Black Ice on the 72nd West Bridge
November 13. A Thursday night in 2014. And John calls.
Dad, I hit some black ice and rolled the truck.
John, who was born in my bed after the big doula yanked behind her knees and pivoted her pelvis to get him out of there, all purple.
Are you okay? Are you hurt? What happened? Is there anyone with you? Are you hurt!!
I’m okay, Dad. I’m with some firemen. Can you come get me, Dad?
We’re leaving right now. If the truck will start, hop back in and keep warm.
Dad, I am not getting back in that truck.
Okay, I understand. Stay warm. Stay with the firemen. Don’t worry about the pick-up.
John, who the nurses wheeled away for the surgeon to dig a tumor out of his arm at Primary Children’s. They filled the void with paste made from crushed cadaver bones, and the arm grew rock-climber strong and tae-kwon-do blackbelt tough.
There he was, by the fire truck, its red-and-white flashers blaring over the dark landscape. After hugs and are-you-sure-you’re-okays, I searched for my white Chevy Cheyenne pick-up truck, and found it, crushed and mangled, at the bottom of an embankment resting against tall reeds and rushes. It glowed in the night in flashes of red.
I don’t know what happened, Dad. I wasn’t speeding, honest. There was no snow or rain or fog. When I started to cross the bridge the truck just slid side-ways and rolled and rolled and I crawled out and the fire truck came and I called you.
I stared hard at the pick-up then turned to John with a choking love and worry, knowing now he should not have walked away from that truck. I side-stepped down the hill for a closer look. The cab was crushed. The windows smashed. The doors twisted shut. How did he even get out? And I am carrying little John in one arm while the other wrestles the 5 hp garden tiller. And we are loading logs on the hydraulic splitter and stacking and stacking that winter’s wood. And we are assembling the bouldering wall he designed. And we are pedaling our mountain bikes seven miles up the canyon’s Dark Trail. And he is guiding his frightened little sister up the rough multi-pitch rock.
How did you get out, son?
I don’t know, Dad.
And I am stupefied and paralyzed with the horror and grief of what might have been and should have been and nearly was, but wasn’t. And I am stunned and speechless with the mystery and miracle of what is.
“How does this work?” I asked at the wrecking yard. “You give me the title, and we waive the tow fee and the storage fee.”
Done. On the drive home I stopped at the scene. There were the tracks of the front and back tires sliding at an angle into the gravel shoulder. There were the launch marks where the truck left the ground. There was the crash point where the cab struck and crushed, and the gouge where the side mirror dug in. And there were the roll marks and roll marks and roll marks. I had turned tracker, reading the scars in the soil and the fractured grass straws. The only mark on his body was the striped seatbelt bruise.
There the truck had sat, after three complete rolls, the crushed and mangled truck, the truck John was not getting back into to stay warm, the truck he does not know how he crawled out of. And tracking back up the hill I picked up the coins from the spare change bin and the rearview mirror and the individually packaged Lifesaver mints for driving with dates and the loose axe head I found at the county dump and thought I might re-handle but never did – all flying around the cab, around his skull – and his Black Diamond beanie which cushioned his head when he broke the driver side window, and lots and lots of pieces of windshield glass. And I gathered it all up and saved it to remember the blessing of my boy crawling out of that crushed and mangled pick-up truck. And now he is married to his sweetheart and they hope to bring babies into this world to love and teach and guide as they grow. And I am stunned and speechless – still – with the mystery and miracle of what is.
John and Alleigh Baker (August 2020)