The Last Crepe Myrtle By James J. Marry
Friday, May 18, 2007
Rated "PG" by the Author.
On May 7th. 2007 I was startled by a loud crash at the front of my home. Next thing I knew, I was chosen as the Everyday Hero for West Florida by the news.
We live in paradise.My wife still misses northern California, but it would be hard to deny how beautiful our home in western Florida is.We’re situated two blocks north of a large high school, elementary school and an adult learning center.This complex of buildings is matched a quarter mile to the north of our home by a middle school complex of similar acreage.I hope to teach there one day soon as I am finishing a new degree in Middle Grade Mathematics at SaintLeoUniversity in the eastern half of our county.These factors cause 1oo to 150 school aged children to walk past my front door on most days.
You might think that I would have known that Wednesday would be as interesting as it became.When I was working for Special Operations in the Air Force, my life had been saved by a premonition of sorts.That experience from twenty five years ago brought my extra sensory rescue total to one and hadn’t changed since.
I mean, I’ve had a lot of close calls over my lifetime since my assignment to spy planes in the early ‘80’s Far East, just none of them with any similar warnings.When that MC130E went into the South China Sea without me on board, I had been sent off the air crew since I was physically ill.When I boarded the mission, my stomach began to churn and flip in the Philippine morning darkness.I passed out in a cargo seat.
I didn’t mention to ensuing investigators that I was woken from a sleep by a dream with a scream telling me to get out of the plane.It had been difficult enough explaining to the Federal Investigators why I had gotten off of the plane fifteen minutes before the plane launched in the first place.That aircraft was doomed to fly under a hundred miles out to sea and then cart wheel a mile and a half towards an underwater cemetery for 23 multi-service mission partners.I was the twenty fourth casualty and I walked away before the plane took off.
A miracle saved me there and dumb luck probably saved me another hundred times over twenty five years of bad choices, bad people, and bad situations.The miracle didn’t make me a fiction writer, the survival given by my dumb luck made me write fiction… and I hope some hard earned talent.
So I didn’t see that Wednesday afternoon coming at all.
I hadn’t written a new novel in more than five years and only a month ago, I had begun fleshing out some new characters and a storyline.The story is based in the late 1980’s so I was researching headlines.I was looking at the three story boards in my home office in the back of my Port Richey home when “BAM!” blasted from the front of my house.I was reminded of seeing a hockey game with front row seats somehow, when a check slams into the plexi-glass right in front of your face… only much, much louder.I jumped out of my desk seat, flew down the hall and emerged through the living room.
“What the hell was that?”I asked my father.
Dad has been living with us for just over a year since his last hospital stay.
“I don’t know.It came from the front of the house.”
And as quickly as he replied, I grabbed the remote phone and flew out the front door.I might have gone out through the garage, but I had no idea of where the mayhem existed that had just occurred.Exiting the front door, a blue faux brick wall runs fifteen feet on the right before one would turn and see the garage door.There was a lot more to be seen than I had expected this time.
What I expected was to turn the corner and see my 1999 dark green Caravan ten feet away on the far side of my double driveway leading up to my two car garage.That truck was a prize we earned by helping a senior woman move back up north with her children.I bought it less than a year ago with real low miles when my wife sold their Holiday home through her real estate license.
I had noticed that the garage was closed when I had returned from my mother’s house two hours earlier.Of course, it should have been since we hadn’t parked either of our vehicles in there for the past two weeks.We get busy with our schedules and sometimes my wife doesn’t use the garage for her sea green 2004 Hyundai Sonata.She loves the car I bought her for Mother’s Day almost exactly 3 years earlier.On this day, she had taken the car to work as an aide at a local nursing home. As I say we get awfully busy with our schedules.
In fact, I had spent the previous sixteen Wednesdays at school.I really shouldn’t have been home to hear the noise or to be pounding down the walk towards the front of my garage on a Wednesday at in the afternoon.
