Chapter 1 – The Accident
The summer of 1977 started out like any other one before it – afternoon matinees at the Prince Theater, where I paid a dollar for admission and could sit there all day long if I chose to and watch the movie (sometimes double features) over and over without getting kicked out. Try that stunt these days and you’re likely to get booted out of the theater or told that you must buy another admission ticket if you want to watch it again. Swimming parties at the public pool were always fun, although any amount of extended time in the sun always resulted in the same thing for me – a nasty sunburn due to my fair complexion, followed by peeling and more freckles added to my shoulders and nose. One of my all-time favorite things to do on a Saturday night was making a pallet on the living room floor where I’d lay on my stomach and watch creature feature monster movies on television. The blankets of the pallet came in handy if I got scared, because I could cover my head and not look at the gory creature that was about to devour me whole. When I thought it was safe to uncover my head, I’d always look over my shoulder to make sure there wasn’t a vampire, mummy or werewolf in the room with me. If I needed to change the channel to watch more movies, I had to get up to do it because our television had no remote control. Try doing that with monsters in the room watching your every move!
I stayed outside from the time the sun came up until it said goodnight, painting the evening Florida skies with magnificent hues of oranges and pinks. If I got thirsty while playing, I took a drink from the water hose because there was no running in and out of the house lest you “let the flies in,” and there was no such thing as bottled water back then. Another thing that I loved about the summertime is because my birthday is in July, and that meant having friends over for cake, ice cream and opening presents. That summer I was on the cusp of turning fifteen.
I was small for my age, petite and skinny as a twig, also a late bloomer with a chest as flat as a two by four. However, mom made me wear a training bra, which I never completely understood. Other than the two peanuts barely poking my shirt, there wasn’t much there to train. I kept my auburn hair cut short because I hated it constantly getting in my eyes, and I also didn’t want to be bothered with the boring chore of “pretty hair maintenance.”
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I was a tomboy in every sense of the word. Dresses were out of the question when it came to my attire, and so were socks and black patent leather shoes. All I ever wore were jeans, shorts, t-shirts and sneakers. It was a simple and easy style without looking too girlie, and perfectly comfortable for me.
While all these things were fun, and I looked forward to them every summer, what I loved more than anything else was playing softball. A bunch of us “project kids,” (that’s what we were referred to because we lived in a housing project) would get together in the afternoons to play in the large field behind our houses. Short, tall, skinny or fat, we didn’t care. If you could play ball, you would be picked for one of the teams.
Using personal items as makeshift bases – a pair of sneakers for first, a shirt for second and so on – we would pick team captains and make our choices for players, leaving no one out. If there were more players than needed, they got scattered in the outfield. If we were short a few players, then that meant that some of the others would have to cover more than one position.
I was a mean right fielder with a strong throwing arm, and I’m not too shy to say so. You know the old adage that “girls can’t play ball?” Well, they’d most certainly change their minds about that if they’d ever seen me play. As I said, I was a hard-core tomboy and I was more than capable of playing with, and better than, most of the boys my age who played.
It was my love for the sport that would make this the summer that would be different, the one that would change everything about me and alter the course of my life forever, the summer that I lost nearly every friend that I had. Not because of death or anything else tragic, but because they became frightened of me, scared of what I became and what I could do, and not knowing how to handle “the new me,” they chose to stay away because that was the only solution that they knew.
On this particularly scorching hot June afternoon, our first week out of school for the summer, it was the bottom of the sixth inning and I was up to bat. Bases were loaded, and my team was ahead by one run. My intention was to get a walk because the worst pitcher out of all our players was on the mound, and I knew from experience that he had a tendency to throw either high or outside balls. And unless you were a tennis player attempting to return a lob, there was no use taking a swing.
My feet were dug into the ground at home plate, (a piece of cardboard that someone had retrieved from the neighborhood dumpster), an aluminum bat gripped tightly in my hands, knees bent, eyes forward and focused – I was ready.
Like I said, Ricky was notorious for throwing high balls, but apparently our umpire, Chubby, was blind. “Steeeeee-rike one!” he called. We assigned him to the position of umpiring because he was asthmatic and unable to run. Not wanting to omit him from being able to participate, we compromised.
