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Just Breathe

I'm not big on social media these days, but something happened a few days ago and while it's taken me a minute to process, I'd like to share now. Fair warning: it's long. Keep scrolling by or take a minute and share in this experience with me.

I was in Joshua Tree earlier this week picking up last minute essentials for a dinner party that my girl and I were hosting that night. I was already running late, driving alone down a dark desert road when I realize I've missed my turn. I flip around as Google maps struggles to recalculate and Billy Joel's Best Of Disc 1 slides into the 6-disc changer of my old car. Me, barreling down the dark road, checking my maps and cursing myself for missing that turn, while an unfazed Billy Joel belts out "Piano Man"–

I'm only half present when a dark figure emerges from the blackness on the shoulder of the road and pounds on my car screaming "Help me!!!!" as I race by.

I slam on my brakes and skid about a hundred feet, screaming the entire way.

There's a split second of deafening silence and I wonder if I imagined it. This is a scene from a horror flick. It can't be real.

Then suddenly, more screaming. A woman's voice.

"Help me please!! I've been in an accident!!"

I shake with adrenaline, literally shaking, and think to myself, this might be the worst, last decision I ever make.

I throw the hazard lights on and run toward the limping figure. I'm already dialing 911. As I get closer, I see that she's covered in blood and her arm is deeply cut. She lost control of her car and drove off the road into a ravine, she says between breaths. She's gasping. Her cousin was with her. He's still trapped in the car. He won't wake up. He won't wake up. She's sobbing. Her phone's lost in the wreckage and she's begging me to call 911. I'm trying. I promise, I'm trying. Bad reception. The call won't go through. I try again. Dialing.

She needs to call her aunt who she had been following. She was racing to keep up. The wind was strong and she lost control. "What's your name?", I say. "Lacy," she says. "Lacy, I'm Brooke."

Three people alone in the desert. One's bleeding profusely, one's not conscious and one is me. Still fucking dialing.

We yell as a truck drives by and 3 desert dudes jump out to help. I point them in the direction of the car, in a blanket of darkness. Too dark to see, but I know it's right there. They slide down the wall of dirt into the night.

And suddenly I'm talking to 911, trying to direct them. I was lost before this all started and now I need to direct help. My maps are shit. I sprint down the road to a sign marker and scream it into the phone. The service is bad and she can't hear me. "GPS me! Can't you do that?! It's 2016!!" I keep losing her voice. I repeat the highway marker over and over again as I run back to the accident. From below, I hear bits and pieces. He's not breathing. The desert dudes are performing CPR.

And suddenly, white bright headlights speed past us. A screeching u-turn and the lights are coming right toward us, swerving onto the shoulder of the road. Lacy runs toward the vehicle as I jump over the waist high wall of dirt to avoid being hit.

The SUV slams into the dirt about 30 feet away, perpendicular to the road. Lacy lunges at the driver's door, pounding. Screaming apologies. Inside the car is her Aunt. The boy's Mom. She's screaming too. "How could you do this!! This is all your fault. That's my boy!! My boy is down there!! Josh!!! Josh-y!!!!"

Screaming unlike anything I've ever heard or felt. The headlights illuminating the wreckage for the first time. A ravaged piece of metal down below. And I'm screaming too. Into my phone: He's not breathing. His mom is here! She's freaking out. You need to send someone now!! He's not gonna make it! Please send help!

The mom is on her phone with 911 now too, screaming bloody murder with vitrioloic hate. "You whore! You bitch! If you let my son die I will find you in your home and kill you. I will make you suffer." The desert dudes yelling at her from below, telling her to shut the fuck up. We need quiet!!

"What's happening?" It's the 911 operator in my ear. I don't know how long I've been standing there silent. Watching. Frozen. This mother's reaction. So angry. So unexpected. So encompassing. Her anger fills every space.

"Please send someone," I beg into my phone. "Please." "They're on their way. You're breaking up. I'm gonna let you go. The paramedics are on their way."

And then a desert dude is beside me. "You need to get her to calm the fuck down. He's not breathing. We're doing what we can, but she needs to shut the fuck up."

