A month and a half ago, near midnight on June 21st, I was almost off work. I had closed out my last tab and was waiting for my boss to give me the OK and sign off on my paperwork. Lucy, Gabby and Peter were at my apartment, hanging out and drinking beer, and I wanted to go home and join them. My boss said, “You’re set to go, but really quick, can you get some ones for me?” and handed me 6 twenty dollar bills. “Sure,” I replied, and turned right out of the front door of the bar, walking to Cat’s Eye Pub and exchanging 2 twenties for 40 ones. Next I went to Waterfront and got 40 more ones. I turned around and headed back towards my bar, passing it and crossing the street and into John Steven’s to find change for the remaining 2 twenties. I’ve known the bartender there, Tony, for a few years through other bartending friends in the city. I asked if he had change and he said, “Sorry, Sweetie, we’re all out,” and I said, “It’s fine!” and patted his back as I walked out the side door to head back to my bar. A month later, Tony would later tell me he watched me through the window to make sure I got back safely. Walking around at midnight with a pocketful of cash is never a safe or sure thing.
I stopped in between two parallel parked cars and watched a car approaching slowly from the right. The moving car came to a stop and waved me on to cross the street. I nodded my head at him and stepped out onto the street.
I was floating. I was frozen in the air, floating in the dark. I was just a pair of eyeballs staring at a black road and a dirty curb in Fells Point. I said “Oh my God,” and realized I was also a voice. Just two eyeballs and a voice and “Oh my God,” and then the weight of my body against the asphalt realized and I could feel. I could feel everything. I don’t know who was there first but suddenly a bunch of hands turned me onto my back and I looked up at faces looking back down on me. I don’t remember the expressions. I saw my boss, she frantically repeated “Sarah, Sarah.” I saw Tony and held onto his arm. A girl said, “Sarah, I don’t know if you remember me, I’m Annie’s older sister,” and I replied “Oh my God.” Some time passed and it all felt very fast. The pastry chef from my work said, “I have your phone, Sarah, who do I need to call, I already called your parents. I said “Call John, call John, call John,” and she came back and said “John’s phone is off, who do you want me to call,” and I said, “Call Willie, he is with John, Oh my God.”
A man said, “Sarah, move your arms above your head, can you do that?” and the entire crowd of people surrounding me screamed NO at him. People were talking to each other. I was holding someone’s hand. Someone told me a motorcycle hit me. I never saw the motorcycle, or the someone. I lied on my back and opened and closed my eyes a lot. My face felt very wet. The back of my head felt very wet. I heard an ambulance grow louder and louder until it was so close I thought it would run right over me.
I stared at the black sky and thought, Can I refuse to get into the ambulance, I don’t have health insurance, I wonder if any of these people will drive me to my parents’ house. Some new faces appeared and blocked my vision of the sky, and they said some words and I don’t know if I responded properly but I just wanted to say, “Let me be very clear here, guys, I don’t have health insurance, how much is this gonna run me, I didn’t even get paid yet tonight,” but I didn’t say any of that and soon they were turning me over onto my side and slipping a stretcher underneath me. A pain on the lower right side of my abdomen shot through me, my entire spine felt like it had fallen apart, and the back of my head felt wetter. My hair is very dark, could they see that it was wet back there? What if they don’t check? Something is going on in the back of my head, it’s not supposed to feel like that.
The EMTs lifted my stretcher and for a split second I could see the crowd of people that had formed around me—my boss, Tony, Annie’s sister, and a bunch of drunk regulars, all with faces that made me frightened. I saw $80 in ones scattered around me in the street. I thought, Was this some sort of fucked up robbery?
Inside the ambulance was bright and quiet, fluorescent and sterile. I don’t remember how many people were back there, moving around me quickly in small movements. I noticed I couldn’t see anything properly. I thought of my wet head and face and thought Oh God, head trauma, am I going blind, and then realized my left contact had been knocked out of my eye. I looked at the EMTs and was about to tell them, “Hey, one of my contacts has been knocked out. Should I take the other one out? I think if you only wear one contact for too long, it can really mess up your eyesight and to be honest, I think if my eyesight gets any worse I will be legally blind.” The EMTs looked busy though. I saw them laughing and joking around with each other while hooking things up to me. What the fuck? Was this some kind of ‘calming technique’ they often employed to make the injured person feel more at ease? If they were laughing, I was probably fine, right? They could let me out right here, and we could all laugh about the night, wave off the ambulance and the bill and just agree this was all a big misunderstanding. Let me out, right here’s fine, guys. I’ll walk it off.
I felt a man start cutting through my black corduroy shorts. He started at the bottom and worked upwards, towards my face. He didn’t stop until he was at my neck, seamlessly cutting through my entire outfit, and he spread open my clothing like a frog he was dissecting. My mother had bought me underwear for my birthday the month before. The underwear were two sizes too big, or something, I don’t know if it was a joke or she thought that was my size, I have no idea, but we all laughed about it. I had worn a pair for the first time that night. Oh my God I am wearing gigantic underwear, I thought with a neutral facial expression as I stared at the ceiling of the ambulance. Nobody made fun of me, which I thought was nice.
The ambulance started moving, and no one rode in the back with me. I guess they all crammed into the front seat. I lied in the back, tubes coming out of my arms, something wrapped around my chest, the lights very bright and my face and head still feeling very wet. I couldn’t look anywhere but straight forward, straight up towards the white ceiling. The siren made everything seem very far away. The back of an ambulance is the loudest and quietest place I’ve ever experienced. It was very lonely.
Once we got to the hospital, I was wheeled out and through hallways, everything still very fluorescent and sterile. I looked into the faces of people looking down on me as we wheeled past them, not caring what I looked like because I knew I didn’t look like me. I knew my face was covered in blood and dirt and nobody would ever know who I was. I was just another body.
In the emergency room, everyone was a lot more frantic and concerned-seeming, which made me feel much safer. Fuck those EMTs and their diligent, quick efforts, their calm, smiling faces. Fuck their assuredness. I’m not okay. Someone fix me. The nurses and doctors poked me in different areas and asked me what hurt and what didn’t and finally I said, “The back of my head, I think the back of my head is bleeding.” At least ten hands lifted me over to my side in order to keep my spine straight. I helped hold myself up by holding onto the hand of a female nurse who had crouched down next to the bed. My face was only a few inches from her face, and even though I knew my face didn’t look mine, she looked at me as if she knew who I was. I felt cold water on the back of my head and someone said, “We’re going to give you some shots, it won’t hurt too much,” and I felt needles pricking my scalp. The nurse in front of me squeezed my hand and said they were going to staple my head, but I won’t be able to feel it because of the shots they just gave me. I nodded and then heard the staples. I felt them against my head, pushing forward and into my skull, but I couldn’t feel the actual staples. And finally, for the first time that night, I started crying. The tears ran sideways down my face and into my hair and I said, “I’m really scared.” The nurse looked back at me and her face was so sad, and it made me feel better because I knew our faces matched.