Authors: Cylin Busby
That night, we went to bed late. Mom felt sorry that our movie plans had been canceled, so she let us watch TV until it was almost time for her to wake up Dad for his shift. I was asleep fast and didn’t hear Dad leave, like I did on some nights if I was still awake.
I woke up in my dark room, hearing my mom crying and screaming. At first I thought she was just watching something loud on TV. But then I heard Kelly, my cousin, and I heard some men, too, talking low. Kelly was living with us that summer, before she started college. She and Mom were more like sisters than niece and aunt. They dieted together, sharing a grapefruit in the morning and watching each other’s cottage cheese and Tab intake throughout the day. They’d lay on their towels and talk about the guys at the beach or the cute cops on the force. Kelly taught Mom some tanning tricks (add some iodine to your baby oil for a nice fake bake until you could build your own tan; lemon juice on your hair brought out highlights). Kelly was eighteen that summer, with sun-kissed auburn hair, light green eyes, and a killer tan. The younger cops on the force had definitely taken notice, and the ones who were single, or just there for the summer,
probably would have asked her out more if it weren’t for her overprotective uncle—my dad.
I knew something was wrong, but I was hoping that the voices were just some friends of Kelly’s. She had been out to the movies that night—did her date come home with her? But why was Mom crying? I opened the door just a crack and saw Rick Smith, a big redheaded guy who was one of Dad’s best friends on the force, standing in our living room. He was in his uniform, and I could hear the static sounds from the black walkie-talkie on his hip, the same kind that Dad carried, with the tinny voice of the dispatcher cutting through, saying something in a mysterious code of numbers and words I didn’t understand.
Rick was holding Mom’s arms down by her side, talking to her really quietly, and she was crying, saying, “No, no, no,” over and over. I stepped out into the room. “Mom?” I asked, just as she shook her body free of Rick’s hold. “Don’t!” she yelled at him as he tried again to hold her, and she paced the floor a few times, walking into the kitchen. He stayed close behind her, saying, “It’s okay, Polly, he’s alive, he’s alive.”
I followed them into the kitchen, in my bare feet. I was wearing my summer nightgown, the white one with small pink flowers, and ruffles at the neck where the buttons were. I was glad I was wearing it that night and not my more babyish Winnie the Pooh pajamas, because I would have been embarrassed to have Rick and my dad’s other friend see me in those. My mom was slumped down on the floor, like she had slid down the wall, and
she was crying hard. “What happened to Dad?” I asked, and no one answered. Mom acted like I wasn’t even there. “Are his eyes okay?” she asked. Rick crouched down beside her. “I think so,” he said. Then Rick and the other cop, a guy I’d never seen before, looked over at me, then at my brothers, who had come in from their shared bedroom.
“It was like a BB gun, some kid shooting out streetlights or something. He’s going to be fine, Polly,” Rick said. He leaned in close to my mom and spoke quietly. “We need to go,” he said, helping Mom up from the floor. “Let’s go.” Mom told Kelly to stay by the phone and that she would call from the hospital as soon as she knew more, and then she was gone, leaving me and my brothers with Kelly.
“Did Dad get shot?” Eric asked as Kelly locked the door behind them. He was standing very straight, with his hands clenched into tight fists down at his sides.
“I think your dad just had an accident,” Kelly said. “You know how tired he’s been, and he just drove off the road into a ditch, but he’s fine. He’s going to be okay.”
“Rick said he got shot, I heard him,” Shawn said.
“Maybe his car got shot or something. You guys, he’s going to be fine,” Kelly said, but we could all tell she had no idea what was really going on. “Let’s go in the living room and wait for your mom to call.” Kelly had us sit on the couch and she put on a record that she was into that summer. It was a James Taylor album, in a brightly colored jacket that reminded me of a flag I’d
seen on a boat in the Falmouth Harbor. As we listened to James sing his cover of “Day Tripper,” I was thinking about what would happen if Dad died. I didn’t want him to be buried and for other kids to use his gravestone to climb trees. I decided then that I would sit at his grave all day, guarding it so that other kids wouldn’t play there. I would bring rocks and I would sharpen sticks to keep them away.
