Later on in the year, Robby moved back to Queensland, and we moved somewhere smaller: to a “cosy” top-floor apartment in Coconut Grove, right next to Nightcliff.
It was a warm October day in Darwin. Being that it was Darwin, the term “warm” sits on a very steep scale. It was a Saturday morning, and mum had hit peak Clean Mode. This was a regular Saturday occurrence: Every single door and window would be flung open, Jimmy Barnes’s “Soul Deep” would be cranked from the stereo (or Melissa Etheridge’s “Melissa Etheridge”, or UB40’s “The Best of UB40 Volume 1”, but most often “Soul Deep”), and shit would get picked the fuck UP.
On this particular Saturday, mum. had. had it. Orders had been barked, fingers had been pointed, stomps had been stomped. But we really hadn’t paid much attention, because…well, MUMS, am I right?
So, she had to pull out the big guns: a grand (but empty) threat. Each of our most beloved possessions—my Sega Mega-Drive, my sister’s stuffed monkey called Samantha, and my brother’s…I don’t know, he was three; probably a stick—were GOING IN THE BIN BECAUSE YOU KIDS REFUSE TO LISTEN. It worked: terrified, we picked up all our things in approximately 45 seconds and begged for her mercy. But she was not budging. We pleaded, we cried, but she had made up her mind.
Years later she would admit that she had no intention of throwing our things away, but had bluffed herself so hard into a corner that until she figured out a way to give us our stuff back without looking like she was capitulating, she had to follow through on her gambit. To buy herself time, she got me out of the house by sending me to the shop for a bottle of Diet Coke: When in doubt, invent an errand.
The nearest Diet Coke repository was a Mobil across the street, and by “the street” I mean the six lanes of Bagot Road. Usually crossing this road was a snap—cross three lanes during a break in traffic, huddle on the road island, cross the other three. I never bothered with crossing at the lights; it was too far away. (Yes, I would rigidly follow film classification guidelines to my own detriment, but I was all “meh” about road rules. I’m aware of the stupidity on display here.)
On this occasion, traffic was heavy. The lights way up ahead were red, and it was a car park: rows of cars stretch both ways in front of me. I figured it would be easy enough to dart between the stopped cars.
What I didn’t see was that the third lane was not backed up. At all. Cars making their way to the red light ahead were still clipping along at quite a pace. I didn’t realise until it was too late.
I didn’t even see the big red four wheel drive.
Don’t worry, I missed the four wheel drive. I must have even subconsciously spotted it because my mouth opened in a gasp. I know my mouth opened in a gasp because the first thing that slammed into the catamaran being towed by the four wheel drive was my teeth.
To recap: For the second time in my life, I had been hit in the face with a seafaring vehicle. To further recap: I got into a boat accident on dry land.
I woke up underneath the catamaran trailer. I woke up howling. I don’t remember howling; I don’t remember anything, but I was definitely howling because at that very moment my mother, several hundred metres away and three floors up, heard the sound of howling. She looked up from the dishes and thought “oh dear, somebody’s run over a dog.”
6… 5… 4…
“Lauren, is Christopher back from the shop yet?”
Mum was out the door and down two of the four flights of stairs before the cup she dropped had even hit the bottom of the sink.
By the time she got to me, I had crawled out from under the catamaran trailer (this is an important point later), and a group of people had gathered around me, trying to make sense of the boy-shaped blood fountain. Why was this child, who appeared to be relatively intact, with no major gashes or missing limbs, gushing red over everything and everyone?
Because three of my teeth were still wedged in the catamaran’s hull. The blood was coming from my mouth.
When mum saw me, she instinctively got down on the ground to hold me. I instinctively started to apologise. Both were idiot moves, as all I did was cover us both in more blood and make mum cry harder, and all she did was give herself terrible burns on her knees and feet: bitumen roads in Darwin in October are brutal. Some guy next to mum kicked off his thongs and told her to kneel on them. A woman from a couple of cars back, who said she was a nurse, grabbed a towel and put it underneath me. The ground was still unbelievably hot to lie on, but at least my legs and mum’s knees were no longer blistering.
An ambulance was called, and Mum realised Lauren and Tommy were still at home. Dale was there as well, but as he worked night shift he was sound asleep. Another bystander offered to go up and let him know the situation, that I had been hit by a
car boat and had to go to hospital. He ran across the street, down the path, up four flights of stairs, and gently woke Dale up…
…who immediately tried to beat the shit out of the very kind man. Admittedly, Dale had been asleep, and was entirely nude, and there was a strange guy in his house going “um hello excuse me sir are you Dale can you wake up”, but still. Ugh. It was handy to know that even in times of blood-soaked crisis, Dale remained a hamfisted fuckhead.
By the time I was put in the ambulance, everything was burgundy and sticky. Me, my clothes, my mum, the stretcher, the paramedic, the donated towel and thongs: everything looked like it had recently lost at paintball. While the paramedic set about doing whatever it is they do to bleeding boat accident victims, mum noticed I was gripping something in my right hand. It, too, was sticky with blood, and almost unrecognisable. She had to pry it out of my grip because the shock of the accident and locked my fist up tight.
