Chapter 4: NEW YORK, NEW YORK (Part 9 and 10)
The temptation to confront Angie and Bobby almost overpowered my good sense. It would be easy, I thought. I could bump into them, casual as you please, just in town for a pleasant afternoon of culture and lunch, as they came out of a curio shop. Imagine, you two, together! Oh, no Richard had to work. He’s always working. The girls? Yes, it would have been delightful if you could have met them. But they had things to do, children to play with, can’t drag them out of Cranbury it seems.
However, I was sensible. Our meeting would have been, at best, awkward. Angie wouldn’t have known what to say, realized the sight of her with Bobby stunned and enraged me, and the result would have been blistering acrimony in the doorway, for I doubt either of us would have contained ourselves. And Bobby was anything but the exemplification of self-control. Though maybe he had changed. So much of him was different, on the surface, superficially improved. Maybe his temper and his perpetual indignation, especially in the presence of people like me, had mellowed or dissipated altogether.
Too, I could not have said anything to persuade her that Bobby was poison for her, that he was as evil now as he had been in Creek Falls High. She would have been deaf to the fact that bared itself on the street. Bobby was deceiving her, using her for a purpose known only to him. What else would I have said, the person who hated Bobby? She probably would have attributed my attitude, my accusation, as the very reason she had not called me about the wedding, had not invited me to their place, and had forbade Richard from disclosing anything of Bobby and her to me.
I reach for a platter and there isn’t one. I’ve wrapped and packed everything on the table, everything in the kitchen. In another week, the movers will arrive and shortly after we will reside in Rancho Bernardo.
The doorbell rings. I glance at the clock. It will be Samantha. She could enter through the garage by simply punching in the code she’s memorized. But she prefers the front door. She claims it is the only civilized way to enter your home. I walk through the hall past the family and living rooms. I think how sad the house is; as if already it is empty, no longer mine, its heart gone elsewhere.
I open the door, hardly treating the action as anything but routine. I begin my chant, “Samantha, it would be much easier if you just let yourself in through —“
But it is not Samantha. It is a Cranbury community service officer. He smiles. His smile is wan, the official projection of the police as your friend.
I nod. “Is there something wrong?” Of course there is. Police do not show up at your front door to deliver good news. No, Mrs. DeSantis, nothing wrong. Just showing appreciation for your safe driving record. Not likely.
“Mrs. DeSantis,” he intones, “I’m sorry to report there’s been a school bus accident.”
I have been gripping the doorknob and now I am glad for it, for it is the reason I am not falling.
“Samantha, my daughter, she’s not —“ I’m imagining fearsome things, terrible injuries, Samantha screaming and dying.
“No, Mrs. DeSantis, she’s a little banged up, but nothing serious. All the children have been transported to Princeton Hospital. I’m here to offer you a ride, if you don’t have one, or don’t feel you can drive.”
“Banged up?” I believe I’m in control but by the expression of concern on the officer’s face says I may not be. My voice tightens, my eyes enlarge, and my skin grows clammy. “What’s banged up mean?”
“Sorry, Mrs. DeSantis, cuts and bruises. They, the paramedics, they tell us nothing serious. The children are at the hospital for observation, just to be sure.”
I’m tempted to accept his offer of a ride, but I have Emily at Carol’s, and there’s Richard.
“I’m fine. I can drive. I have to pick up my other daughter. Did anybody call my husband?”
He tells me Richard has been notified, but hasn’t responded. It’s likely the reason the officer is here, to be helpful. Cranbury’s that kind of town and another reason I hate leaving.
I’m closing the door, when he asks, “Are you sure about the ride?”
I smile. I know it’s exaggerated. “I’m good, really.”
I close the door. It latches, and I can’t budge. I’m shaking and crying. I’m thinking it was a narrow escape; thinking anything can happen anytime; thinking how little power we have over our lives, over when we are to die; remembering Samantha as a baby; seeing her as grown woman. I cannot stop the thoughts; they flood my brain and paralyze me.
I don’t realize I’ve been planted in front of the door for five minutes until I uproot myself and bolt into the kitchen and glance at the clock. I phone Carol. She puts Emily on the line and I’m explicit. She cannot go the front way. She can’t go in the street. Though, of course, Emily’s route is always through the backyards. I might be hysterical.
I punch in Richard’s cell number. His voicemail greets me. I leave a detailed message as I watch Emily dash across the yard to me.
“I want to play more,” she pouts, once inside.
I am tense and edgy and I know I should think before I speak. I know what to do but I can’t do it. I snap, “We’ve got to go. Your sister’s bus had an accident.” The words sound horribly urgent, I know, because they feel just dreadful on my lips.
Emily begins whimpering.
I scoop her up and reassure her, brushing her tears with my thumb. “She’s fine, Emily. Just a few bumps and dings, like the time you tripped and fell down the stairs. Remember?” She shakes her head. “Okay, let’s go and see how many bumps Samantha has.”
I put her down. She swipes her cheeks with her shirtsleeve. “I bet not as many as me,” she says, cheering at the prospect of a contest with Samantha.
I drive faster than normal for me. I’m a cautious driver, especially when the girls are in the car, which is pretty much always. Emily is in the back humming; she likes fast, everything fast.
We arrive at the hospital and rush into the emergency room. Parents pack it. Most are completing forms. At the desk, the nurse informs me Samantha is nearly ready to be released and asks me to fill out forms. I know Richard hasn’t been here; otherwise, I wouldn’t be scribbling insurance information on forms fastened to a clipboard, anxious to see my daughter. Many of the parents have brought their other children and Emily occupies herself with them. After I return the forms, the nurse allows me to see Samantha. I grab Emily and hustle us into the treatment area.
