HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT
May 17, 1966
It’s been a rough few days, and I’ve been in terrible physical and mental pain. But there is a happy ending to the story I’m about to tell you.
It all started this past Saturday when I got a ride home from the roller rink. Mem dropped me off but couldn’t pick me up, so I hitched a ride with anyone I could find who had room in their car for me. This kid, Chris Santoro, who lives in Success Park and goes to St. Ambrose, asked his dad if he would drive me home, and he said yes.
Chris is the most popular boy in our grade and is dating Juliette, the most beautiful girl in school, so I was super excited to be in a car with him.
There were six of us, so we squeezed into the car as best we could — two kids in the front and four of us in the back. I was squashed against the right-hand side door.
We left Park City Skateland, which is on State Street, and as we speedily turned onto Park Avenue, my car door flew open, and I fell out, landing hard on my right side. I crawled on both knees toward the curb in excruciating pain — my entire body was convulsing in fear and panic because a car in the right lane barely missed hitting me.
I was wearing shorts and a sleeveless shirt, so my knees, legs, and elbows were covered in blood and dirt, and tiny pebbles were stuck deep into my skin.
Park Avenue is a busy two-lane street with tons of cars moving in the same direction. And then, on the other side, there are another two lanes going in the opposite direction with a grassy divider in the middle, separating the four lanes. So Chris’s dad had to drive past me on our side and then come back around from the other side to pick me up, which took him a while.
I sat on the sidewalk and held my knees close to my chest, rocking back and forth in shock and stabbing pain.
When Chris’s dad finally found me, he was non-stop apologizing and wouldn’t stop asking me if I was okay. I kept lying and saying “yes” because he was so scared and nervous and uncontrollably shaking like he was the one who fell out of the car.
Then he asked me if he should take me to the hospital, and I loudly yelled out, “NO,” and begged him to take me home.
As soon as I got to our apartment, I tortuously made my way upstairs and locked myself in the bathroom, fearing Mere Germaine would see me. Mom and Mem weren’t home, so I didn’t have to worry about them. Not yet, anyway.
I took my bloody clothes off and ran warm water in the bathtub while trying to pick out the grit and gravel from my skin. I took a look in the mirror, and lucky for me; I didn’t have any visible cuts on my face, knowing full well that this accident was something I needed to hide from my family. My mirrored image reflected such agony I almost didn’t recognize myself.
I opened the medicine cabinet, took out the bottle of hydrogen peroxide, and poured it all over my cuts and scrapes. The pain was so bad I thought I might faint, so I didn’t get into the tub for a while.
Once I soaked in the tub, I grabbed a box of bandaids, covered my wounds as best I could, and scrubbed the sink and tub meticulously. Then I wadded up my ripped-up, blood-stained clothes and ran into my bedroom, where I put on long pants and a long-sleeved shirt.
I was still whimpering from the pain, but once I dressed, the only visible evidence of my accident were the cuts and scrapes on the palms of both hands, which I vowed to hide.
I tried to ignore the non-stop throbbing and took my wad of clothes outside and across Success Avenue, where I shoved them into the trash can in front of the supermarket. Then I hobbled back to the apartment and up the stairs to the bedroom, where I curled up in a ball on the bed and tried to calm myself down.
I’m not sure how long I was laying there, but at some point, Mere Germaine came into the room to ask if everything was all right. I told her I had a splitting headache, which wasn’t a lie.
When I heard Mem come home, I willed myself out of bed and agonizingly staggered downstairs. She asked me to help her unload the groceries out of the car, which I did without so much as a wince for fear she would notice my discomfort.
That night, I wore my long-sleeved flannel nightgown even though it was boiling in our bedroom. Mem kept spooning me, which caused excruciating pain, and I barely got a wink of sleep.
The next day, black and blues covered my swollen body, and I was sore from head to toe, but I was hopeful that nothing was broken.
Way more important than broken bones, though, was that I had to make sure that absolutely no one would ever know what happened to me — which meant I had to have a conversation with Chris Santoro ASAP.
Mem, Mom, and Mere Germaine went about their business for the rest of the weekend, and I went about mine. I felt a mixture of anger and fear.
I was angry that none of them noticed anything about the slow-going way I was limp-walking or the occasional involuntary moan when helping them with the chores.
But I was also afraid that if they found out that I fell out of a moving car, they would somehow blame me and find a way to be angry at me. Or worse, they wouldn’t allow me to go skating with my friends ever again.
I should be able to tell the women I love that I’m in pain, but I’m all mixed up. I’m overcome with doubt and fear, so I think the best thing I can do is heal myself as best I can and go it alone.
I can’t help but feel incredible despair and pity for myself because, as always, I’m unseen. Only I can see the scabs and scrapes all over me. My body is in excruciating pain, and so is my heart, but as usual, I am the only one who sees me.
I don’t want to tell my family that something happened to me. I want them to see that something happened to me for themselves.
Getting ready for school on Monday was tricky because my knees were a scabby, swollen mess. Luckily, between my uniform and knee socks, they were mostly covered.
I saw Chris right before the first bell rang, and he had a look of pure terror on his face. I tried to make him feel better, although it should have been the other way around.
“Don’t worry, Chris, I didn’t tell anyone what happened. And I don’t plan on it.” He was visibly relieved and told me he would catch up with me later.
As I shuffled my way home from school, Chris rode up to me on his bicycle and asked me if I wanted a ride. “The last time I took a ride from you, it didn’t work out so well,” I said, half joking.
I thought I was being funny, and I figured Chris would laugh, but instead, the terrified look on his face just about broke my heart.
“You okay?” I asked him, even though he should have been the one asking me if I was okay. And that’s when Chris told me that his dad was out of work and had been in a lot of trouble with the law recently.
I told Chris that I knew a thing or two about fathers getting into trouble with the law. And I asked him to make sure his friends in the car with us didn’t open their big mouths and tell anyone. Chris answered that they wouldn’t dare because they knew his dad would probably go to jail if they did.
I was confused. “Why would your dad go to jail? It wasn’t his fault I didn’t shut the car door all the way.” That’s when Chris told me that his dad had been drinking at a local bar before picking us up at the rink. “Both my parents are drunks,” he said matter-of-factly.
When I doubled down on my promise not to say a word to anyone about falling out of his dad’s car, he leaned over the handlebars of his bike and kissed me on my cheek. My very first kiss!
And today, Chris stopped by our apartment with a bag full of candy and told me that he owes me one and will forever be grateful to me.
When he asked to see some of my bruises, I pulled my pant leg up and showed him my right leg. He drew in a breath, grimaced, and then looked down at the floor, his voice so soft I barely heard what he said: “You’re pretty brave, you know?”
“Because I tumbled out of a speeding car and kept my mouth shut about it, kind of brave?”
His response was sweet. “Something like that.” Then, while still not making eye contact, Chris told me I was the toughest girl he’d ever met.
I’m sorry I had to nosedive out of a moving car for someone to finally see me. But I’ll take it.