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Cost of Convenience

by BC Purchas 4 months ago in trauma

a true story

Cost of Convenience
Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplash

To wake up mesmerized and still breathing was both terrifying and humbling. I woke up, forever changed, at 20 years old. I woke up with a traumatic brain injury – a TBI that would set the tone for the rest of my life. But I didn’t know it then. The fall Colorado breeze brushed against my hair, my black Security Forces beret now MIA, having shot out of the SUV like I did. Shot out of the windshield that smashed. Shot out, landing right on my head then blacking out.

When I woke, my eyes were blurry and deceptive. Much like the God I was having a hard time believing in. My glasses, shattered. Maybe. Doesn’t matter. I couldn’t move, the silence of the white spots above me, the tiny little lights. Confusion started to hit. Confusion before the panic. Confusion, a smoke bomb spewing its contents out. What happened? Where was I? And while my memories of a lot of things are smushed like mud, this night I remember, the scent of the cool fall Colorado breeze still inside my head. Because this night is the night where my life pivots. I didn’t know it. You won’t, either. It comes at us, doesn’t it? Left field and all.

My panic began to rise when I tried to move my foot. My heavy, awkward, size 10 foot. Shoved inside an Air Force standard-polished sheen black boot. My blousing bands still tight but the wrinkly bottom of my green and brown camo Air Force BDU pants is ripped half out. My eyes, blurry and my brain fuzzy, chaotic, realizes that my feet are still attached. I know this all happens in the kind of time the universe knows. The kind of time that passes so fast, the reality around you fades like some kind of warped fever dream. And still, tick, tick, tick the time goes by. Because that’s how time works. It just keeps going. Like my blood, drip, drip, dripping down, sliding, oozing a little, down the side of my white, pale, freckled face. The irony of my near-possible death before I even make it to war fades in and out like old photographs. And then the stark realization that I’m lying splayed here, staring at my own early death, only because I didn’t put my seatbelt on.

It was too inconvenient.

And this, this is the kind of shit that crosses your mind before you realize that if the now-crushed patrol SUV rolls over one more time in your direction, and it’s squeaking like a rusty mop bucket with half its wheels missing so the odds are stacked against you, that your legs will be gone. And then everything inside of you will implode because that’s too much.

My neck hurts and this fucking bullet proof vest is stuffy and scratchy against my chest. I try, over and over again, to scream for help. Because I was trained for this. And I’m a Senior Airman. And I was driving, I think. And that means this is my fault. And the next thing that hits my frontal lobe is Townes was there, too and now he’s dead and I’m alive because there’s no fucking way this is Heaven. So I try to piece it together. But the panic and the terror of a vehicle crushing my individualization, my independence, my foundation, doesn’t settle. It never settles. Even after the war.

Townes. There he is. His face, not mired in blood or bruises. His face, the full, young hopeful face of a kid that trusted me with his life, he leans over me. He’s standing and I still can’t move or say anything but I keep trying to reach my hand out to him. My arm, my hand, left, right, any of it, none of it would move. And nothing works, so I stop trying. The next thing to cross my fizzy unclear thinking machine is that I’m not going to Camp Bucca. Iraq. The place the world avoids unless you’re us. Bored and young with nothing left to do. So you volunteer. Over and over and over again, you volunteer to go over there. But you lie to your family and say you had no choice, it’s not up to you. Orders. And all.

So far east, surrounded by open green hills with incredible views straight into the Rocky Mountains, just over 21 miles outside Colorado Springs, Schriever Air Force Base was in the middle of nearly-nowhere. And being in the middle of nearly-nowhere meant nothing so exciting had happened in 18 months and since nothing ever happened here, my rollover accident was very exciting.

For some, my accident was a hopeful light through the quicksand of boredom at Schriever. I didn’t fault them for wanting my spot on the deployment rotation to the “detainment facility” – prison – called Camp Bucca. In fact, I understood.

Townes winces, and I know he’s in pain. But he’s alive and up and so far I’m alive. And maybe not paralyzed, jury’s still out. So Townes does what I wanted to do. The radio cracks, the one that’s in his hands, as the Control Desk responds by sending all units, tells us they are calling the off-base fire department that’s at least 30 minutes west of us and notifying Bravo 1, the Flight Sergeant. It wasn’t 6 months after all this happened that we got on-base fire and medical units 24/7.

My ears ring but I can hear the bubbles of Townes’s croaking dark voice, the thickness of the terror that trims the fat of certainty. The certainty we all funneled through because someone with a lot more stripes than us said we knew enough. That we were good enough. Ha. Good enough? Finally.

Control crossed over the radio with helpful advice for Townes, ”Make sure she stays awake! Can she move her feet?”

”I don’t know. Hey, P! Can you move your feet?” He looks down with me at my boots, and toes wiggle. It takes a lot of effort, but I’m able to move both my feet. Breathing sighs of gratitude for my moving feet, my panic loosens a little. But the fear takes over.

”Yeah, she can move both feet.”

