hours I must have passed out. I sure as hell didn't fall asleep, considering the uncomfortable position my body was in. And the pain? Well, it came roaring back as soon as I woke up.
When I opened my eyes this time it was light and I could see. Even then only the most obvious of my questions were answered.
The front windshield was shattered, both side windows were gone, and the roof of my car was about a foot and a half lower than it should be. Even if I wasn't hurt it would have been a tight squeeze just to get out any of the windows. The car was resting on its right side and to my horror I could see water seeping in just below me. The seat belt and shoulder harness were still holding me firmly in my bucket seat, but the lap belt was digging further into my waist because all my weight was pressing against it.
My situation caused me to feel hideously confined and impotent. I would not allow myself be helpless. I knew I had to do something to alleviate this before I would go into panic mode. I pushed my feet up against the dashboard to adjust my weight. The pain seared through me, but it helped some, just not enough to make a big difference. To relieve a little pressure on the seat belt, I poked my left knee into the steering wheel. At least now all my weight wasn't resting on that thin belt.
My right arm was totally useless. It was broken in at least one place. I could move it slightly, though that brought tears to my eyes. I couldn't leave it just hanging there, so with all my inner strength I pulled it up using my feeble left hand to help. It took me a while but I finally pulled my arm up and lay it across my lap. Then with one more push with my right foot, despite the searing pain, I managed to drive my upper body deeper into my seat. I got just enough slack in the shoulder strap to move my right forearm under it. My arm still hurt like a son of a bitch, but at least it was more comfortable being closer to my body and immobilized.
Then something wonderful happened, my cell phone started to ring. The only problem was that it was in my right jacket pocket and there was no way in hell I could reach it, certainly not with my right hand. After five rings it went to voice mail. It had to be Holly checking up on me. Damn, I needed to get that phone, but I had other more immediate needs.
For hours I heard cars on the road and bridge above me. Foolishly I thought someone was bound to see my car from the road and come to my rescue. No one came. What I didn't know, but found out later, was my car wasn't visible from the road unless you were stopped on the top of the bridge and looking straight down.
My mouth was drying out. I really could have used some water. Looking down at the pool of dirty water that was probably a foot deep by now, I thought no way in hell could I ever drink that piss looking liquid. Damn, wouldn't you know it, the second my brain heard piss my body decided it was time to empty my bladder, like there was a bathroom anywhere around here. After twenty-four hours without a toilet, and try as I may, there was no way in hell I could hold it in any longer. I hadn't peed my pants since I was two, but it did feel good to empty my bladder—the seat belt didn't feel as snug afterwards. I didn't let myself to think about the hot smelly urine spreading down my legs.
Hell, it was only a matter of time before someone noticed me and pulled my ass out of here. To keep myself sane I clung to that thought throughout the whole day. Though I was having a hard time getting a deep breath, I still screamed for help when I had the energy. The water had stopped coming in, but the black flies were giving me fits as they buzzed around my head, taking a chunk out of me every once in a while.
When it started getting darker, my optimism started to wane. I was calling out every couple of minutes, but with my mouth drying out, and now being unable to get a deep breath, I found it more and more difficult to yell for help.
Why hadn't anyone found me yet? I wasn't at work and hadn't even called in. Surely someone would have called our apartment to check on me, and hell, where was Holly?
"Where in the hell is he?" Holly asked herself after calling and texting Steve's phone a dozen times over the past four hours. "He doesn't have to talk to me, but the least he could do is answer my texts," she thought, sending Steve yet another. She figured he'd spent the night at one of his buddies'. Besides she was feeling a little bad about the argument of the previous night. "I know just how I'll make it up to him tonight," she snickered to herself, looking at her watch. "I'll beat his ass home and when he walks through that door I'll jump his bones." She was smiling again. There was nothing to forgive, it was just a stupid misunderstanding, and hell, the boots aren't worth the trouble they caused.
It was almost dark again. Now I wasn't just worried, I was also scared shitless. My right arm was numb, and I held my left as close to my body as possible. I continually moved my legs trying to keep them from falling asleep on me. I'd heard my phone ringing off the wall. My incoming text alert also kept sounding off. My powerlessness to respond or answer was overwhelming, but there was no way for me to get the phone with a useless right hand and a left arm and shoulder that probably wouldn't move more than a couple of inches without making me want to cry again.
All I had to hang onto was hope. "They're probably out in force looking for me this very minute," I thought or more so prayed at this point.
Then it started, again.
I knew I had at least a few cuts on my head. I'd wiped my face on my shoulder the previous night and in the light of day could see the blood on my jacket. Thankfully, the cuts had stopped bleeding and were not very painful, so I knew they were most likely superficial. I had dealt with the constant dripping on and off last night—not sure if it was sweat or blood—but it was the going in and out of consciousness that had helped the most.
Tonight, though, the mosquitoes and every other flying critter looked on me as fresh meat. My conglomeration of body odors—sweat, blood, and urine—was their calling card and the response was fierce. They came out in force at dusk and were unmerciful. With one useless hand and the other almost as bad, all I could do was rub my face on my shoulders to ward them off. I was at their mercy. I could feel them feasting on my head and neck, and there was nothing I could do about it. However, when I shook my head side to side to try and dislodge them, my shoulder and arms caused me excruciating pain. I didn't think the night would ever end. I prayed I'd pass out again to give me some blessed relief from their relentless orgy.
I am not sure how long I lasted, and I may have passed out, all I knew for sure is by morning I could tell my face was very swollen and itching like hell. Looking down I would have given anything to have a mouthful of that dirty water that was just out of reach. There was no moisture left in my mouth and besides hurting, my body had started to shut down
The last thing I'd eaten was that half eaten dinner two nights ago. Now I wished that I'd eaten it all and grabbed a bottle of cold water from the refrigerator on my way out. Who was I kidding—I wished I'd never left.
My right arm had stopped bleeding. I saw my jacket sleeve was one dark red mess. Too much blood loss could be the reason I felt the way I did. I was feeling weak, light headed, and my brain wasn't functioning the way it normally should be. I was bone tired and having a hard time focusing.
All the next day, the incessant ringing of my cell phone kept me both awake and gave me at least a glimmer of hope. I heard cars, I yelled out. Nothing. The black flies were more numerous today than yesterday. By shifting my weight with my legs it allowed me to move my jacket collar up a little higher, somewhat protecting what was left of my bare neck. But, the top of my head was still fair game. Hundreds of pinpricks are what they felt like as they feasted on my open cuts. I didn't get used to it, but by the end of the day I was so tired I became numb to it. As bad as the flies and mosquitoes were in the day, I knew as soon as the sun went down the onslaught would begin again, and I no longer had the energy to fight them off. I was coming up on my third night. At this point I just wanted to cry, except I didn't have enough moisture in me for tears. That's when I made a decision—be it right or wrong—I had to go for broke.