“Shadows are falling and I’m running out of breath, Keep me in your heart for awhile.
If I leave you it doesn’t mean I love you any less, Keep me in your heart for awhile…”
– ‘Keep Me in Your Heart’ – Warren Zevon
Three years ago this morning, on August 20, 2015, I landed back in Boston from L.A. after a red-eye flight. It was 8am, I hadn’t slept in over 24 hours (and wouldn’t sleep for another 24 or so), and as I stepped outside to light a cigarette, I was struck by how normal everything seemed, at the vibrancy of Logan airport on a boring old Thursday morning. The world was chugging along as it always does, as it always will, regardless of life stopping dead in its tracks on a personal level.
It was warm, sunny, kind of humid, if I recall correctly, and was a most unusual return home. The relief of a prominent homesickness I always felt when living out west was nowhere to be found, a combination of both the circumstances around my return, and having just visited the month before. There was a heavy surreality that floated within and around me, a dreamlike (nightmare?) quality that filtered everything, while I chain-smoked several cigarettes to calm my already frayed nerves. Soon enough, my ride arrived to chauffeur me to the hospital in downtown Boston, where I’d essentially live for the next ten days.
“So, ummm, your Dad was in a really bad motorcycle….Medflighted to Brigham & Women’s, and he’s been in surgery….know what’s happening and he might not…..are you still there?”
Yeah, I was there, and I was listening. Just after 6pm the night before, I received two missed calls, two voicemails and a text message from my brother-in-law within three minutes. This wasn’t super bizarre in and of itself, mostly as I assumed it was just my sister using her husband’s phone to contact me, and I was initially hoping I could ignore the message until the morning. But the quick succession and curtness of his messages was incredibly alarming, and rightly so.
Shock is a weird phenomenon, to be truly gobsmacked and stunned into silence. I’m a very introverted and quiet person generally, so being reserved and playing my reaction and emotions close to the vest was to be expected. But this, this was different. This was a genuine, complete non-reaction to a description of events that merited WAY, way more than that.
My Dad, who I had seen the previous month but hadn’t spoken to directly since that time, was in the trauma ICU at Brigham & Women’s Hospital. He had had his left arm and leg amputated to save his life during surgery, after being hit head on when he was riding his motorcycle to the store for some fresh bread with dinner (“carbs will kill you,” GZ). He was hit a mile away from his home, where he’d lived for eighteen years, on a road he’d driven thousands of times before, head on by MATTHEW MICHAUD*, who swerved into the lane after a person in front of his car allegedly threw a bottle at his windshield, and hit my father at full speed.
*Please allow me to pause and address the person who is responsible for KILLING my father, MATTHEW MICHAUD. I say ‘allegedly’ a bottle hit his windshield and caused him to accidentally swerve into the lane, because that’s his story and he’s sticking to it (despite zero evidence to back that up, or the completely asinine point that anyone would swerve to the left INTO traffic if they were startled). But he is 100% responsible for KILLING David John Swierk, whether accidental or not. He’ll face no criminal repercussions for what happened, not for any sort of negligence or bodily harm caused whatsoever, after being charged, arraigned, and spending two years in the legal system (which myself and my family had to go through every step of the way, also, continually reliving it all). All charges have been dropped as of March, because the district attorney in Nashua “fucked it up,” in their own words. Frankly, it genuinely may have simply been a horrible, horrible accident, but it doesn’t change the fact that MATTHEW MICHAUD is solely responsible for KILLING my father, and he cares more about the stress this has caused HIM (and the difficulties of having his driver’s license suspended, which he should never be allowed to possess again), than countless lives he ruined, accidentally or by intentional idiotic actions. To say nothing of the man he KILLED, David Swierk. FUCK MATTHEW MICHAUD.
The phone call with my brother-in-law established that I needed to come home immediately, a flight was being researched on my behalf from LAX as soon as possible, and the doctor had necessitated the call to me imploring my return. Because, as it sunk in SLOWWWWWWWWWLY, being contacted at that point and being told I needed to fly across the country overnight meant things were very, very bad. We got off the phone and I sat there, motionless, doing nothing for the next twenty or so minutes. Just sat there, in silence, looking off into the distance, waiting for any of what I’d heard to process and sink in.
Eventually autopilot kicked on, and I pulled out my suitcase. I plotted my packing for what I expected to be a three or four day trip (even though there was no discernable reason my brain was saying short trip home), and was convinced I wouldn’t be out of Cali more than a week (I wouldn’t return for over a month). The most prominent thought in my head at that time was, in fact, annoyance that I would have to miss work and wouldn’t see the girl I was dating (and had just spent the weekend before with in Venice Beach, on the 10th anniversary of my mom’s death) for a few days. The whole thing felt like a nuisance initially, as my mind wouldn’t let me believe what I was packing for and numbed itself to what was truly happening.
Though in hindsight, if I wasn’t consciously aware what I was doing, there was a vein of realization running inside me. “You packed your black suit,” my sister noted after I arrived, since I clearly felt that would be needed for a couple of occasions while I was home…
Somehow, a flight was booked that night, and several people contacted me little by little to discuss what was happening. I had a couple small weed brownies, ate one immediately and saved the other for entering the airport (they were small and barely effective). I needed to relax, to stay calm and placated, as the more texts I got, the clearer it became: I shouldn’t expect to see my father alive again, since he wasn’t going to last the six hours it would take me to fly back east.
But when I arrived at the hospital, to the waiting room area outside the ICU area, I did see him alive (or, at least, his breathing body). He was wheeled through by a team of nurses, on a gurney with numerous machines attached and rolled alongside his bed, on the way to one of countless CAT scans. He was unconscious, his face was black and blue, with bandages wrapped tightly on his head and body. His left arm and leg, or the stumps that remained, were tightly wrapped in a plastic suction device, which kept blood flowing to deter infection. His arm looked like a giant, vacuum-packed pork tenderloin at the store. I didn’t cry, nor did I react much at all. I didn’t know what to say or to do or how to feel, and that wasn’t wrong, but it was weird. It still hadn’t sunk in or fully dawned on me what had occurred, but either way it was REAL and it was happening.
Later, when my sister and I sat away from everyone else, just the two of us, we’d continually address the fact that almost exactly a decade apart, our parents were suffering tragic and painful deaths. Morbidly, we’d sing ‘Feels like the first time!’ to each other throughout the time at the hospital as we wait, wait, waited for our Dad to recover or perish. Dark, sarcastic humor is how we cope as a family, since what else can you do when life kicks you in the teeth? Or, perhaps a more apt metaphor would be: what else can you do when a dumbass drives his car fully over a double yellow line, into the opposite lane, and hits someone head on, full speed?