And then he's gone, down the dirt wall leaving me alone with Lacy, bleeding and rocking in shock-- and this mother, screaming bloody murder at anyone brave enough to help.

I take a deep breath.

My mind is racing and still.

I muster a lifetime of love, of warmth, of strength.

I slowly approach this angry woman. She's screaming into her phone.

Words I won't repeat here.

"Hey! Hey! Look at me!" I yell. She lowers her phone. She is staring right at me. "You don't understand," she says. "Those bitches leave people out to die every day of the week. I've seen it. It happens every day."

I know I know," I say. "But they're on their way, and your son has help, and all you and I can do right now is breathe. So we're just gonna do that. We're just gonna breathe. Are you ready?" I squeeze her hand hard and she lets me. I feel the surge of chaos, the panic, like a frightened, cornered animal. I look into her eyes. The Wild eyes of a mother losing her son. Right here. Right now.

I inhale deeply. She follows my lead, inhaling and exhaling as we stare at each other. Me, imagining her breathing in this cognizant fashion as she birthed the boy who lays on death's door below her feet right now.

Lacy, the bloody driver sitting on the pavement, fills those first seconds of silence with more apologies and I stretch to grab her hand too. "I know, I know" I say, "but now we're just breathing. All of us. We're just gonna breathe. All we can do is breathe."

And we sat like that, me stretched between two strangers on a dark stretch of road in Joshua Tree, just breathing.

And time means nothing because that moment could've been a year, could've been a lifetime, it's still happening now when I close my eyes. The eye of that tornado of energy. The quiet. The three of us, holding on to each other and breathing.

And suddenly, a voice from below–

"He's breathing!! He's breathing!!"

And we all release, still holding tightly to each other. Crying. And breathing. Still breathing.

A whimper becomes words. "I know it wasn't your fault, Lacy. It was an accident. I know that. I do know that."

And suddenly a fleet of fire trucks, ambulances, and police. A return to cacophonous chaos, as they flood the scene.

Lacy asks me to call her phone and search for it around the wreckage. She thinks it was launched from the car. I slide down the wall of dirt and see the damage up close for the first time. The car is a shell, rolled who knows how many times. The boy inside is around my age. I can see him now. Hurt, but alive. And fragile. So fragile. I've been him at another time. Helpless and fighting for my life. But I'm not there now. Now, I'm looking for a phone around the wreckage. Now, I'm helping.

Paramedics are everywhere. They're sawing the car apart as I search. The phone is gone. I offer Lacy mine instead. She needs to call her wife and tell her that she's safe. Wait, What?? My mind is blown. That scary desert creature looming in the darkness was a wounded lezzie in need of help?

I leave my information with a police officer and he thanks me for being a Good Samaritan. A Good Samaritan. Those words in this heightened moment sounds strange to my ears. Might as well thank me for breathing, or eating, or shitting, or existing. I was present and I had to. Because I can't live in a world where I'm too afraid to help. And I can't live with a version of myself who doesn't stop. Getting out of that car could've been my last/worst decision, but it's the only choice I had. So you're welcome, Mr. Police Officer man. I'm a human.

I say my goodbyes to Lacy and her aunt. The Aunt's returned to her cursing, telling everyone to hurry up and move their asses. But her voice isn't angry anymore. As the jaws of life pull the car apart, there's nothing left for me to do. So I walk along my own skid marks and return to my car down the road.

I can hear Billy Joel still blasting as I approach. Track 10. Only The Good Die Young. I slam the car door shut and I breathe. Behind me, hundreds of flashing red and blue lights. A wall of noise, energy, and chaos. I leave it all in the rear view as I pull away.

And time means shit. 9 Billy Joel songs. 40 minutes, maybe. Eternity. I pull into the driveway just as the song is ending-- cause I was only two minutes from home the whole time.

And I arrived at my dinner party. Right on time. Because it doesn't fucking matter.

And I hugged my Eleven, and I breathed some more.

And then I enjoyed some spectacular tacos and music and friends. And I remembered that nothing is promised. Not one second. Not one breath. And Love love love love love love love. It's all there is, and it's more than enough.

Hug your loved ones. Today and every day.

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