This is the story of a life changing event. As a young Marine and father it is a very personal tale. The story is true to the best of my recollection, but some of it is filled in with the details of people telling me about it after the fact. This was originally written in 1994 as part of college exercise to write about a life changing/altering event.
I have the deepest respect for Carlene and Adrianna to this day, but like many marriages and friendships where a child dies mine ended in divorce. After the accident things would never be the same and after a series of seperations, attempts at reconcilation and 15 years of marriage things fell apart. Now in 1998 I’m looking forward to a new life and hopefully a better life. Only time will tell.
The morning chores of waking the house up begin with the tussle of husband and wife grappling for the shower. Adrianna, a mound of blankets, lying directly under the air-conditioner moves slowly towards the only bathroom making the growing argument moot. A small “coo” of surprise at the sudden arrival of morning, and soon the wail of a hungry baby draws the attention of the child’s mother.
“It’s too damn early for this shit today.” Grumbling, the father of the baby stumbles towards the coffee pot. The caffeine is awaited as the coffee pot prepared the night before slowly drips each precious drop directly into the waiting coffee mug. Bleary eyed he looks over towards the wandering bundle of blankets that stumbles over to the couch falling into the thick padding to the perfectly timed start of the air-conditioner. The air-conditioner finally hit by the direct rays of the sun won’t shut off now until well after sun-down. Looking out at the over-sized thermometer he can see the temperature rise like the second hand on a clock.
“We better all be ready within the hour. It’s going to be in the low hundreds today and we want to be in the mountains by two, or it’ll be to hot to drive with the baby.”
The snuffling in the mound of blankets slowly croaks “Coffee, I need coffee.”Â “You want coffee you come sit next to the pot.” He says watching his cup fill slowly. Contrary to his word, as finally his cup is full, he slowly pours half of its contents into another cup. Carrying the precious burdens across the room he waits for the skinny arm to snake out of the coverings to grab the cup. Blue eyes, and blond hair follow the arm out eagerly lapping at the caffeine.
“Sam, you really know how to treat a lady.” Adrianna states emphatically sipping the hot brew.
“Yea, he does that, but he can’t change a diaper worth a damn.” Carlene exits the nursery carrying her and Sam’s son. “Besides, when he does change a diaper he don’t know what to do with the cargo.” Both girls laugh at the discomfort of the only male big enough to fight back. Cuddling up together on the couch the two young women hold the baby between them hiding from the still chill morning under the blankets.
“You”, Carlene says pointing at her husband imperiously, “Make me breakfast, steak, eggs, hash-browns, and the appropriate wine. Now!”
Feeling the deep mortification of wounded male pride Sam slowly turns toward the two giggling girls “Make it yourself. I’m taking a shower.” Both of the young women laugh, and a gurgle escapes from their hostage.
“Ain’t he cute” one of them mumbles. Baby, or harassed husband wonders the husband as he enters the bathroom.
A long list of tasks complete, the car, a dilapidated Volkswagen Baja Bug sits filled to capacity with sandwiches, sodas, and people. The high-performance engine spins to life chewing an angry spot in the silence of the high desert. The bug is the perfect vehicle for the desert with its few moving parts, and excellent fuel economy.
The young U.S. Marine looks around the house. He stands still as he watches the two most important women in his life carefully take care of his son. For these three people he would willingly die. Few men have the chance to be loved by just one person. These three people are utterly devoted to his well being, and his only wish is to return that love.
Today is Saturday, and every Saturday when not on duty he takes his family for a picnic. It’s to be a day out, and hopefully cheap. On the corporal pay he draws each month they can’t afford to do much. Adrianna has come south from Santa Cruz to spend the weekend, and see the wild-flowers. Eating lunch in the Joshua Tree National Monument is one cheap thing they can do, or watching the weekend desert racers play in the sand dunes at the end of their driveway is another form of entertainment.