There I still am, sprawled out like the outline of a dead body. The bubbles of static from Townes’s radio, now limp in his gentle clutch, echoed and “Roger that” clacked out of his voice. He sounded thirsty. It seemed as though our flight sergeant, Sergeant Thompson, showed up like an angel from a dark void. His bright headlights and screaming sirens allowed me some relief. Townes leaned over me, crouching, and told me to keep my eyes open. Sergeant Thompson was grabbing out his emergency kit while he told me “the ambulance is on its way” and that, “no matter how much I want to, don’t fall asleep. Stay awake. Tell me what happened.”

When the patrol radio crackled calling for a response to an unauthorized attempted entry, my foot hit the gas, Townes hopped in and we were off. 15 miles per hour, hitting those ruts. The ruts, in the too-narrow concrete “road” were deep enough to push the bald-tired SUV to the right, aiming us right at the 9 inch steel culvert gate. The windshield was in perfect alignment with the monstrous mouth of the thing, and I was convinced we would be in a head on collision if I didn’t do something to miss it. So I did too much, over-correcting, tossing the shitty forest green janky ass SUV again and now it flies over and tumbles. I don’t remember how many times it rolled. I don’t remember being thrown out of the windshield when we were in the air. I do remember telling myself to relax because I would have a better chance of surviving if I didn’t panic. A deep breath and I threw my arms in front of my face when I knew it was too late, when I had lost control. My hands covered my face and I tucked my chin in and closed my eyes because I can’t look. And then I let go.

Everything faded to black and when my eyes opened again, it was so bright. I was strapped into a long stretcher, a group of my fellow Airmen crowding behind the smaller group of ambulance techs and firemen. Flashlights and headlamps, headlights beaming all over in every direction. The firemen and ambulance techs were yelling out information and words I didn’t understand. They yelled at each other, at me, yelling my name, saying to squeeze his hand and can I feel my toes? They hold my neck still, the yellow collar is so big it blocks my vision, what little I have. I still can’t make anything out except Townes’s form getting smaller as they one, two, the-ree me up into the ambulance. Sergeant Thompson’s voice was gentle which was weird because he was such a gruff and hard guy, hard on us. I hear him on the radio telling the dispatch desk to expedite the emergency vehicles exiting, me loaded into the back, through the east gate. No one tells me what happened. I don’t ask. The ambulance techs keep asking me questions but I’m so tired. A stick in three, two, there it is. They keep me talking. I don’t want to talk.

I don’t know what they’re saying sometimes. Sometimes everything is grey around the rim of my eyeballs and then it all feels like too much so I want to sleep. I feel limp. The ambulance ride is long and tedious. The tech taps me and pokes me and she says, as her long dirty amber hair sweeps across her face she says, “can you tell me what day it is?” And I say, “Thursday”. I know it’s Thursday because tomorrow is my first date with Ashley and now I have to call her and tell her that I won’t be meeting her after all. And the panic from knowing that if I call her right now may end my career seeps through. What if the ambulance driver tells my Senior Master Sergeant that I called a girl about a date, that I’m for sure a lesbian, that I don’t deserve to be here? That I don’t belong? I’m different. Because ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ forced me to hide parts of myself for a long, long time. In some ways, I still hide parts of myself. Shame has long fingers.

As I contemplate calling Ashley or not, another thought passes through telling me it’s fine because my Air Force career is over anyway. There’s no way I’m going to Iraq, not now. It hurts to move my arm into my pocket to grab my phone so the ambulance tech helps me. She smiles and I dial, blurry eyed. Ashley answers and says she will meet me at my place afterward, after I get out of the hospital, whenever that is.

Cool night air passes as I’m wheeled in through big, glass hospital doors. Cash-eww the doors hiss and I feel the ruts of the rug beneath the wheels of the bed. My heartbeat is calmer with painkillers injected into my system.

The hospital doors are loud and everything around me is banging and clicking and creaking, the shuffles of janitorial staff and nurses’ feet flesh out the background noise. The nurses that wheeled me and this bed-stretcher in click-click me into place to lock the wheels. Then they huddle around me, loading themselves up with the board I’m strapped to and they transfer me onto the hospital bed. The anesthesiologist grabs a big plastic incubation mask with a hose. Other nurses are hovering and the yellow collar itches like my bullet proof vest did. The firemen and ambulance techs had the vest off me, along with the rest of my clothes, right there with my Flight Sergeant, my riding shift partner, Townes, and all the security cameras around the perimeter. My bullet proof vest was new. I had been wearing the ‘standard issue vest’ which was built for men. The bullet proof vest may have softened the rest of my landing after I hit my head on concrete and gravel. The bullet proof vest is replaced by a 70 pound Kevlar plated flak vest when you go to war. Also built for men.

In the intense fluorescent lighting of the operating room, shadows flashed on the ceiling. The pitted and pocked ceiling tiles are yellowish and water stained in spots. Still so tired, confused, scared, I watch the doctors in green scrubs fix the things attached to their various pockets. The startle of gloves snapping, I know how fast time is moving now.

The nurse at the top of my pounding head complains loud enough for me to hear through all the echoes of ringing in my ears. She complains that my head is gushing, just won’t stop bleeding on her. That’s the last thing I remember before everything went black again.


About the author

BC Purchas

Full-time writer. Part-time podcaster. Constantly curious. Proud LGBT combat veteran.

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