A good many years ago, in the days before college degrees and marriage and mortgages and kids, there was a guy and a girl and a very eventful visit to Massachusetts.
BrightSide and I went to see my parents in the summer of 1993. Since we didn’t really think sitting around staring at my family all day was a great way to pass the time, we decided to go to Martha’s Vineyard for a day. Neither of us had been before and we wanted to check it out before heading back to Virginia.
So one morning we got up bright and early to catch the ferry.
Had I been more familiar with the island, I might have had some sense of apprehension about that day. I’ve since learned that this was the site of Senator Ted Kennedy’s deadly (for his companion) car accident and the location for Steven Spielberg’s movie Jaws, both of which cast a bit of shadow on the “sunny tourist destination” vibe.
But no, unburdened by these tidbits, we left my parents’ house for some sightseeing on a pleasant New England summer’s day.
I remember it was warm so I was wearing khaki shorts and one of my favorite shirts, a sleeveless blue blouse. After reaching the island we made what turned out to be a critical error in judgement. We rented mopeds for the day.
I’d like to take just a moment to describe the process of moped rental, at least as it existed on Martha’s Vineyard in the early ’90s. We walked into a shop and told the guy we wanted to rent two mopeds. We paid some money and signed some papers. I’m certain they must have asked to see our driver’s licenses, though I don’t actually remember that part. Then they took us out front.
I vaguely remember a 30 second tutorial before the guy told me to ride around the block. (I’m guessing this is the “if they come back in one piece, they’ll probably do okay” evaluation.) When I arrived back at the shop he asked if everything was fine, I said sure, and that was that. I was the proud rider of a moped for the day.
It might be useful to point out here that I was not fine. In fact, I was probably a great distance from “fine” on the how-are-you-doing scale. Sure, I could work the gas and brakes and yes, I managed to make four right turns without wrecking, but…I was freaking out just a little bit the entire time I was riding that thing. Maintaining balance, having to think about different brakes and gas and turn signals, being surrounded by air instead of a car frame…all of these things were causing some pretty uncomfortable anxiety.
You’re probably asking “so why did you rent it, Laura?” Why, that’s an excellent question, my friend, one that I’ve asked myself for years. Let’s call it a combination of things – BrightSide was there, it seemed like something I should be able to handle, it was basically a bike with an itty-bitty motor, they rent them to freakin’ everybody so surely I’d be able to drive the thing. Oh, and let’s not forget The Plan.
The Plan was to rent mopeds and hang out on Martha’s Vineyard for the day. One does not deviate from The Plan, therefore we were renting mopeds. On Martha’s Vineyard. For the day.
(Thankfully, I have since learned that sometimes The Plan goes poorly and then it’s really in everyone’s best interest to call bullshit and move on.)
As best as I can recall, things went fine for a while. I have a hazy memory of eating lunch somewhere, so we must have at least enjoyed a morning of sightseeing and a meal together. Unfortunately, none of that is stored securely in my long-term memory.
BrightSide and I were heading for who knows where – the next tiny spot on the island, I guess. We were only going about 35 mph when we began approaching a curve in the road. Now, this wasn’t a sharp turn, we’re talking a gentle curve to the right, piece of cake. Slowing down for this would have put me around 25 mph probably, and BrightSide was pulling out of the curve ahead of me. That was about the time I realized how wrong things were going.
Remember that part about me not ACTUALLY being fine with the whole driving-the-moped thing? That kind of comes into play here.
I had slowed down, knowing I’d have to turn the front wheel slightly and lean into the turn, except I didn’t really pull off the “lean into the turn” part of this scenario. Because as I was driving that road, moving into the curve, I suddenly knew with complete clarity that I was not going to make it. I felt the moped not turning enough to make it around the curve, and I knew I wasn’t going to stay in my lane. And somehow, in the blink of an eye, I processed my options: continue my pitiful moped driving and drift into oncoming traffic or lay the moped down.
I chose to lay it down.
I remember the jarring impact when I hit the pavement but (thankfully) don’t really remember being dragged across the road by the moped. When I became aware that I was lying in the street I stayed perfectly still – I remember telling myself not to move, just wait for help, because I didn’t know how badly I was hurt. It was while I was silently assessing my pain that I scared the bejesus out of BrightSide.
From his perspective everything was going fine. He’d pulled out of the curve only to look back and see me lying in the road, totally still. It didn’t help that when BrightSide reached me I had blood trickling from the corner of my mouth. It was a pretty heart stopping moment for him.
So. A pretty summer day on The Vineyard had turned into a pretty college student covered in horrific road rash. The hospital was only about half a mile away so the ambulance arrived fairly quickly, but the best was yet to come.
Negatives from the accident site: It hurt like hell. I didn’t know how much damage I’d done. And (something I didn’t learn until later) I’d managed to knock the diamond out of the engagement ring BrightSide had given me only six months earlier.
Positives from the accident site: I was actually conscious. We’d bought accident insurance on the mopeds. And (again, something I learned later) while they were loading me onto a stretcher BrightSide looked down and, miracle of miracles, spotted my diamond glittering amongst all the broken glass.
My time in the ER is a blur of crushing pain as they cleaned and treated road rash wounds. I still sport several scars from that drag across the pavement more than 20 years ago, but the worst injury by far was my jaw.
You see, the moped rental place did provide helmets, but they were those little beanie helmets that might be helpful if you were dropped squarely on the top of your head. Mine wasn’t terribly effective when it came to my face slamming into the street. (Jaw versus pavement – anyone want to lay bets on the winner of THAT fight?)
There was some cosmetic damage to my teeth. I’d chipped one of my front teeth during impact, which is what may have cut my lip and caused the oh-my-God-I-think-she’s-dead trickle of blood. Also, the spot where my chin hit the pavement was cut deep. And I mean DEEP. (Another fun scar.) Seeing the bone as they cleaned the debris from that wound is one of the few medical moments that BrightSide freely admits made him weak in the knees.
I remember excruciating pain, which one might think could be attributed to the nurse digging gravel and dirt out of my chin. But then they took an x-ray, and guess who’d cracked her jaw? That’s right. ME! Sheesh.
In the end I found out that moped accidents were a pretty frequent occurrence on The Vineyard, but that didn’t diminish the horrified looks on other ferry passengers’ faces when they saw me hobbling aboard that afternoon to go home. It didn’t make it any easier to walk through the door to greet my parents looking like I’d survived a brutal attack. And it definitely didn’t help on the flight home a few days later, when I awkwardly fit myself into an aisle seat, cringing every time the drink cart hit my leg.
Honestly, sometimes I look back on my life and I can literally hear Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor” running as the soundtrack…