The preliminary tasks complete Adrianna picks up baby Samuel, and slowly carries him towards the waiting car “He has such wise eyes” she says.
“Lets go you slow pokes.” Sam swings baby Samuel up out of Adrianna’s arms, and plops him down into the child car-seat behind the drivers seat. Each strap is checked twice. The special heavy duty motorcycle tie-down in the back holds the car seat in place. Safety is very important, and Carlene carefully gets into the back of the small car.
“If he gets woozy I want to be able to feed him.” Carlene explains to Adrianna.
“I could feed him.”
“You ride in front Dri”, Carlene says, “That way you can see the route better, and wait tell you see some of the wild-flowers.”
The car slowly pulls out of the driveway as each person gets used to the bumpyÂ ride of the bug. The chattering wail of the tires riding down the hard-pack drive vibrates through the teeth. Dust gritty with the abrasive nastiness of hard sand rises behind the car as it meanders through the cut down roads leading from the house. Traveling around twenty miles an hour Sam blips the throttle from time-to-time keeping the bug traveling on top of the frequently deep sand. The heavily laden vehicle responds sluggishly, but the high-performance car hand built by Sam and Carlene works.
Weekend after weekend Sam and Carlene carefully rebuilt the 62′ Volkswagen Beetle into a Baja Bug for use in the California High Desert. After weeks the little car looked nothing like original. Oil coolers, fiberglass panels, brushed aluminum plates, tube bumpers, and a host of other changes made the car perfect. The next expense planned is a brand new six point roll cage to protect the occupants from being hit, or during a roll over.
Scrub-brush covers the side of the road. In places the road is cut down into the desert up to eight feet, and the sand-drifts on the side of the road totally obscure the surrounding area. Driving down Shoshone Valley Road intersections pop into view and disappear quickly. In the vast panorama the road is nothing but a driveway to the people living on it. Sam takes care of the section bordering his land, and his neighbors grade this section. Huge weighted pallets are dragged behind four-wheel-drive trucks smoothing the wrinkled wash-board roads. Each time the weighted platforms cut the road down a little more.
The Volkswagen approaches another intersection, so Sam looks up the road to the left, and then to the right . As he gets closer to the intersection he looks again. Adrianna turns to say something to Sam and screams. The scream is the type heard from silenced mortals. Rage, terror, and why me god all rolled up into one heart wrenching scream. With slow deliberation Sam turns and looks to his left and sees the bow tie.
Chrome and a wall the size of the world. Dark slats open into Hell. Colors don’t exist in the nether realm of a flashed vision. The eyes don’t have enough time to register what is about to happen, and the brain can’t process the instantaneous moment of mortal destruction. This is the moment of imminent death. The feeling that a condemned prisoner has as he watches the fingers convulse on the triggers.
Chrome and a wall the size of the world moving across the ground at over 88 feet per second. When he first glanced in the direction Adrianna was looking it was to late. The foot searches the floor boards, but never actually moves. Brake, and take the impact at the gas tank? Accelerate, and take the impact in the engine? Which risk is the worst choice? The choice is moot, and the moment of indecision makes the decision for him.
Chrome and a blue bow tie. A blue bow tie a Chevrolet emblem on the front of a speeding truck etches itself into the deepest part of his consciousness.
The searing enveloping pain of impact. The sense of freedom as the first impact drives numerous pieces of metal into his body. Glass slashing through the passenger compartment neatly severs the jugular’s of Sam’s neck, and his seat is torn from the car floor. Mid-air. Second impact. Mid-air. Flip. Crash. Flip. Crash.
Adrianna panics as adrenaline rushes into her system. She grabs hold of the dash hand hold, but it’s to late. The collision drives her face into the dash. Her seat-belt holds her in place, but the dash is still to close.
The first impact wrenches her body to the side tearing sections of muscle in her back. Feelings of weightlessness brings a loss of hope, and she thinks just let me die quick. Impact again, and her face is driven directly into the dashboard of aluminum. Her nose breaks instantly, and the small bones of the sinus canals pulverize.