I expected to see a garage door that my wife, my son and I had painted to my own specifications. The garage door would have been four sections high with three square-ish sections across.I insisted that we paint one inch wide squares of merlot red on the twelve smoke blue gray sections.I get pretty demanding in negotiations and I had previously added a new merlot door to the front of the house. Instead what I saw was a late model bright red Mitsubishi wagon embe dded three quarters through the garage door I expected to be there.As my thumb dialed “911” to report the accident, my head began to thunder with implications.
I thought about what a major pain in the ass all of the hassle with insurance companies would give more for someone else’s inability to drive safely.My sordid history of driving hadn’t missed the occasional insurance claim, but I had only recognized the garage door damage.As I saw the front end wreckage of my Caravan, I realized two things immediately.One- that my insurance woes had just risen exponentially, and two- that I wasn’t the only person standing in my driveway.I realized that I had connected with the 911 operator while I recognized my neighbor from across the street, Dawn Hoffman, standing before me.
As the operator questioned the reason for my call, the modest heighted strawberry blond dropped a boulder on my noggin.
“KC, there’s a little girl in front of this car.”
I could see the intensity in Dawn’s eyes, though I couldn’t place her emotion in the realm of fear, anger or demand.All of that was there, but my mind shifted up two speeds to make sure I handled the phone first.Someone yelled that 011 had been contacted, but that was a chance I couldn’t risk.
“A car just drove into my garage at 5555 Williamshire Dr in Port Richey. There is a little girl trapped under the car and it looks as though she has been dragged 25 feet before driving through my garage door.”I hadn’t seen the girl yet, but I was looking at a brown gentleman slowly climbing out of the driver seat of the car.
The angle the car had hit the garage door at allowed for the egress space for the driver to exit.I heard the 911 operator say “Sir, we have your information and have units rolling to your location now.I hung up the phone as two neighbors and a woman who described herself as a nurse arrived.
I directed the nurse to driver’s side with instructions not to try to move the girl.She immediately told me that she didn’t think the girl was breathing.I spoke with the guys about what to do.I directed the guys on the right side of the car to use my floor jack to begin lifting the car to allow this trapped girl to breath since there was only six inches of clearance at best under the Mitsubishi wagon.One neighbor said he had a floor jack of his own and ran to get it to lift the driver’s side.
Dawn ran to get blocks which turned out to be some mottled pieces of concrete on my direction.I was amazed at how immediately she responded and how quickly she returned to put the pieces in place to shore up behind the two jacks we had placed.Tough broad for a little woman.I instructed one woman to help back off the crowd that was building quickly, one woman to take care of the little boy who had been with the girl walking when she was struck by the car, and told the team at the car not to attempt to move the girl.I’m sure they knew that, but I was trying to control the situation before it just got too nuts.
The girl was breathing, in fact she was talking.I knew she shouldn’t move out from under the car on her own.I knew just as importantly, we should not try to move her in any way ourselves.Somewhere in the distance I thought I heard a siren and I prayed it was an ambulance and fire unit.The crowd was growing quick.Time was slowed but less so now that I could hear the girl speak.
I saw the driver standing at the end of the driveway and walked over to him.“Can I see your driver’s license please?” I said.
As I was thinking about the legal implications of a citizen asking for a man to give him their license, the first police cars arrived.A young officer came straight to me and asked who I was.“This is my house.This man ran into it and we used jacks to lift his car off of a young girl.Here’s his driver’s license, and we could use these people all moved back.”
I know I was taking too much for granted, but I felt like we all needed to do what we could as a team.Up until this moment, everybody had worked like Playtex gloves for washing burnt soup pots with steel wool.I might even have expected the officer to go along until the rescue people arrived.
“Thanks.” The officer said with a half frown under his sunglasses. “I’ll take care of it.He directed the other arriving sheriff’s deputies and let me get back to my garage.The nurse told me she thought the girl was bleeding but she was conscious now.I assumed she would be in shock so the pain of the car dragging her body had experienced wouldn’t have caught up with her psyche just yet.I crouched down on the left side of the car to hear the girl cry “I need to get out of here to see my brother.”
I called for everyone to hear, especially the girl. “Don’t move.Your brother is okay.We don’t want you to hurt yourself anymore.The E.M.T.s will be here any moment to get you out of there.”I knew that panic had begun to take the place of shock.