“Are you stupid or something?” I yelled, turning to face him. “That ball was as high as an airplane!”
“I calls ‘em like I sees ‘em,” he said, grinning and pushing up his black-rimmed glasses, then taking his umpire stance once more. His curly red hair looked like a fire on top of his head in the bright glow of the afternoon sun, and his face was so red that I couldn’t see a single one of his dozens of freckles through his flushed skin. Back in position, I waited for the next pitch, which went right of the plate by about three feet.
“Steeeeee-rike two!” Chubby called, holding up two fingers and casting out his arm like the umpires in professional baseball do.
“You seriously might want to consider a new pair of glasses!” I retorted. “Obviously, the ones you have don’t work.”
Frustrated at his rotten play calling, I dug in even deeper and choked up on the bat, figuring that I might as well go ahead and swing because if I didn’t, Chubby would call it a strike three anyway.
Except that it was a perfect pitch that came straight across the plate. I swung hard, walloping the ball out past center field. Jake and Timmy ran for the ball while my team players on second and third bases ran to home plate, scoring runs for our team.
For some reason that only Johnny knew, he made a horrible mistake in his decision. While I ran past first and second, and then touching third heading toward home plate, he changed his mind about crossing home, and instead, decided to turn around and make his way back to third, running as fast as lightning and looking back over his shoulder, I suppose to make sure he wasn’t going to be tagged out.
With my mind set on making a homerun and him not paying attention, we collided head-on with a forceful impact, his chin striking me on the upper left side of my forehead just over my eye. The blow sent me flying backwards and to the ground, knocking me unconscious.
I have no idea how long I was out, but when I opened my eyes I was lying in the grass flat on my back with all of the other kids bent over staring down at me. Johnny held a bloody rag to his lacerated chin, which I later learned took six stitches to close.
“Are you okay?” “How many fingers am I holding up?” “Man, look at the size of that knot on her head!” I had no idea who was saying what, because they all seemed to be talking at once and all I could hear was a cacophony of mumbled noise.
I groaned and tried to get up, but I felt a little nauseous, so I sat there a bit longer, waiting for the queasiness to pass. When it finally did, I stood up and said, “I think that’s enough ball for today.”
“DeeDee?” It was Johnny, the boy that I had collided with. “I’m really sorry,” he said, looking more scared than worried. “I hope you’re not hurt too bad.”
Touching my head and feeling the lump, I said, “I’m okay, Johnny. But I need to go show this to my mom.”
To say that the swelling on my forehead was a goose egg would be equivalent to comparing a twenty-carat diamond to a pebble. It was huge and covered the entire left side of my forehead and getting even bigger by the second.
My mom was sitting on the side of her bed talking to one of her friends on the telephone when I went inside. Not wanting to disturb her, I stood in the doorway waiting for her to either turn around or hang up, but after a couple of minutes of waiting and she did neither, I quietly said, “Mom?”
In one swift move, she leapt from the bed, dropping the phone to the floor with a loud PING! “Oh, my word!” she cried. “What in the world happened to you?”
I was trying to explain when the nausea hit me again, but that time, I knew I was going to throw up. Although I tried my best to make it to the bathroom, I wasn’t so fortunate. The vomiting began in her room and I left a trail from there all the way to the toilet.
The next thing I remember is lying on an examining table in the emergency room waiting for a doctor to come in. Mom stood beside me, a look of concern furrowing her brow. Never before had I seen such an expression on my mom’s face. When I asked her how I got to the hospital, she told me that I had passed out in the bathroom and that she carried me to the car and an emergency room nurse had brought me inside on a stretcher. To this very day, I do not remember any of that.
“How do I look?” I asked quietly. My mouth felt as dry as a desert and my throat was sore and burning.
“Like you’ve been in a fight with a semi-truck and the truck won!”
Funny thing is, it didn’t even hurt. It kind of stung, like a bee bite, but there was no real pain. I reached up to touch it and suddenly understood why my mom looked so worried. It had grown to the size of an orange and was soft and mushy in the center.
“Don’t touch it, DeeDee,” my mom scolded, gently pushing my hand away. “How are you feeling?”
“Okay,” I answered. “A little lightheaded, maybe, but I don’t feel sick anymore.”