The car flips air-born again. Glass slashes across her face and upper body. The lap belt across her pelvis tears at her skin through her clothes. The feelings of total loss of control as the car becomes air-born again returns to be silenced by crushing impact again, and again, and again.
In the back seat Carlene doesn’t have a seat belt as the first impact of the truck almost severs the car. The impact drives her son’s car seat into her body at nearly sixty miles per hour. The heavy gauge tubular steel of the car-seat collapses, but only after she is compacted into the other side of the car. Her ribs break instantly it’s a stuttering snapping destruction of almost all of them like dry twigs crackling underfoot. The largest bone in the body, the femur, spiral-fractures instantly. The three major bones of the arm, ulna, radius, and humerus each break at the elbow joint as the lower arm is driven into her shoulder. The first flip spins her in her seat placing her head in the foot well, and the second flip drives her body into the roof. The third flip ejects her broken carcass from the car headfirst. A projectile, her body, is nearly severed at the abdomen, and her nose is nearly ripped from her face. Her arm, bones glaringly white exposed, is nearly severed, and the muscles are spun like a corkscrew.Â As the car sits in its final resting place, Carlene partially ejected from the car, lies on the twisted remnants of the engine slowly cooking as she receives third degree burns from the engine.
Baby Samuel. Four and a half months old has to know something is wrong when Adrianna screams. The terror of a scream is so well understood at the instinctual level. Even a child must know something is up. The impact of the chrome bumper pushes the side of the car in so that the drivers door is wrapped around the driver. When all is done the rear passenger seat is approximately fifteen inches across. The car-seat is never meant to take such abuse. What does he think as the side of his seat crushes the side of his head in. How does any child understand the abuse heaped on them for no reason. His father ever diligent used a “Ten Ton” motorcycle tie down strap to secure the car seat instead of a seat belt. The Volkswagen never had seat belts in the rear until the seventies. Under the enormous crushing impact of a full-size pickup truck the lower section of the car-seat never moved. The upper portion compacted and crushed the baby, but it didn’t immediately kill him.
The daze of imminent death holds a pall for all involved. A specter of darkness sweeps over the carnage. Hope flees as fear places itself in the hearts of all involved. An imperative of survival grasps Sam by the heart, and he kicks. A suffocating, burning, consuming agony holds him in its grip, and he kicks. Tearing, throbbing, ripping, fear holds him and he kicks. The hinge pins of the Baja Bug shatter under the repeated abuse, and the door falls free. Sam pulling parts of car from his abused body staggers from the car, and looks at the driver of the other vehicle. The other driver is seen in a haze slowly climbing from his ruined vehicle.
Blood jets from Sam’s neck with the weakening pulse. Seconds have occurred since the beginning of the accident. Carlene sits simmering like a good steak on the engine, and Adrianna can be heard screaming “Fire!” as smoke erupts from the Volkswagen. Sam looks at the other driver through the fan of blood spraying from his neck, and shouts “You’ve killed my family!!!” With those fading words he sinks to the ground slowly first to his knees. Then looking out over the desert he sobs “My family!”, and dies looking up towards the sun.
Adrianna finally gets her door open, and looking our from the bloodied pulp of her ruined face tries to pull Carlene through the window the rest or the way. The glass holds Carlene in place as she is impaled on the pliable safety-glass. Going the rest of the way around the car she enters from the ruin of the drivers side coughing in the now rising smoke. Grabbing young Samuel from the car she looks him over quickly, and notices a slight bruise on his forehead. “Thank God” she says in relief. The passenger of the Chevy truck starts throwing dirt on the engine and other small burning pieces.
Help is no where close, and the nearest house is miles away. But, someone heard the accident. Rescue crews arrive, and are horrified by the sight. Adrianna is holding baby Samuel he has started making funny mewling sounds, and slobbering strangely. An EMT grabs him from Adrianna and the race is on, but it is lost as he dies enroute to the hospital.
