By Ed Staskus
Maggie Campbell was almost 22 years-old the morning she drove face first into a cement truck. She was driving a yellow 1973 coupe a girlfriend of hers at the Bay Deli, where they both worked, had sold her for one hundred and eighty-five dollars in cash. It was a rust bucket, but it was a Jap car so the two hundred thousand miles on it hadn’t made a dent in it running, at least not yet.
She had gotten up late that frosty spring morning and shoveled down a Fudgsicle, a hot dog, and a cup of joe for breakfast. “I better go,” she said to herself, throwing the Fudgsicle stick in the trash with the other Fudgsicle sticks.
Her roommate and she were sharing a small house on Schwartz Road behind St. John’s West Shore Hospital in Westlake. She was late for class at the Fairview Beauty Academy. She bolted out to the car. When she got into it, she couldn’t wait for the front window to defrost more than the small square absolutely needed to look through. She was squinting through one square inch of windshield taking the curve at Excalibur Ave. and bopping to Jan and Dean on the radio.
“It’s no place to play, you’d best keep away, I can hear ’em say, won’t come back from Dead Man’s Curve.”
“I never touched the brakes,” she said after hitting the cement truck headlong.
The truck was parked on her side of the street. The front end was facing her. That was the first surprise. She knew she was on the right side of the street as she came around the curve since she could see full well out her driver’s side window. At first, Maggie didn’t know what happened. The second surprise was that when she tried to get out of her car she couldn’t move. When she looked down to see why she couldn’t move she saw the steering wheel jammed into her legs. She was sandwiched between the wheel and the seat. Some days you are the dog and other days you are the fire hydrant.
She finally got out of the car by swinging one and then the other leg over the steering wheel. Standing next to her coupe, looking at the man suddenly standing in front of her, she realized why no one had come to help her. He was white as a ghost. The rest of the cement men behind him looked like they were looking at a ghost, too. They thought she had died in the car, which had turned into scrap metal in an instant.
“I tried to wave you off,” one of them said.
“Hey, here’s a clue, bub, I didn’t see you and I didn’t see the truck,” she said. “Thanks for the heads up, but I didn’t see anything.” The next thing she knew a woman walked up to her and shoved Kleenex up her nose.
“You better sit down,” she said.
“That’s OK,” Maggie said. “I’m good. Besides, I’ve got to get to school.”
“No, you better sit down. I’ve called an ambulance. They should be here in just a minute.”
“Seriously, thanks, but no. I just bumped my nose.”
She sat Maggie down. When she did Maggie’s white beauty school skirt rode up and she saw her mangled knees. The skirt was bleeding.
The convertor radio underneath the dash had slammed into them. Even though she couldn’t feel anything bad, she could see shinbones and a thighbone. That looks bad, she thought. It had only been a minute since she had gotten out of the car. The front end of it was jack-knifed. She left patches of raw skin behind her on the front seat.
It was when the excitement was over that she went for real. She lost her eyesight. It was her next-to-last surprise. She blinked. It didn’t help. She blinked again. It still didn’t help.
“Everything’s gone fuzzy, like an old TV on the fritz.”
“Just close your eyes. The paramedics are here.”
“OK, open your eyes,” one of the paramedics said.
“Are they open?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he said.
“Are you sure? I can’t see anything.”
“Is it like in a closet, or more like the basement, with the lights all out?”
“A closet or a basement? What kind of as question is that? Oh, my God, you are such a smart ass. Who sits in a dark closet except crazy people?”
They laid her down and out in the ambulance and, suddenly, her sight came back.
“It was just the shock,” she told them.
“Stop self-diagnosing,” the medic said.
“I was a lifeguard at the Bay Pool. I know my stuff!”
St John’s West Shore Hospital must have thought she was younger than she was. Underage is what they thought, so they called her parents. Her mom was on the way, they said. It was Maggie’s last surprise.
“You did what? You called who? I’m 21-years-old. You didn’t need to call my parents.”
“You rat bastards!” Maggie was beyond mad. She hadn’t talked to either of her parents for more than a year. “Fuck off and die” had been the last thing she had said to them.
She planned on moving out as soon she turned 21, but her dad didn’t want her to grow up or move out. Maggie wanted both, to be 21 and gone. Her parents wanted her out, too, but they didn’t want her to go, either. When she told them she would be leaving the day of her birthday, first, they slapped the crap out of her, and then they threw her out of the house. She had no money, no clothes, and nowhere to go.
She called her dad from a phone booth about picking up her clothes.
“If you come grovel for them, you can get them out of the trash,” he said.
“You keep them, dad, because I’m not going to grovel.”
At the very least they raised a true-blue Scottish kid, Maggie thought. She never knew if her dad really threw her clothes in the trash because she never called or went back, at least not for the clothes.
Her mom burst through the emergency room door at St. John’s at the same time as her dad got her on the phone. Before that she had been joking with the doctors, saying she cut her legs shaving.
“Oh, my God, look at her legs!” her mom started shouting.
“Who let that woman in here?” Maggie blew up.
“Who’s the president?” her dad asked over and over on the phone until the line went dead. The next thing she knew her whole family, sisters, brother, her dad rushing in from work, were all in the room, and then the adrenaline started to wear off fast. She had been laying there, not too panicked, and suddenly her constitutional joy juice was all gone. She hurt like hell. She went banshee.
Her younger sister started crying and everybody got so upset about her crying that they put her in her dad’s lap. Her mom stroked her hair. Maggie was left on her back on the table in pain and agony, ignored and all alone until a nurse finally wheeled her away to surgery. No one noticed she was gone.
At the end of the day, what happened wasn’t off the charts. She broke her nose and had two black eyes along with a concussion. One of her teeth was loose. She hurt both of her knees. One of them had to be operated on. She was released three days later. A policemen told her afterwards if she had hit the back of the cement truck instead of the front she would have been decapitated.
If that had happened and she had been driving a rag top instead of her hard shell, then “HEADLESS GIRL IN TOPLESS CAR” would have been the headline on the front page of the next day’s West Life News. As it happened, she ended up in the middle of the back page.
Ed Staskus posts on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”