The door to my examining room opened and in walked the most handsome man I had ever seen in my life – and I didn’t even like boys. Tall and tanned, with wavy blonde hair and eyes so piercingly blue that I could almost see right through them.
“I’m Dr. Montgomery,” he said, taking my chart from the clear plastic door pocket. “Diedre Olsen?” he asked, opening the file.
“DeeDee,” I corrected him as I continued to stare. I did not like being called by my real name, but hearing him say it somehow made it okay.
“DeeDee, it is,” he said, stepping up to the side of my bed. “Whoa! What happened here?” he asked, softly probing my forehead.
“I ran smack into somebody while we were playing softball,” I answered.
“Judging by the look of this bump, I’d say you two collided kind of hard. Would that be an accurate assumption?”
I nodded. I was afraid to open my mouth because the nausea was coming back and the last thing I wanted to do was hurl on his white coat.
“Can you tell me exactly how this happened, DeeDee?” he asked. “And how you felt afterwards? Did you pass out, get sick, anything unusual?”
I knew Dr. Montgomery was speaking because I could see his lips moving, but his voice sounded muffled and far away. Whatever he was saying, his words were incoherent, as though he was speaking a foreign language that I didn’t understand.
Then came the flash of bright white light, like looking directly into a flashlight beam, and then the smell of burning sugarcane followed by a horrendous wave of nausea.
When I woke up, I was no longer in the emergency room. Dr. Montgomery had admitted me to the hospital and I had been taken upstairs to a private room.
Mom was sitting in a green leather chair in the corner of the room, her arms folded across her chest as she stared at me, appearing even more worried than she had before. When she saw my eyes open, she jumped from her chair and came to my bedside, grabbing onto my hand and crying.
I had no idea what had happened to me that would warrant the presence of two doctors attending to me, but there they were, both wearing their white lab coats with a stethoscope around their necks. Dr. Montgomery stood directly beside my bed, and standing behind his right shoulder, an elderly gentleman with white hair and a thin white mustache, smiling at me. He kept his arms folded behind his back, grinning and nodding while Dr. Montgomery spoke, occasionally glancing at me, winking, and then returning his attention to the chart in Dr. Montgomery’s hand.
“Glad to have you back with us,” he said, bending over me and shining a light into my eyes.
“What happened?” I asked, attempting to sit up.
“Take it easy for now,” he said, lightly touching my shoulder and laying me back down onto the pillow. He then wrote something down in my chart. “You gave us quite a scare.”
Mom nodded in agreement, as did the older doctor.
“Well?” I asked. “Will one of you please tell me what happened and why I’m in a hospital room?”
“You suffered a seizure while you were in the emergency room,” Dr. Montgomery explained. “I admitted you so that I can keep an eye on you. It’s only for observation, DeeDee, so it’ll probably only be for one night. But you do have a mild concussion and I believe that’s what caused the seizure. Not that it will happen again,” he said, patting my leg. “But if it does, I’d rather you be here close to medical staff instead of at home. If you do okay during the night, and by that I mean no more seizures, then you can go home tomorrow.”
“It takes two of you to tell me that?” I asked, puzzled.
Dr. Montgomery looked bewildered by my question. “You mean me and your mom?”
“No,” I said, pointing. “Him.”
Dr. Montgomery turned around to look behind him. Slightly cocking his head he asked, “DeeDee, do you see someone else here besides me and your mom?”
“Of course, I do,” I said, shaking my head. “He’s standing right beside you. He’s a doctor, too.”
The glances exchanged between mom and him were ones of total confusion.
“Probably double vision,” he said calmly to my mom. “It’s not uncommon with seizures and head injuries. I wouldn’t worry too much right now. I’m sure it’s only temporary.”
That last statement of his would turn out to be one of the biggest falsehoods I have ever been told.
And I wasn’t suffering from double vision either.
I was young, yes, but I knew the difference between an old doctor and a young one.
The physician that had stood at the side of Dr. Montgomery was a totally different person in every way imaginable, and they looked nothing alike.
What I didn’t understand at the time was why mom or Dr. Montgomery didn’t see him, too. Afterall, he was standing right there beside my bed as plain as day.
However, it wouldn’t be long before I found out why – but not before being put through pure hell first.
Unfortunately, this episode was only the beginning of what was to come.