Adrianna is nearly incoherent with pain. Though she can walk, her closest friends, her family, has just been decimated in front of her. In the confusion of comatose patients she is identified as a military dependent and transported to the Marine Hospital.
Carlene is carefully removed from the wreckage, and transported by ambulance almost two hours away for amputation of her left arm and leg. Her insides are fully scrambled, and if she survives she will never be quite a woman again.
Sam is transported to the Marine hospital there is no mistaking the fact that he is military. The Advanced Life Support medics resuscitate him, and he slips away again. They pump blood into him as he bleeds it out again. Blood infusion after infusion. His forehead is peeled back and keeps sliding over his eyes so he can’t see. The world fades, and returns. Ambulances, choppers, ambulances, gurneys, light, dark, and a revolving sense of loss.
“Pump him full of blood, and find all the bleeders.” a nameless voice.
“This is a near complete decapitation”, explains a voice, “Notice the luck that theÂ vocal cords, and spine are only partially damaged.”
Blood spews from ruptured sutures as temporary fixes prove to be very temporary.
“You know Sam, you’ve either been dead and revived, or on some type of temporal leave from duty.”
Adrianna is alone, and in a town where she has no legal right to access Sam and Carlene’s property. Hardly any money, severely injured, alone, and she sits in the hospital wondering what to do. Fear sits with her offering her choices. Why not just go kill yourself? Why be a survivor? Why me? A beautiful woman has good reason to fear the loss of her looks. The ruined mash of destroyed muscles and bruises looks back from the mirror. The doctors tell her she will heal fine. Doctors lie. Are they this time?
Doctors move into the room filling the operating theater to capacity. Several doctors stand off to the side looking slightly troubled. As much body language apparent even with their faces completely covered, and complete dressing gowns covering them.
“The arm will have to come off at the elbow of course,” a doctor commiserates.
“Not if super surgeon has his way,” pointing at the monitor a second doctors mentions “He wants to see if he can glue the pieces back together.”
“Don’t worry about the arm, it can come off later if it goes sour.”
“Yea, and super surgeon gets to charge the government another hefty chunk.”
“Oh, is this a charity case?”
“No, a military dependent. Twenty year old female, husband, son, and friend. MVA in the high desert. Kid didn’t make. Husband is in ICU in a coma. He was DOA, and gone for like forty minutes. Cusinart time, vegetated you know.”
“I observed earlier today on his operation, almost a total decapitation, facial destruction, and multiple stab wounds. Like, probably fifty staples, and a couple hundred sutures.”
“I was in with the team on this one watching the Internists take out part of her liver, all of the spleen, and attempt to put her uterus and bladder back together. I love surgery rotations.”
The two doctors look at one another and jockey for better direct viewing ignoring the large television screens over their heads. Nurses continue to move about the room as a sick alcohol smell burns the sense of smell out of existence.Â Carlene lays on the table oblivious to the surgeons surrounding her.
A hot stuffy environment, smells that are unidentified, and light. Light glaring through red parchment into the mind drilling into the last part of existence.Â A belly full of acid belches fire into the back of the throat as fear, an uncomprehending fear, over rides sense, and finally one can’t take it anymore. Scream, yell, whimper into the red hellishness that surrounds you. Softly let salty tears flow down the sides of the face burning cool tracts that seem to slow, and puddle into nowhere. Nonexistence is all of this.
Memories of pain surface. Timid excursions into an experience as likened to a little boy looking at Playboy versus making love to your wife. Pain as remembered never hurt this bad. Feral animal fear envelopes the soul as pain overcomes reason, and then the fear controls. It is shaking utterly unknowable fear made uncomprehendably known in every part of the body.
