Part One: Why Did You Decide to Move to Argentina?
This is not so much a stupid question as it is one that I’m asked so many times that it seems dumb to me, mostly because I feel my answer is lacking, pat, overly simplified.
I have always been treading water financially and nothing has changed.
But I was hit by a car riding my bike. First day of the new semester, August, 2003. Cool summer morning, wrong way on the sidewalk, woman at the stop sign looking left at oncoming traffic. I pull in front of her. I see her car lurch forward and can’t stop my momentum in time. Her late model SUV plows into me – she had stomped on the gas to insert herself into a narrow break in traffic.
I fly into the street. My bike lands on top of me. The only witness is a homeless man who heard me yelling, “Lady, lady! Don’t hit me!” He didn’t see anything until I’d already been hit, until I was standing up in my ratty camouflage shorts and combat boots trying to tell what was wrong with me now.
Her attitude is one of panic. I pick up my bike. My shoulder hurts. My leg hurts. My ribs hurt. Her hands shake in front of her face. Her voice is vibrato hysterical. I don’t need this shit. I tell her to calm down, the worst that will happen is that her insurance will go up. She asks me if I’m okay. I tell her I don’t know.
“I’m so sorry. Are you okay? I’m so sorry,” she says. I can’t look into her crazy eyes. This is the kind of performance that makes the victim feel 10 times worse and I just want her to get the fuck away from me.
I wheel my bike to the side of the road and straighten the fork from the handlebars between my legs. A lawyerly friend of hers appears and asks me if there’s anything he can do for me.
“I left my coffee at the coffee shop. There are a couple of guys keeping an eye on it for me. Would you get it?”
“No,” he says, “but you can.”
I walk away. I talk to the police. An ambulance shows up. And then my dad shows up in the leased BMW that I find deeply embarrassing, but not right now because I am too weirded out.
He was just passing by and saw me. He asks me about the bike and I point to where I’ve locked it to an electric meter at the hardware store. He’s manic. His smile is loud, his joy is forced and artificial and he tells me that straightening the wheel out was stupid, that I should have left it like that.
“Give me a fucking break, Dad. I just got hit by a car.”
In the ambulance they ask me questions. I am manic. My voice is too loud. My shoulder hurts, it hurts to breathe – the ribs, but I feel like I’ve been in a fight. My heart is beating fast and I know I’m right and I’m angry at the woman who went from a simpering, hysterical wreck to a lying, cool, upwardly mobile professional with another suit at her side.
I tell the paramedics she’s a bitch because by this time I know that she’s told the police that I rode into the side of her car. This is her story, no doubt whispered in hushed tones verbatim by the other shithead in the suit.
And I refuse a ride to the hospital because my dad is right there and can drive me and god knows I can’t afford a $600 ambulance ride without any insurance. I have a card from a police officer. I have my backpack. We’re in the car and Dad decides this is the time to ask me about work. I’ve been waiting tables at the comedy club.
I tell him that I’m excited and that I’m going to start learning to work the light and sound and train in the booth.
“That’s stupid. That’s a job for a loser. Don’t fucking do that, Katie. Stick to waiting tables.”
Yeah. Waiting tables where the real money is.
“Dad, it’s something I want to do. I’ve always wanted to learn to work a soundboard. This is my chance. I’ll still wait tables. It would be one or two nights a week. That’s all.” Keep in mind that I’m nearly 30 and have just been hit by a motherfucking car.
“Don’t fucking do that, Katie. That’s a fucking loser job. You know who works in light booths? Fucking losers.”
I’m older than I was once. I try to be reasonable. “Dad. This is not the time. Really.”
Now he’s yelling. Now he’s laying into me. Now he’s calling me names. Now I’m getting out of the car in traffic and screaming, still blocks away from the hospital, “I just got hit by a car. Fuck you! I’ll walk to the fucking hospital.”
And I’m crying and I’m limping, my boots clomp, clomp, clomp down the sidewalk, my back out of whack, my arm not really working right as a ballast like it should and my brain is screaming It’s not fair. Not fair. It’s not fair. And the tears fall and now on top of everything else, I’m humiliated by crying, clomping along just hating, hating, hating, breathing cracked ribs open and trying like hell to get it under control, not to be a fucking wuss who will be sobbing as I sign the form at the desk.
In the shitty, dirty downtown hospital waiting room I sit on a molded plastic chair, go into servile mode. I want help. I need help. Calm. Non-confrontational. And I look at magazines battered to hell. In the dingy room the doctor examines me. I get an x-ray. He says he thinks it’s a bone chip in my shoulder. Refers me to an orthopedist.
I discover that I can’t lie down. It’s too painful.
My mother is gone until October. I’m on my own. I call a friend to pick me up from the hospital and go back to my mom’s house. I’ve been staying there because of a neighbor who had broken into my apartment several times and I no longer feel safe there, the lease almost up – but that’s another story.
Part 2 soon.