The Accident Transcript

A note about this transcript: The Moth is true stories told live. We provide transcripts to make all of our stories keyword searchable and accessible to the hearing impaired, but highly recommend listening to the audio to hear the full breadth of the story. This transcript was computer-generated and subsequently corrected through The Moth StoryScribe.

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It was summer after my third grade where my mom was looking for all kinds of activities to keep the kids busy. And she took myself and my brother and my best friend Adrienne and her brother to the Jewish Community Center to go for a swim and hopefully to just tire ourselves out. And then the way back, we were driving home. And my mother took a left turn to drop Adrienne off. And—at the same time—an eighteen-year-old ran a red and hit our car.  

My brother was in the front seat. And his knees went into the dashboard and he was unconscious but he was OK. And my mother broke her wrist from trying to crank the steering wheel in a last attempt. But she was conscious. Adrienne and I were little crumpled messes in the back seat and her younger brother, who was in the hatchback of the Honda Civic—back when you used to do that and think it was OK—actually walked away without a scratch. I don't remember much about this accident; I don't remember the accident at all. It's all put together from other people's accounts and observations and interpretations.  

I remember the hospital a lot. I remember waking up in intensive care and my mom and my dad were talking to some doctors. And it seemed like there was quite a kerfuffle going on because my mother kept going, "It's a step backwards! It's a step backwards!" They wanted to give me an operation and she was afraid that it was going in the wrong direction. And that we were just putting off the inevitable. But the next thing I knew, my dad was by my side and I looked at him. He was always a pillar of strength, you know, a real authority figure. And he had this look in his eyes that I had never seen before: A little scared.  

But then it evaporated into a warm smile and he said, "Listen, you're gonna go to sleep for a little while and then, when you wake up, I will buy you anything you want. So, I want you to think really hard about what you want and when you wake up, I will buy it for you." My dad had never said anything like this to me in my entire life, I was the youngest of 6. We lived well but very modest. To the idea that he would buy me anything, I mean, my brain almost exploded. I went in for this operation and I woke up. I had a tracheotomy with a metal plate in my neck and the second I opened my eyes, I knew what I wanted.  

My 20-year-old sister came to visit me and we were playing this game where she would pretend to see steak and scrambled eggs going through my feeding tube and I would pretend to taste them. And I told her that I had this dilemma with the present that I wanted my dad to buy me. See, it was between a T.V. and a phone for my room or the Barbie Dream House. And my 20-year-old sister said, "Listen, you're going to have a lot of T.V.'s and phones in your life. You should go for the Barbie Dream House.”  

My mother was there every day, from the second I woke up, all the way through the months when I was in the children's ward, every second she was there. And when I was well enough to start eating solid food and I would complain about the hospital food, she responded by cooking meals at home and bringing me them in Tupperware containers. When—in like the hospital gowns and the weird pajamas—she brought me clothes from home and new clothes and toys and games. She was always there and everyone kept telling me how strong I was. How strong, what a strong, brave girl I was, and I relished this attention. I mean, I loved it. It felt like I had accomplished something but I didn't really know what I was doing. I mean I, I felt like I wasn't doing anything.  

Adrienne's mother would visit me a lot too, along the way. And I would always ask her like "Why aren't you bringing Adrienne? I want to see Adrienne." But, somehow, she would just change the subject and I would go with it. Finally, one day when I was strong enough I just was, wouldn't let it go. I was like "Why won't you bring her to play with me?"  

And her and my mother looked at each other and they said, "We think that you're healthy enough to hear this now. But remember when you described being unconscious? It felt like you were sleeping for a really, really long time? Well, Adrienne never woke up.” I heard what they were saying but I don't think I got it. I mean, I don't think my 8-year-old brain could comprehend that. I didn't cry 'cause I didn't know what that meant. I just knew that I should stop asking for Adrienne.  

Time moved on and soon I was well enough to finally leave the hospital. I couldn't wait to get home to my room and my dog. And I walked in the house after all these months and there, waiting for me, was the Barbie Dream House. And it was more beautiful and bigger than I'd ever imagined. And my mom said I could set it up in the living room. I wasn't even allowed in the living room! I loved it so much. I really wished all the time that Adrienne could play it with me because she would have loved it.  And, I mean, I played with it a lot. I would wake up in the morning before school and play with it at breakfast. I would come home at lunch and play with it. I would play with it after school. I would play with it after dinner. I played with it for years: In some people's opinion, too many. But I loved that Barbie Dream House.  

And life, you know, moved on. I went back to school and Adrienne wasn't there and they put me in a different class with different classmates than I had been in with in the former years. It wasn't actually like continuing my old life. It was like someone gave me a new life and my parents pretended like everything was normal. They didn't treat me special. They didn't pander to me, they didn't tell me I couldn't do certain things. Just like everything was normal. I mean they both survived World War 2.  My dad in Israel, my mother in Holland, so they were very versed in moving on and all that special attention just evaporated after a while. And I kind of missed it. I kind of resented not having it any more.  

When I was about 16 years old, my favorite past time around the house was snooping around. Because it occurred to me that adults hide their secret lives from children. And now that I was 16, I wanted to know everything. We had this beautiful antique dining room buffet that had all these little tiny cupboards and drawers with tiny old keys. I used to love playing with the keys and I was a kid, but now I realized I could use them to unlock all of the cupboards. So, I unlocked one of the drawers and found all this school stuff: there was an old pocket watch from my grandfather, and my mother's first passport photo, and all these letters.  

And a letter caught my eye, and it was from Adrienne's dad to my mother. It was written about a week after the car accident, just after the funeral. You know, it never even occurred to me that there was a funeral. Because the whole time I was in operations and there was all this attention on me. It's the first time I'd ever thought of that. And he wrote that he didn't blame my mom for what happened. That that is when God wanted to take Adrienne and that his family prayed for us and my recovery. 

I had never thought of what my mother went through because she never showed me her pain or vulnerability for one second. I can't imagine the blame she felt, the guilt, the responsibility of taking care of someone's else's child and then it all going horribly wrong. But she showed nothing but love. And things were normal while she was braiding my hair and reading me stories and driving me to ballet. And my dad really was a pillar of strength and him offering me that present was his own genius way of trying to give an eight-year-old a reason to live, something to look forward to. I wasn't really the strong one. They were the strong ones because they had carefully led me to this place where I could live like an absolutely normal sixteen-year-old kid, and Adrienne was never going to be sixteen. It hit me hard staring at the handwriting of her mourning father and I couldn't run off to my Barbie Dream House. And for the first time I sat down at that dining room table and I cried. 

Thank you.