Samuel lays in a hospital bed totally lost to the world. Gone are the ICU tags. The doctors figure he will wake up, or he won’t. After being so long without oxygen to the brain maybe it would be better if he didn’t for everyone. Nurses watch as the shattered body of the young Marine slowly begins to deteriorate. It has only been a few days since the accident, but already the young man has lost almost twenty pounds. The lean muscle mass is tearing his system apart as the body lays quiescent.
First there is a shudder of the whole body, and a shake as if shaking off the world. A tremor runs completely through his body. Blood begins to pulse from loosened sutures, and an opened artery shoots blood across the room spraying the wall. Alarms in machines shrilly cry “Here, here, come see me!” , and nursing staff walk by. A long haired blond man runs into the room, and looks over his charge.
“So, the prodigal son returns to the land of mortals.” Running from the room he returns swiftly with several other nurses and a doctor. The professionals work quickly to stop the bleeding, and calm the patient. However, the patient does not want to be calmed. Through the respirator he screams “My family! My family! My wife! My son!” The nurses work quickly and strap the young Marine in place. Numerous sutures have torn, and the doctor quickly stitches several. Minus the anesthetic.
“What kind of pain killers they have this kid on?” The doctor asks.
“None sir, they sent him up here with no pain blockers because he is a severe head trauma case.” The male nurse says.
“Fine give him Demerol, and I’m going to lunch.”
A few minutes later a female nurse returns to the Marine’s bed. She bends over him slowly, and pulls apart the remnants of his dressing gown.
“You’re going to go to a nice warm fuzzy place now.” The nurse says plunging the needle into Sam’s buttocks. Her job complete she tucks him partially in, and leaves the room.
Sam regains consciousness again just as he feels a bite. It is so insignificant to his current amount of constant pain he begins to doze again, but there is a heavy feeling in his chest. It becomes a blinding asphyxiation. The respirator begins to labor. It’s motor having to pump harder, and alarms begin to ring beeping into nothingness. Sam is looking out into the darkening world. Vomit springs out onto the bed, and the respirator begins wailing. Other machines begin to clang. Fighting against the restraints Sam keeps yanking back and forth while Intravenous needles pop from the increased blood pressure, and ooze blood onto the bed.
Nurses arrive and scream at each other. Doctors scan medical charts, and order more drugs. The brilliant diagnosis is anaphylactic shock. For the want of a little less pain the patient nearly suffocated to death. Doctors leave the room, another disaster avoided, as an older couple enter the room looking slightly embarrassed.
The older couple look to be in their forties, but each is edging the upper part of that. The ample wife, and husky husband embody middle America parents. Clark Kent’s parents in the flesh. Only these parents have a human for a child who is lying near death on a hospital bed. No leaping tall buildings here.
“Sam can you here me. Honey are you there?” the mother asks
“Son, are you there?”
Thinking to himself where the hell else could I be Sam looks up at his parents, and wonders just how they hell they got here from Seattle. Airplane probably. His mother always did like a good adventure. Opening one eye the very abused young Marine looks up at his parents and starts thinking about living.
The procession through the hospital was a long way coming. Doctors refused all requests until the blond bastard of a patient threatened to call the cops to let him leave, and the doctors finally did give in to his request.
“Doctor, I want to see my wife now.” The young man said.
“But, son you see your wife is in ICU still, and well there is nothing really to see. Now lay back down, and take a couple of these Valiums you’ll feel much better then.” The doctor stares at his patient.
“Listen doctor, if I don’t have a wheel chair at my door in five minutes I will walk down there,” Sam points downwards in a general direction having no idea where the ICU unit is, “And, when I get there I may check myself and wife out AMA. I don’t trust hospitals that tie their patients down, and won’t let a husband see his wife maybe for the last time alive. Now get me my fucking wheel chair you fucking ass hole. Now!!!”
The doctor quickly back pedals from the United Fucking States Marine who has just simply replaced the weak kneed twenty year old kid that had been quietly bleeding on the hospital bed. Another darker presence enters the room wearing dress blues, little silver eagles at the collar, and behind the doctor.
