Doncaster, 9:41pm, December 10, 2012.
Like I’d done 10,000 times before. Roll up to a red light. Stop. Idle. Waiting for the lights to change. Like I’d done 10,000 times before.
9:40pm. Music is on. MGMT’s gorgeous, tongue-in-cheek exultation to hedonism, Time to Pretend has ended. I move the CD forward to the delightful Kids. Meticulously constructed, yet warm and playful. Perfect for this balmy, December evening. I turn it up and pretend to play the riff on an invisible dashboard keyboard then attempt to sing a high harmony over the hook in the chorus. Waiting for the lights to change.
9:41pm. A small truck with a driver dozing rams the back of my stationary vehicle. He is travelling, it is later estimated, between 55 and 60 km/h. I have no warning. No sounds of skidding tyres. Sudden. The collision is ferocious and violent. King hit, I am punched back-forward-back-forward, my seat as a fist, throwing me against the ropes of my seat belt. I am winded, blown out. My car is collected and thrust into the back of the black, four-wheel drive that has also been waiting at the lights.
My seat has snapped, now in a deep recline position. I start to shake in a way that I imagine I would if I were naked in sub-zero terrain. Sharp pain across my neck and shoulders. I reach for the car door handle, flick it open and stop. Some sense enters and I tell myself, ‘no, stay, here, still, be still, wait’. (A very wise decision. I find out later that my neck was broken in three places).
I hear voices outside the car. Someone says, “I’ll go back and wave them around”. Another comes to my door, a woman from the four-wheel drive, “Are you OK?”
“We need an ambulance!” she calls out.
I have an idea to try and wriggle my toes. I know my arms work, but I’m in some sort of shock and feel out of my body. I breathe in, out and in again. I close my eyes. My toes scratch at the inner soles of my boots.
“They won’t be long,” says 4WD Woman. I like her. She is caring of me. I ask if anyone else is hurt. Everyone is fine, she says, before telling me again that the ambulance isn’t far. I hear myself moan.
Reflections of flashing lights. Fire brigade. Police. Ambulance. Tow trucks. An ambulance driver with ringlets asks me a series of questions that I’d be tested on many times in the coming hours and days. Name, what day is it, what year and, do you know where you are?
I am strapped to a board. Slid out. Up and onto a trolley. I look straight ahead, which is straight up into the night sky. Heads break into my vision, talking, asking, directing. The stars are covered as I’m slid into the interior of the ambulance. In a quiet moment, someone had taped a Christmas tree, sketched in tinsel and held by medical tape, to the ceiling of the ambulance.
Clicks and thumps. Radio crackles with discussions about destination. One of the ambos phones my partner, Zoë, and tells her where we are going. I hear her name and I want her. Here. Now. I feel small.
When the ambulance gets to the hospital, and the back door is finally opened, I am hit by the perfect cool of the true night air. I drink it in like relief. I’m wheeled into the waiting area at the hospital. As I wait, the ambulance crew swap stories of the weekend. He seems keen on her, she not so sure about him. Faces full of questions hover over me. It’s bright in here. I know I’m uncomfortable but can’t feel it. Jokes. Laughter. Blood pressure tests. “I’m going to shine a light into your eyes. Just look straight past it.”
Zoë arrives. I want to cry. I can’t.
I answer all the questions and complete all they ask of me. Only, I can’t lift my head from the trolley when I am asked to. I hear and understand the command, but my head ignores the directive, like I’m no longer inside me.
This is all surreal drama. I was on my way home. And now I’m here. Fluorescent lights. Hospital odours. Timeless world of waiting.
Today, I revised this story and listened to Kids for the first time in seven years. It sent a shiver up my (once broken) spine.
Stereo Story #495
A version of this story first appeared in Stephen’s book, Searching for an Autoethnographic Ethic, (Routledge, 2017)