It was a five dollar note. The five dollar note mum had given me to buy the Diet Coke.
I had run through the traffic of a six-lane highway, been struck by a yacht, run over by said yacht, woken up, crawled out, been bundled into the ambulance, bled EVERYWHERE…and yet I never let go of the five dollar note. This remains, to date, the most careful I have ever been with money, ever.
And then Mum gently took it, wiped it off and put it back in her purse. BACK IN HER PURSE. I DIDN’T EVEN GET TO KEEP THE FIVE DOLLARS I HAD SAVED FROM AN ACTUAL BLOODBATH.
(To be fair, I had failed to buy the Diet Coke.)
Once in the hospital, we found out the extent of my injuries. As well as the three missing teeth, I had fractured my neck. I had also broken my jaw and some ribs, but that seemed much less significant than the neck thing. The look on my face when I realised I had hauled myself out from underneath the boat with a fractured neck was the same as the doctor’s when I told him the same thing. Well, it was nearly the same: he combined his horrified look with a sassy neck tilt; something I wasn’t able to do as I was clamped in place with various neck braces.
Incidentally, I don’t recommend sustaining a spinal injury and ingesting litres and litres of your own blood simultaneously. It is extraordinarily difficult to barf every fifteen minutes when you’re lying flat on your back with your neck trussed up, displaying the same range of movement as a vintage Barbie doll. For a whole day, every time I felt a barf coming on I had to ring the buzzer (with the emergency code of three quick presses of the button), so that FOUR nurses could meet at my bed and roll me onto my side safely. They didn’t always make it on time, which…look, I won’t go into too much detail about the clean up process, but let’s just say the inside of my neck brace didn’t smell so great. Eventually they sent a tube up my nose and down into my stomach to suck out all the ingested blood, which might have been horrible in every way imaginable, but it has given me a handy excuse to use to this day to get out of vacuuming floors: because I had a tiny vacuum cleaner inside me once! I have a crippling phobia! Don’t be so insensitive, I couldn’t possibly, etc.
For three days, I wasn’t allowed to move on my own. While, after the first day, I no longer had to call code red on the buzzer to avoid choking on my own vomit (thanks, several feet of plastic tube up my nose!), the patented “four nurse roll” manoeuvre was still deployed every fours, so I could enjoy a change of scenery and not get bedsores. (When you are unable to look at anything but a hospital ceiling for hours at a time, a hospital wall suddenly becomes the most interesting thing to look at ever.)
Those four hour blocks during those three days remain one of the longest, most torturous periods of my life. It was endless. I wasn’t allowed to eat food (can’t chew lying down), I couldn’t see the TV (wrong angle), and I couldn’t sleep (too hungry, too bored, too sweaty, too bloody). Oh, except for the time I did fall asleep and immediately started sleepwalking. I woke up to the sound of alarmed shouting: my neck scaffolding was still in place, I was still attached to my drip, which I’d dragged with me, I was completely nude except for the hospital gown, and I was standing in the middle of the ward. The alarmed shouting had come from a nurse who’d spotted me looking like some kind of horror movie ghost, slammed the emergency buzzer, and once again four nurses raced into the room to manoeuvre me into my correct position. Oh look, I can see the ceiling again. Hello, old friend.
My small unconscious constitutional nearly meant more suffering for me: they wanted to put restraints on my wrists and/or ankles. MORE scaffolding. Mum managed to talk them out of it, on the grounds that I promised not to sleepwalk again; a promise I could only keep by not sleeping again. WELL I COULDN’T EAT FOOD OR WATCH TV OR MOVE MY OWN ARMS OR SAFELY VOMIT, WHAT WAS ONE MORE THING?
During those long hours in hospital, literally broken and bleeding, but also sleepless, foodless, unable to move and with a small hose running through half my alimentary canal, I started to despondently wonder what would have happened if only I had only crossed the road at the pedestrian crossing. Or if I’d only waited until all the cars had gone. Or if Lauren and I had only kept the house tidier and not driven mum into such a cleaning rage. If only I’d been one second later. If only I’d gone to a different shop for the Diet Coke. If I had avoided the accident, I wouldn’t have broken my knee, jaw and ribs. I wouldn’t have fractured my neck. I wouldn’t have lost three adult teeth, and ingested all that blood. I wouldn’t have had to spend a week in hospital. I would have been able to remain a member of my school’s team in the World Solar Challenge; a solar car race from Darwin to Adelaide that was only held every three years. and which is a pretty big deal. (How big? Halle Berry and Eliza Dushku star in film about it:)
And, on top of all that, I would have been able to go to my music teacher’s house for my first violin lesson, which had been scheduled for the Sunday; the day after the accident. But I couldn’t, because I was in hospital; bleeding and being rolled every four hours.
On the following Tuesday; four days after the accident and three days after my cancelled violin lesson, my music teacher was arrested on several counts of child molestation. So. Silver lining? Maybe the universe was trying to protect me?
On the Saturday, one week after the accident and three days after leaving hospital, still nursing my fractured neck, I fell out of the top bunk of my bed.
Dropped the ball on that one, universe.