Tapping the doctor on the shoulder lightly the Marine Colonel asks, “Is there a problem here doctor? I believe the young man wants to see his wife.”
Samuel begins to add “Yes sir…” When the colonel adds “At ease Marine.”
“Yes sir” Sam says.
The doctor nods to the new presence, and leaves the room. The wheel chair appears with a heavy set orderly. Probably suggested by the doctor to protect the hospital from rampaging Marines. Without trouble Sam is wheeled to the ICU to see his wife, and then he does see her. What isn’t missing, bandaged, tubed, covered, bleeding, or broke anyhow.
The doctors working around her have been warned, and have been waiting for the procession of soldiers, family, and staff to arrive. Looking at the crumpled heap of oozing bad attitude in the wheel chair the doctor cracks a malicious grin.
“Mr. Liles, listen very carefully. Your wife is very nearly dead. She has little to live for, and is in very serious trouble. Don’t tell her about your son. The shock could kill her on the spot. She is not lucid, and won’t probably know who you are. She will probably not make it if we are not careful.”
The Marine looks up at the doctor “I will not lie to my wife about anything ever.”
The visit is short. More of a reconnection of the two who have lost so much. The glistening tears run down the Marine’s face as he looks at his wife. She is half mad with pain, and doesn’t even register his presence.
A doctor comes over and belligerently mentions to the Marine “It’s not a even odds deal. She has a septic, ah excuse me, infection inside her abdomen that is probably going to kill her. And, we just don’t know what to do.”
Sam looks up from his wheel chair at the doctor. The pain to twist his neck to look directly at the doctor is excruciating. With a casual nonchalance he fixes the image of the doctor into his memory, and continues to stare. You ass if she dies now you is next. The Marine Colonel looks down, sees the look of hatred on Sam’s face, and quickly hustles the group from the room. Looking back at the doctors the Colonel thinks, death has walked with you doctor, and don’t ever screw with my Marine.
Healing is difficult. It takes time. Each day is filled with more exercises along with the continued concerns of normal every day life. Carlene sits in a hospital room quietly considering her choices. She is half blind, half deaf, gimpy, and nervous. Her clothes lay against the bulk of her body like curtains on a statue. No part of her body was directly missed in the accident. Every square inch holds some memorable scar to carry the rest of her life. The doctor said she would die while she was in the ICU. Her parents have stayed with her for the last few months reminding her of what it means to be alive. Her husband daily makes the drive from the high desert to Palm Springs to be with her sometimes staying the night in the chair by the window. Today she will go home.
The fear of being in the hospital room with all of the strange smells is nothing compared to the fear of being in the preoperative room. She can remember the feeling of the loss of her dignity as she lay naked on a table unable to move from all of the drugs as doctors, and nurses walked by. The people moving around the hospital never seem to notice her nakedness. Not many people will be interested in the heavily scarred, and obese thing she has grown into. The feelings of loss are magnified by the heaviness felt in her chest. Her son, baby, and love is gone. All of the things she planned are forever changed. She looks down at the rotund mass of scars most people call a stomach, and small tears weakened by her lack of vital fluids slide down her face. Today they told her she can’t have children ever again. She lost her son, and the ability to have children in the same accident.
Carlene looks over towards the wheelchair sitting in the doorway. Pretty soon Samuel will arrive, and with no fanfare will take her home. The wheelchair will be her best friend for at least a year. Crutches don’t support her leg well enough, and her shattered left arm is still healing in a soft cast.
When Sam arrives Carlene starts to cry some more. There will be a lot of crying for both them. Carlene is helped into the wheelchair, and is slowly rolled out of the hospital into a new life. A new life where she is crippled both physically and emotionally. The sun shines down on the truck her husband drives, and the lack of the ever present car seat sets her to crying again.