The first thing I remember about the day that changed my life is opening my eyes and seeing fluorescent lights above me. I couldn’t turn my head in either direction without feeling an intense pain shooting down my spine, so I kept looking up at the fluorescent lights. There’s no reason for you to know this, but I hate fluorescent lights. I don’t know who created them, but I wish they stayed home that day. I remember realizing I was in a hospital, but I don’t remember how I got there. I remember lying on that hospital bed for what felt like an hour before a nurse came in to check on me. It could have been ten minutes, it could have been thirty seconds, but to me, it felt like an hour. Nevertheless, my nurse was finally here.
“Where am I?” I asked her.
“Hi, Leah. You are at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, Maine. Do you remember anything from last night?”
“No. I didn’t even know where I was until thirty seconds ago.” I answered, immediately regretting my irritated tone. “I’m sorry, I’m just confused. What’s your name?” I added, hoping to soften the mood in the room.
“My name is Shelby. Last night, a drunk driver ran a red light and t-boned your car while you were driving. You don’t remember being in your car at all?” She asked me, her concern becoming increasingly apparent.
“I remember sitting at my kitchen table and having a craving for powdered donuts last night and getting in my car to go get some.” I giggled at the thought of powdered donuts almost getting me killed.
She looked puzzled by the laughter. She didn’t know me well enough to see the humor in this.
“Why does my entire body hurt?” I asked her, only half wanting to know the answer.
“Well, Leah, it may not seem like it, but you actually got really lucky last night. You sustained a minor concussion, three vertebrae in your cervical spine are broken which explains the pain when you’re trying to turn your head, your right shoulder blade is broken, and your airbag deployed which broke your nose. All of these injuries are expected to heal very well because you’re young and otherwise healthy.”
I paused for a moment to process this information. “All right. When can I go home?”
“We would like to keep you here for a few days to make sure there is no internal bleeding, or anything more serious than what we’ve found already.” Shelby replied.
I smiled in acknowledgment.
“All right. Thanks. I’m going to get some rest.”
As I was lying there, I realized that I never actually got my powdered donuts, and then wondered what was wrong with me because that’s what I was thinking about. I need a distraction. I pushed every button on my fancy, Mesozoic Era hospital bed remote until I was sitting up enough to set my gaze on the television. Seinfeld, thank God.
I watched TV for a little while before my eyes caught a glimpse of a large plastic bag sitting on the sterile-looking armchair in the corner of the room. The bag looked like it was coated in blood, and from here it looked like my favorite jean jacket. If the person who hit me made me miss out on donuts AND ruin my favorite jacket in one night, I’m going to be SO upset. I pressed the button that summoned the nurse.
She walked in with a smile on her face. “What’s up, Leah?”
“Is that my stuff?” I asked her, directing my gaze to the bloody bag on the chair.
“Oh, yes. Do you want me to bring it over to you?”
She walked over and placed the bag ever-so-gently on my lap.
“We weren’t allowed to wash anything without your permission, I’m sorry. There’s quite a bit of blood on your clothing, and your phone seems to be destroyed. I was told there was no wallet or purse in your car, but your license and a few dollars were in the pocket of the jeans you were wearing.”
“Thank you. By the way, is the person who hit me okay?” I asked her.
Shelby looked confused by this question. “He’s alive, I can’t tell you much more than that. Besides, he’s not my patient.”
“I understand. This all feels really unfair.” I said quietly.
“It’s not fair but try to stay positive, sweetheart. You’re alive to have this conversation with me.” Shelby replied, as her pager beeped from her waistband. “I have to go see another patient. I'll be back to check on you soon."
Shelby walked out, and I was alone with my thoughts and my bag of terror. I pulled my jean jacket out of the bag, only to realize it wasn’t mine. Great, my jacket isn’t ruined, it’s gone. I fished around in the pockets to see if I could find anything that could tell me a little bit about the person who hit me. I reached into the right front pocket of the jacket, and felt a smooth, leather-like notebook, about the size of an index card. I pulled it out of the pocket and held it for a moment before I opened it. It was a small black notebook with a leather shell. The side of the pages were gold, and it had a small black ribbon for a bookmark. I knew what I was doing was an invasion of privacy, but I didn’t care at this point. I took a deep breath (which hurt, by the way) and opened the notebook to the page that was bookmarked. What I found caught me completely by surprise and made me giddy with joy.
The page I opened to contained a fully scratched-off scratch ticket. A WINNING scratch ticket. Let me go further… a winning $20,000 scratch ticket. The person who drunkenly drove into the side of my car was going to redeem this winning scratch ticket when they almost killed me. I wonder if this would bring me bad karma if I kept this… I could really use $20,000…
I sat there considering my options. I could keep the ticket, and be $20,000 richer, but possibly be shunned to the depths of Hades upon my demise, or I could return the ticket to someone who clearly didn’t care about the lives of other people. I deserve to keep this. This guy almost killed me, why should I do anything to help him? The moral dilemma continued inside my head for another hour.
I decided to browse this mysterious notebook a little bit more. I flipped to the first page and realized very quickly that this man was documenting his recovery journey. Each page was labeled with how many days he had been sober, and listed on each page was a list of things he was grateful for. I flipped to two days ago – the day before the accident. The page was empty except for four words written at the top of the page: I’ll do better tomorrow. He was on day 75 before that day.
My heart felt like it sank in my chest. I thought about my mother who is an alcoholic, and I know how hard it is to beat this disease. I’ve seen the demons from the front row, and I wouldn’t wish this on anyone – not even someone who almost killed me. I have to return it.
Just as that thought entered my mind, Shelby walked in.
“How are you feeling, honey?” She asked, and I could tell she genuinely cared about the answer.
“I feel okay, but I was going through this bag of my belongings, and this jacket isn’t mine. It must belong to the other person that was in the accident. Can you get it back to him?” There goes $20,000. Just let it go.
“Oh, that has never happened before. Yes, I’ll make sure it gets back to him.” Shelby said with an expression on her face that vaguely resembled pride.
“Great, thank you. I went through the pockets and I found a journal of his sobriety. He was 75 days sober the day before he hit me. He was trying.”
Shelby just smiled as if she understood how I was feeling. I handed her the jacket and the notebook, and she walked out of the room.
The next couple of days passed, and it was time to go home and take care of myself. I thought about the man and the notebook several times throughout the day and found myself hoping he was okay. I know it seems backwards, but good people are not good conditionally, and I put all my effort into being a great person.
I gathered up my belongings, asked the hospital to call me a taxi, and I headed home with a shoulder sling and a neck brace – fashionable, right? I was feeling pretty normal for the most part, with sharp pangs in random parts of my body throughout the day. The taxi driver rounded the corner to my apartment building, and as I saw my home, I felt so excited to be there.
To bring some normalcy into my life, I checked the mail before I went inside. My mailbox was full of weekly grocery flyers and bills as usual, but there was a piece of mail in my mailbox that didn’t have a stamp on it, and only my first name was scribbled on the envelope. Inside the envelope was the winning $20,000 scratch ticket that I had returned to the owner a few days earlier, and a note from the small black notebook that read:
You returned this to me at a time when most people would have kept it. This is for you. Please use it for something you’ve always wanted. I’m so sorry.
I stood there crying at my mailbox and realized my entire life had just changed, and as bizarre as it sounds, I was grateful for all of it.