While I was busy making my silent plans, Kelly was on the phone, calling my uncle Joe in Boston to tell him that Dad had been in an accident. That’s when we heard a car pull into the cul-de-sac and saw the car lights swing around into our driveway. Kelly put the phone back into the cradle on the wall and told us to go into the kitchen, where it was dark. My brother Shawn and I peeked through the shutters of the kitchen window at the car, which was sitting in our driveway with its lights on, still running. It wasn’t a police cruiser, but an old hot rod–style car. I’d never seen it before.
Eric started to say something, and Kelly said, “Be quiet, you guys,” and she watched through the shutters. After what seemed like a long time, the car turned off and the door opened. We could see in the streetlight as a guy got out. He was not in a uniform. Then he reached back in the car and pulled something out. It was a long gun—a rifle.
“Jesus Christ!” Kelly yelled. “Into the back. Get in there.” We ran to my parents’ bedroom at the other side of the house, and Kelly turned off all the lights in the living room. She slammed
the door to my parents’ room behind us. “In the closet, now,” she ordered. The closet wasn’t quite big enough for all three of us, but I crouched down, trying to keep my balance while standing on my mom’s shoes. We weren’t allowed to play in here, and Mom was going to be pissed that we had crushed her shoes and knocked down some dresses. The clothes smelled like Mom and her Givenchy perfume. That smell always made me think of when she went out with Dad and we would be left with a babysitter. On those nights, I would lie in my bed half-awake until I heard them come home, and only then could I really fall asleep. When were they coming back tonight? How long would they be gone? Eric tried to close the closet door, but it wouldn’t work with all three of us in there, so we just crouched like that, in my parents’ clothes and shoes, barely breathing, with Kelly sitting on the floor just beside the door.
There was a hard knock on the back door. “Oh my God,” Kelly whispered. “Oh Jesus, okay. You guys just don’t move, be quiet.” We were all silent. I could still hear James Taylor singing in the living room. Even though Kelly had turned off all the lights, she had forgotten the album and left it playing. The knocking came again, over the soft sounds of “Up on the Roof.” Whoever was out there knew we were here.
“Oh my God,” Kelly kept whispering over and over again. She was sitting on the floor beside the closet, her back to the wall. She had her hands over her mouth, and I think she was crying because she was sniffling quietly. The knocking stopped for a
few minutes. I started to think that whoever it was had left, although we didn’t hear a car start up. The song ended and a new one came on. The phone rang a few times, then stopped. Another song started. Eric and Shawn were whispering. They had a plan. “You stay in the closet,” Eric said to me, then he turned to Shawn. “I have a big rock in our room. We’ll tackle this guy and hit him in the head with it. Then we all climb out the window and run through the graveyard.”
I didn’t want to go into the graveyard at night, and I didn’t have my shoes. Shawn said we should run up Hatchville Road, the route he and Dad did when they went jogging. “I can do seven miles, and I’ll get help,” he explained. That seemed like a good idea; I knew Shawn was a fast runner. Then the knocking started again, harder this time. Then it stopped. Someone was at the front door now, right by my parents’ room, and ringing the doorbell.
Kelly took a deep breath. She whispered, “Okay, you guys, listen to me. I need you to go upstairs.” Only my brothers’ room was upstairs, and the attic.
“When you’re up there, I’m going to open the door. If you hear anyone come into the house, you go into the crawlspace up there, hide, and do not make a sound. Not a sound. And don’t come out until your mom comes home or it’s morning.” I could barely see her eyes in the dark room, but I could see enough to tell that her face was deadly serious. This wasn’t like Kelly at all. I thought about telling her not to open the door, to come with us
to the attic, but I knew, all three of us knew, she had made up her mind.
We tumbled out of the closet and ran to the stairs, glad to be doing something, taking action. We crossed through the dark house, afraid to stop and look out the windows, and scrambled up the steep ladder. We didn’t hide in my brothers’ room or wait to hear what happened to Kelly when she opened the door. Without talking, without making a plan, Eric opened the small door that led into the crawl space. We made our way across the rafters in our pajamas on prickly sharp insulation, and we hid, silently, in the pitch black.
SOMETHING was wrapped around my neck—a collarlike pad—to hold up my head and apply pressure to my face. I was surrounded by ambulance and fire department paramedics. When did they get here? Time had slowed down to a heartbeat, now everything was fast: an IV was inserted in one arm, then another in the other arm. I was swiftly loaded onto a gurney sitting up—the way I was bleeding, I’d drown in my own blood if I laid down.
