On Father’s Day, I usually think about the second time my Dad almost died.
After I graduated High School, I wanted to hang out and party and, generally be a degenerate, but my dad had other plans. My choices were to go to college or go to work with him--there wasn't really a third choice.
My Dad has his own construction company that varied in size depending on how the economy was doing in New York. He had as few as 5 employees at one point, and 30 people at another. I didn’t like the idea of doing construction with him because he’s not the easiest person to get along with and construction is hard work. I think he thought that “real work” would convince me to go college, but real work also meant real money and I wasn’t too upset with the gig.
After working construction for a few months, I was getting stronger without realizing it. After lifting 80lb bags of cement and pieces of drywall for 8 hours a day, I was getting stronger than I would've from going to the gym.
The day of the accident, we were doing a demolition job in Harlem. Demolition sucks and normally he wouldn’t have taken the job, but things were a little slow and he had 15 people to keep busy so he took it.
I was working on the second floor with my cousin, Little Joe, when I heard a giant crashing sound and saw that a giant metal staircase had come crashing down. There was a wave of dust that came down with it and washed over us. I was coughing and choking. When I looked over at the mass of twisted metal, I saw two white things staring back at me through the cloud of dust; a pair of eyes. It was my father.
I knew my father was working on the sixth floor, I was on the second. This was not good.
I ran up to the stairs. I saw my father’s expressionless face and it terrified me. He was staring straight ahead and his face was covered in dust. There was blood coming out of the corners of his mouth, his nostrils and his ears. His eyes were bloodshot.
His arm was wrapped in the railing of the stairs and his foot was twisted and trapped in the railing in a position that made it look like it wasn’t even part of his body. The metal had warped and wrapped around him like a serpent that was trying to devour him.
I grabbed the metal railing by his foot and felt that it was warm. As the metal bent and deformed it became warmer and felt alive. I tried frantically to move it, but it wouldn’t yield an inch. As strong as I was, I was useless against it. As I tried in a panic to free his foot I didn’t realize that I was hurting him. He put his hand on my shoulder and said “calmate” (calm down). When he mouthed the words I saw the bloody film on his teeth and really freaked out. I yelled for my cousin Little Joe.
My cousin little Joe is built like a linebacker, which is probably why the position he played in high school was linebacker. He came and helped and somehow we managed to get his foot free. We each grabbed an arm and carried him a few feet away and yelled for an ambulance.
After what felt like hours, the ambulance and fire truck arrived and the managed to get him out of there on a backboard with the help of a fire engine ladder. When I saw him on the backboard I started to really panic. As much as I fought with the old man, there wasn’t a second when I didn’t wish I could trade places with him right them.
At the hospital I looked around. I kept thinking that this was some kind of bad dream, that it couldn’t be real. I noticed the people, the grey walls with the peeling paint and tried to convince myself that it wasn’t really happening. Then I smelled that antiseptic hospital smell and I realized that it wasn’t imaginary. I saw a sea of faces staring at me and I couldn’t figure out why. I caught a glimpse of Indian man holding his crying child and he looked at me like he felt sorry for me. That enraged me. If he felt sorry for me, it had to be because something was wrong—something that I wouldn’t admit.
“What the fuck are you looking at!!!”
I grabbed the construction helmet off my head and threw it across the room. It landed at his feet.
“Hey!” A guard yelled. He got up from his chair by the door and walked toward me. I stood up and my body tensed up as I balled my hand tightly into a fist and waited for him to get closer so I could shove my fist in his face.
A heavy-set black nurse came from behind the reception desk and got between me and the security guard. I was filled with rage and didn’t know why she got in front of me, but she did the one thing I wasn’t expecting--she hugged me. “it’s allllright child.” She said. She caught me completely by surprise and I did something that I hadn’t done since I was seven years old: I cried.
“you’ll be alllright, jus’ go to dee baffroom and wash your face, child” she said in her musical Caribbean voice. The melodic cadence of Trinidadian, Jamaican or West Indian voices always remind me singing and for some reason that calmed me down a bit. She walked me to the bathroom while she argued with the guard who was unsure of what to do and wanted to call the cops.
“I tole you I’m takin’ kerrr of him, no gone back to your post and leave ‘im be. I’m takin kerrr of ‘im”
When I walked into the bathroom I looked in the mirror saw what the old man, and everyone else in the emergency room had been staring at. My face was hidden behind a macabre mask of dust, sweat and blood. Down the entire right side of my face was painted a muddy mixture of dried blood in an abstract pattern and there were two rivers from my eyes to my cheeks carved by the tears. I saw there was a lot of blood and realized that if I saw someone like that I would’ve stared too.
I walked to sink and let the water run. I splashed it on my face and as I washed the dust and blood off I looked on my scalp to find the place where I had been cut. I looked for it, but I couldn’t find it. Where did all that blood come from? Then I realized something that made me sick to my stomach. It was my father’s blood. I looked in the sink and as I saw the dark brown water swirl into the drain I thought about my father. If he died today, that would be all that was left of him.
I kept splashing cold water on my face, but I couldn’t wash away that feeling with soap and water.
I replayed the accident over and over again. I heard that you’re not supposed to move someone when they have an accident, but I did. Was that a mistake? What if I should’ve left him there ‘till the ambulance arrived. What if I didn’t move him fast enough. Maybe I did something wrong, and if he died today, it would be my fault.
When I left the bathroom, the Guard was still there with the nurse.
“Go’on for a walk outside an’ get some fresh errr” she sang.
I went for a walk outside.
There were two people outside smoking cigarettes. They must’ve sensed something was up and offered me a cigarette. Even though I smoked enough pot in high school to do entitle me to do cameos in every Cheech and Chong movie, I didn’t smoke cigarettes, but I took one anyway. My hand was shaking as I puffed away at it while I walked around the block a few times.
I ignored the people on the street and just walked and thought. I know a lot of useless trivia. I know that raphe nuclei are the only neuro transmitters that use serotinin; and that construction helmets are made from high-impact polystyrene. But the one piece of trivia that stuck in my mind is about fatalities. If you fall from less than 3 stories, your odds of survival are close to 100%. If you fall from 6 stories, your odds of survival are close to 0%. My father had fallen five stories. This was not good.
My Dad has worked in construction since he was 15 and is freakishly strong. When I was a kid, he was in a fight and someone hit him in the head with a tire iron. He picked up the guy and threw him through a car windshield. I hoped that he would be strong enough to survive this, but I wasn’t really sure.
Well, I don't feel like doing a part 2, for obvious reasons, so I'll sum up quickly. He ended up surviving the fall, but broke his back and both his ankles. For a while they weren't sure if he'd be able to walk again. But we had him transferred from that crappy hospital to the Center for Joint Diseases where he was operated on by the same doctor who worked on Gloria Estefan's spine. They put 3 pins in his back and he required a lot of physical therapy, but recovered pretty well. His gait isn't quite the same, and he can't bend from the waist like before, but that's really minor considering what he's been through.
After that accident he shut down his construction company and made me promise to go back to college--the law school thing is a different story.
Anyway, I guess you don't really realize how important certain people are in your life until something like this happens. So Happy Father's Day everyone!!!