The cavalry arrived and moved her out from under the car to a back board, then a stretcher, then an ambulance and off my front lawn.I glimpsed the girl and thought she could be as old ass her late twenties or early thirties.The facts panned out differently. Everything seemed to be going differently than I expected.
The newsies had arrived too.Helicopters seemed to go from three to five, changing places for different camera shots of the red Mitsubishi jammed into my garage.Dad was being cared for by a neighbor lady, but I was spread thinly through the emergency and could only be grateful that someone else had the presence of mind to keep my father company.Somehow, police tape was going up to keep people away and troopers were taking photos.I was out of the loop finally and I just watched as people did their jobs.
Alyssa, the girl from under the car, was air lifted to a Saint Petersburg triage hospital.The driver was getting blood tested in an ambulance.Dawn was keeping track of the family.Dad was okay and the emergency folks were milling about my front yard.I called my wife and told her she needed to come home.
The news people were very professional and caring… some more than others.I realize they have tough jobs, but there were so many of them and I was interviewed so many times in so many ways, I just had to ask “Is all of this that big of a deal?”They assured me a thirteen year old girl being saved by a group of neighbors working together was a very big deal for the local news.Their information was coming in while all of the commotion was going on at my home.One of the television crews told me that the girl was alive and had great hope of living.I cried on camera, “It’s all because I have so many great neighbors.”
Over the next few days, I had real trouble holding it all together.My emotions were thin and I broke down and cried a few more times.I had to write the tale, but my face is wet again too.
Alyssa was put into an intentional coma due to all of the broken bones, a fractured skull, and a brain bleed.Its five days later and they should bring her back today.Her family has been by my house, aunts and uncles, to say thanks- but I was at church.It seems her grandmother is raising Alyssa, her brother and an older sister since her mother died three years ago.I can’t imagine the difficulty this is raising for this fragmented family.
The man who ran through my crepe myrtle, picked up her little body, and proceeded through my garage door with the red Mitsubishi, I’m told he is dying.
The man has three months to live due to a progressive cancer in his body.His wife was sitting with him in the car; I just never noticed she was there.I guess I just never saw her there.I spoke with his son, and he couldn’t explain why his father was behind the wheel with his mother.He had a license, he had a car, and he had insurance though.I really can’t afford any anger towards this man or his family though.I put my faith and strength in God’s hands and I can’t judge anyone for their bad choices.I made plenty of my own over my lifetime.
These people need help and our community seems to be coming together for them.I wish we could have come together for this grandmother sooner, but the call to arms has now been heard.I have a lot of repairs going on and I’m nervous about it all getting paid for.But I am so grateful this girl is alive.
I know a lot more people now, or at least they seem to know me.Kids from the school have come by to let me know about Alyssa.The kids who held a car wash for her (raised $440, wow) came by and cried at me about how grateful they were that I was there.I thought my crying was under control, but I’m at it again just remembering these kids.
I am grateful for ALL of the miracles I saw make this result a possibility.
A minor one, I want to revisit.I mentioned a crepe myrtle tree that stood on my island lawn next to my mailbox.Don’t go back looking, you might still not find the mention.My wife and I planted that tree when we moved into our home with TWO other myrtles near to seven years ago.So there used to be three crepe myrtles.None of them ever reached full maturity, but this third one was near to four inches thick at the trunk.You might remember that the red Mitsubishi drove through the last crepe myrtle before hitting beautiful thirteen year old Alyssa and dragging her body into my garage.I plan to replace all three of these trees, since cars on my residential road have taken out each one of them over the past seven years.This one survived being replanted three years ago.Nobody has died yet.Maybe I need four, but my wife has a gorgeous garden in front of the house and it ought to be seen.I’ll stick with three once all of the insurance companies get me through the rest of the mess.
More than one hundred miracles had to happen for dear Alyssa to make it to this point.I am only one of them.Dawn is one of them.The emergency folks who thanked me for getting the car off of her are each one of them.My Caravan is even one of them.And the last crepe myrtle, that might just have slowed down this speeding red bullet just enough, was one of them.I’m anxious to see the tree in front of my house soon.