The guys carried me out into the yard. The area was lit with rotating blue, red, and white lights from all the emergency vehicles flashing off the quiet neighborhood houses. They carried me past my own car, the VW, driven up into the yard, close to the door of the house. It looked awkward there, parked sideways on their lawn. I tried to get someone’s attention to tell them to turn off my lights before the battery died. This was all I could think about as I was loaded into the ambulance.
Minutes later, we arrived at the Falmouth ER and were met by the attending physician and an oral surgeon they’d called in. I was in and out but somewhat aware of what was happening, and as they tried to examine my face, the pain was excruciating. ‘About an inch here,” one doctor said. “Lucky.” He wasn’t talking to me, but I followed the conversation. “Okay, we’ve got the left jawbone shattered, and right jawbone,” one of the doctors said. He had a pencil near my face and pointed something out to the other people in the room. “We’ve got something up in this sinus cavity below the right eye. Tissue, bone, bullets—maybe all three.”
The other doctor was taking notes. “Could be some teeth were pushed up there,” he said without taking his eyes off his pad.
“Close to the eye socket,” the nurse said.
“And brain,” the other doctor said. The way they were examining me made me nervous. They were talking about me like I was dead already—like this was an autopsy.
Both doctors quickly agreed that they couldn’t treat me in Falmouth; I’d have to be transported to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston ASAP. Another doctor entered my vision. He’d heard about the shooting over the police scanner, and although he wasn’t on duty tonight, he got to the hospital to see if he could help. “I was in a mobile army surgical hospital in Korea,” he told me confidently. “I’ve seen injuries like this before.”
The MASH doc, Dr. Gibbons, took over for the other two
doctors and offered to ride in the ambulance to Boston. Everyone agreed. Dr. Gibbons was the only one who talked directly to me; the other doctors spoke as if I were a stump sitting between them to be examined. As he looked over my wounds, Dr. Gibbons leaned in close. “It’s all up to you whether you live or die tonight,” he told me, looking right in my eyes.
I motioned for pen and paper to write another note. This one I gave to Craig, pressing it into his hand. I told him who I thought shot me. I told him if I died he had to avenge me. He had to protect my family. This was laying it heavy on a good friend, but I could tell by the way the doctors were talking about me—around me—that they thought I was a goner.
Before they loaded me into the ambulance again, Polly arrived with Rick Smith. She was in her second year of nursing school, so the blood didn’t bother her—the fact that it was my blood did. The doctors were trying to get enough morphine into me to calm me down so they could insert a breathing tube. But the second I saw Polly, I had to let her know this wasn’t an accident. A nurse saw me motioning that I wanted to write something, and she brought me a clipboard.
“He wants to write,” she said to the doctor.
“He also wants to breathe.” The doctor brushed her off. “Not right now.”
But she found a way around him a minute later and gave me the board and a pen anyhow. I wrote, “Not an accident. Who is with kids?” Polly just looked at me, and I could tell she was in
shock. She hadn’t said anything since she walked in. She couldn’t even read what I’d written down. I hadn’t seen myself yet, but I could tell by the look on her face that I must look bad. I hit the board three times with the pen, demanding an answer. Rick Smith looked over her shoulder at the note. “They’re covered; we’ve got someone at the house already,” he told me. Then I sat back and let the doctors slide a plastic tube down my throat and we headed for the ambulance. Polly got into the ambulance too, along with another nurse and two EMTs.
The doctor told me to raise my hand when I needed suctioning, when the blood blocked my airway. We moved fast, it was late and we had a blue light escort by the state police up Route 3, where they handed us over to the Norwell staties, who took us to the Southeast Expressway, where the MDC—Metropolitan District Commission—took us to Mass General. A trip that usually takes an hour and a half done in about forty minutes. Fastest ride to Boston I’ve ever had.
I needed suctioning several times—the fluid they were putting into me through the IV was just pumping out of my face and down my throat. In the IV was something called ringer lactate fluid to prevent me from going into shock from the blood loss. Everyone was trying to keep me aware, breathing, and stable until we reached the hospital. But I had swallowed so much blood that I started throwing up. I threw up my airway tube a couple of times; the doctor had to keep reinserting it so I could breathe. Once we got to MGH, I entered as a trauma case, so
things moved at lightning speed. They had been warned that I was on the way, and even though they were ready for me, the outlook wasn’t so good.