Recasting the question
Jesse’s legs are different colors. One is a warm tan. The other is lighter, with a sickly lime tinge. An oxygen tube is up my son’s nose.
The EMTs slice the laces of his right shoe and cut his sock off on the half-pipe at the Tons of Fun Skate Park near the boardwalk in Santa Cruz. When asked to rate his pain on a scale of one to 10, my son rates it a “10.”
“Worst of my life,” he says through clenched teeth.
An ambulance takes us to the emergency room of a California hospital. There’s morphine. X-rays. The orthopedic surgeon pokes and prods. Both bones in Jesse’s shin are broken, the fibula and the tibia.
My son asks: “Why?” I’ve nothing to say about destiny or a divine plan. The simple answer: Humans are fragile. People break. Sometimes they heal.
He will heal and skate again.
It’s summer vacation, day two. Jesse will turn 16 in two days. We’d planned to spend his birthday at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk amusement park. We bought discount tickets online.
This morning, the kids woke up early at our state park campsite overlooking the ocean. I used my new java press from REI to make coffee. I cooked cheesy scrambled eggs over a Coleman stove for the vegetarian teens along with a side of bacon for hopeless carnivores like the Significant Republican and me.
The day promised perfection. The fog would lift, and there would be skateboarding and, later, body surfing. The previous day, my son and his friend had been pulled by a riptide out into huge 10-foot Pacific waves. The lifeguard jogged down the beach and watched as they made their way back to land.
“Way to go,” I said that night. “I was afraid you’d drown on our first day and ruin our whole vacation.” It seemed OK to joke when we were safely roasting marshmallows over the fire. Teens see themselves as indestructible. I often buy into this illusion.
Then the phone rings. And we find ourselves in Room 13. Outside in the hospital’s much-trafficked hallway, people are trundled down the hall on rolling beds. One older woman is alone. Another is surrounded by family. There’s a toddler who’s allergic to insect bites. A tiny girl with a broken wrist. A tall, emaciated man rides by, his face and toes sticking out from respective ends of a white blanket. The bottoms of his bare feet are smooth with a dirty sheen like the worn soles of shoes.
My son’s face is pale. As opiates wax and wan, his body relaxes and shudders.
“I’m sorry I ruined everyone’s vacation,” he says.
Accidents could happen to any of us, we assure him. He’d been wearing a helmet, knee pads, wrist pads and elbow pads.
“The most dangerous place to be is on your butt on the couch,” one doctor says.
Between bouts with pain, Jesse recounts his story.
“So we were having the greatest skate day,” he says. “I was busting a bunch of hand plants and 180s. Then I tried to learn an indie grab 180, without the early grab. I landed it and went back to do it again. I landed crooked and kinda rolled, and the grip on the bottom of my shoe caught and my left foot was sliding. I could hear it and feel it snap, my leg.”
Six hours after arriving at the hospital, we leave with a teen in a cast from groin to toe. The rest of us walk into the warm evening with a rare unspoken appreciation for our limbs.