We find Samantha balancing on the edge of a gurney in the hallway. She has a band-aid above her right eye and another on her right knee but otherwise appears fine. In fact, she’s happy.
When she spots us, she starts to bound off the gurney, but we are quicker than she is. Emily and I hug and kiss her, and she kisses us back.
“What happened?” I ask, touching her hair, her face, her arms.
“A car hit us.”
“Where?” I ask.
“I mean, what part of the bus did the car hit?”
I envision children whiplashed. Reflexively, I ask, “Does your neck hurt?”
She shakes her head no, and I say, “Don’t move your head.”
“Did you bleed a lot?” asks Emily.
Samantha shakes her head.
“Please keep your head still,” I urge.
“Anybody bleed a lot?” persists Emily.
Samantha starts to shake her head, stops, says, “No.”
“What kind of accident is that?” says Emily, clearly puzzled and disappointed.
“A lucky accident,” I say, and laugh nervously.
“What’s funny?” demands Emily.
“Oh,” I say, “it’s something of an oxymoron.”
“Words that mean the opposite used together, “I explain.
“That’s silly,” she huffs.
“Exactly.” I pause, then ask Samantha, “Do you see the doctor who cared for you?”
She surveys the room and gestures.
“You two wait right here,” I say. Pointing at Samantha, “And you stay on the bed.”
The doctor is a man. He’s remarkably tall, six-five if I have to guess. He has black, curly hair, a mass of long unkempt locks. He’s younger than me, but already worn in the face. He wears blue scrubs that, idly I note, coordinate with the ER. I intercept him before he’s occupied with another patient.
I introduce myself. “You treated my daughter,” I say, indicating Samantha perched obediently on the edge of the gurney.
“She’s fine,” he says, “bumps and bruises. Nothing internal. She’ll probably be sore for a day or so. Aspirin will do it.”
I’d like to quiz him but I don’t have a question at hand and he doesn’t have time to wait. “Thank you,” I say, and he’s gone.
I round up Samantha and Emily. As we exit the parking lot, Samantha complains she’s hungry and Emily choruses. Under duress, I stop at a McDonald’s. We use the drive-thru. It isn’t until we’re on the road again and they are eating in the back that I remember I haven’t yet heard from Richard. I don’t know if I truly expected to see him at the hospital. Maybe I did. His office isn’t far. But he may not be in his office today. I’m angry. He could phone at the least. His daughter is in an accident. He doesn’t know whether it is serious or minor. He should be concerned, worried, frightened, like me. He should call. I know he has listened to my message. Richard is fanatical about keeping on top of his messages and dedicated to responding immediately. Maybe his own daughter’s accident isn’t interesting business.
From the back, Samantha whines, “Mommy, my head hurts.”
“Only a few minutes and we’ll be home. I’ll give you a couple of aspirin. Then you can lie down.”
She utters a feeble, “Okay.”
The girls are quiet until we are in Cranbury, within a block or two of our house, when Samantha remarks, “It looks like the car that hit my bus.”
Her words, what she sees passing us, nothing registers with me for a second or two. Suddenly, as if the car has rear-ended us and I am trying to recount the collision, I spin my head around and catch the back-end of the receding auto. It is extraordinary, a throwback to the sixties, roughed up by time and use, and sun-dulled—but still blue; it is the color of a clear sky; the color of the ER doctor’s scrubs; the color my kitchen that’s very strange to me.
“What?” I say, on the verge of shouting. “A car like that hit your bus. Did you tell the police?”
Samantha adopts a schoolgirl primness. “Yes, Mother. They asked all of us if we saw who hit our bus.”
“Did they arrest the person driving the car?”
“No. Why not?”
“The car didn’t stop. It hit us and passed us and drove away.”
“That’s outrageous,” sputtering, glancing at Samantha in the rearview mirror.
She shrugs. I wonder what she means. So what? Do people ever stop these days? Or maybe, why are mothers surprised when they should know, should have asked the police or the doctor or somebody other than a child about the details of an accident that sent a bus load of children to the hospital?
We arrive home with me upset that Samantha could have suffered a terrible injury, furious at Richard for demonstrating not an iota of concern for his family, and vexed by my own failure to probe the assembled about the accident.
Emily wants to return to Carol’s to play. She announces her desire before we can climb out of the car. Fortunately, Carol spied us pulling into the driveway and she meets us. Carol peppers me with endless questions and, though anxious, I am grateful someone cares, and think this is exactly what I expect of Richard, exactly what Richard can’t seem to deliver—authentic concern and involvement.
In the house, Samantha says she wants to nap and I agree rest is best. On our way to her bedroom, I ask, off-handedly, “The blue, what do you think of it?”
“What blue?” she asks.
She shrugs.” Yeah, it’s okay.”
“Not odd. Maybe different.”
She shakes her head and walks up the stairs, and I’m behind her. She pauses, turns, and stares at me, a hint of surprise in her expression.
“It looks like the car,” she says.
“The kitchen. The blue in the kitchen looks like the car.”
“Oh,” I say, turning my head toward the kitchen.
“The doctor, too,” she adds.
“What a coincidence,” I say.
In her room, she stretches out on the bed, and I cover her with a blanket. She shifts onto her side and is asleep before I’ve left to get her aspirin.
In our bedroom, I check the answering machine for messages. There are a few, but nothing from Richard. I cannot believe he has not received my call. He is, doubtlessly, avoiding me. I sit down on the bed. We’re wrapping up our life in Cranbury, New Jersey. The girls are saying their goodbyes at school. Their father is saying his goodbyes in places like the Howard Johnson’s. I know it.