I walked to work through the bright September day in a good mood. School was going well, and I was enjoying my job, setting type and designing flyers and resumes for my respected bohemian elder D. Self, who taught me, among other things, the virtues of Dunhills and of Patti Smith.
The walk from campus to my workplace just off the square in my hometown of Bloomington, Indiana was at the time (and may still be) a very pleasant stroll through quiet, tree-shaded streets that date to the late 1880s, although most of the buildings are somewhat more recent, dating between the turn of the century and the Depression, with some modern exceptions. Bloomington’s economic and social heart is the ebb and flow of students through the limestone gates of Indiana University, and in September, when school has just begun and the streets are full of students greeting old friends and seeking romance, it feels as much like spring as it does fall.
One constantly encounters acquaintances and friends, and the constant stream of young people is as pleasing to the eye as the just-turning leaves on the trees. It’s fashionable, if you’re a native, to complain about the influx of traffic, to be irritated by the herds of chanting sorority rushees and packs of roaming drunken teenage midwesterners. Fashion being culture, not nature, one must admit that the season from September to mid-November is the most beautiful time of year in Southern Indiana in general, and in Bloomington in particular.
As I approached the shop I saw Seth’s distinctive chopped VW bug pickup, gleaming green and chrome and wood in the afternoon sunlight. He was seated on the hood, smoking, and stood as he saw me approach. I was pleased to see him, as we’d known one another since the sixth grade, and he was currently seeing my sister. It was quite uncharacteristic, however, to find him awaiting me on the sidewalk in front of my work.
I greeted him in good spirits, possibly with a hug. “Seth! How are you?”
He paused (I thought taken aback by my effusiveness). I don’t recall his reply.
“What brings you down” – a gesture, taking in the vicinity – “here?”
He looked at me, unsure of what to say for a moment, and then, uncomfortably, but calmly, said, “Ah – there’s been an accident; your parents are on their way to be with your sister, who has been taken to the hospital because she was in an accident.”
I looked at him, gesturing for more, listening seriously. I believe I’d lit a cigarette.
“Your parents sent me to get you, and they knew you’d be here after class. I’m supposed to take you to the hospital.”
I said that was fine, and that I needed a minute to tell my boss I had to take the afternoon off. I knew it would be fine; I could always make up the time if we had some deadlines later. I ducked in and grabbed some boards for a flyer I had laid out for an art show I was helping to organize that friday, and let D. know what was going on. Fine, fine. Things were gong to be fine. It was fine. That was fine.
I hopped in Seth’s remarkable custom bug, and he pulled out. When he hit the main drag and began to head for the highway at the edge of town that leads north, instead of driving the ten blocks or so west from the square to go to the hospital, I was momentarily confused.
“Hey! Where are we going?”, I demanded.
Seth was again silent for a moment before replying. “Indianapolis.”
“Indy! I thought you said that my sister was at the hospital!”
“Well, uh… yes. She’s at the trauma center in Indy. They flew her there after the accident.”
I digested this for a moment.
“Seth, uh, maybe you should tell me about the accident.”
This may not have been the right thing to say, as he began to tell me how my sister hadn’t shown up at his house after having called him to say she was on her way. They were less than five minutes apart by bike, and so he set out to walk the route she was set to ride on her bike. About three surburban blocks from his house (his childhood house; both Seth and my sister had been living with our respective parents that summer) he came across a cluster of police, emergency vehicles, sirens, and onlookers. They were clustered around paramedics who were preparing to remove the victim, an unconscious figure being moved to a stretcher.
Drawing closer, he recognized the twisted wreck of my sister’s bicycle and with what I can only imagine to be a shock of horror knew that the unconscious, bloody person being prepped for evacuation was his lover, my sister.
As Seth communicated this to me, his ability to convey what he knew verbally deteriorated, words broken by deep breaths in an attempt to remain calm enough to drive. The weight of emotion and of grief in this moment of reliving his helplessness overwhelmed his ability to communicate using language. Somehow, it’s difficult for me to summon precise momories of how Seth told me the rest of the story.
Unable to demonstrate that he was family, he was prevented from traveling with my sister in the ambulance, but was told which hospital they were taking her to. He immediately set out for my parents house, I think, where he may have found both of my folks at home. I don’t know. At any rate, he was able to convey to them what had happened, and then all three were able to rush to Bloomington Hospital, as I understand it, in time for them to learn that Suzy’s injuries were serious enough to require an emergency helicopter flight to the region’s major trauma center in Indianapolis.
My parents are generally very calm and collected people, and so they asked Seth to pick me up at work, and he had, and so now it’s about three hours after the accident and Seth is bawling like a baby, pounding the dash of his car in frustration as we drive as fast as the little bug-pickup can go – seventy – eighty miles an hour as the erect middle finger of the power plant on Indianapolis’ southern edge heaves into view around the last bend in I-65. We’re both chainsmoking, making more smoke than I’ve ever seen that stack produce.
There’s no music. There may never be any music ever again.