Crownsville, MD - September 7, 1981
Labor Day usually signifies the end of summer here in the US. When I transport myself back to what that meant as a kid – trying to spend as much time as I could outside shooting BB guns, chasing frogs, playing catch, before school gathered us into the dreary hems of its skirt for another eight or nine months. Kids would plot and dream about how they might extend the summer break. On Labor Day 29 years ago that dream came true for me, but I nearly died in the process.
For just about every holiday, my grandparents, Nana and Pop-Pop, had afternoon family gatherings. It was a chance for everyone to eat until they were ready to regurgitate, then pretend to watch sports with Pop-Pop while falling sleep until someone announced, “Dessert.” It was just like Thanksgiving, Christmas or Fourth of July. Just like all those holidays, only this one was always comprised of a certain sense of longing. School had just barely started for most of the Dorr cousins. We were just getting used to our classmates again. Heck, most of us were still just getting used to holding a pencil.
In essence, Labor Day was our last chance to really cut loose before summer was considered a closed book. So, of course with dinner we drank a little too much carbonated soft drink which sent us careening through the house, screaming, paying no head to uncles exclaiming in half dazes of beer and corn on the cob, “Don’t run inside, kids.”
My father would have been among them, but this year he had some kind of TDY in Australia. Whatever that meant. Acronyms were always part of the top secret allure. Honestly, though, if my dad had been there, he would have instigated most of the running. Somebody would have most likely gotten hurt earlier and the crying would have been underscored by my father saying, “I didn’t do it.”
We obviously didn’t listen to a word our uncles were saying. Our older brothers were after us. My cousin, E and I ran around the house. In through the front door. Through the kitchen. A straight shot through the living room. Out through the porch. Around the house. In through the front door again.
We ran out through the porch again, around the house and this time up the stairs, to hide in the garage among the dusty and cobwebbed vehicles. Pop-pop’s black chunky bicycle was missing. We peaked out the door, then sidled along the top of the steps to the railing. From up there, we could see down into the whole yard and around to the three-tiered hillside where roses and other flowers overlooked the house. The perfect hiding spot.
E came up behind me and screamed, “There they are. Quick, hide.” I looked back just in time to see our older brothers careening toward us on the big black bicycle.
E hopped up onto and slid down the banister. I ran into the thick growth along the hill. I jumped down from one tier to the next, catching up to E on the patio. We lurched through the doors and I followed her back through the kitchen and into the living room. As I entered, I looked down at my uncles’ catatonic bodies. E easily dodged them and curved around to the right of the room, to the door that led back to the dining room and the stairs up to the second story.
I watched her as she pleaded with me: “No.”
But before I could stop - there came a crash. My knee shattered the porch’s sliding glass door into thousands of jagged shards.
Cousin E barely moved. Her hand covered her face. She was still pointing out of the room and up, in a direction I would no longer go this summer. The uncles opened their eyes from their doze, but before they could react, E’s mother, Aunt E belted out orders to everyone.
“Allan. Get back in here and lie down on the carpet.” Somewhere else, a voice was saying, “Is that such a good idea? The glass is still hanging.” And another, “Oh God. He’s bleeding.” But Aunt E’s voice cut through them all. “Allan. Get in here... Anita! Don’t YOU come in HERE!!!” Her voice gradually gained in volume and panic.
I shuddered. Finally returned. Alive with fear. I looked up from my spot on the green bunches of carpet. The living room. How had I gotten there. In the corner, the porch door had one remaining shard of glass hanging – a stalactite – a dagger of glass. My destruction. My creation for the summer.
Somebody in the room whispered to get the phone and call Nine-One-One. I was shaking. Cold. My knees curled up. My Aunt whispering for me not to move. Sometimes screaming for Anita not to come in. Shivering. Frozen.
“I told them no running in the house.” I heard. Then hushing sounds.
We listened to the ambulance travel down the point toward us from the volunteer fire department, the sirens echoing off the land across the river. The paramedics rumbled down the stairs and into Nana and Pop-pop’s house. They wrapped me in blankets, and constantly asked me if I was warm enough. They taped up my skin, then they wrapped more blankets around me. I could hear muted comments that I was lucky... My face.
The three men in their pressed blue shirts scooted me over onto a gurney, which they rolled out through the kitchen door. I had last come through there on my own, but now I was being carried back out into the yard. I looked around. All over the hill-side, hundreds were gathered: faces I’d never seen before.
I was at center stage in a round of gawkers and rubberneckers. In the dusk of my last summer day at the opening to the eighties, I was basking in the hundred degree sun, shivering under a multitude of blankets, and my body was attempting to use what precious little blood it had left to turn my face an unnecessary reddish hue.
Luckily, due to the prompt response of the paramedics, on that day I did not die. But I lost a couple pints of blood, and few weeks of school. There was an article about the incident in the local paper. It also lauded the fire department’s true heroism. I received lots of presents, puzzles and games from family to help keep me busy. All of my class-mates also sent me letters. I imagine they were all very jealous that they had to sit in school, while I was sipping cool colas in the care of some kind nurse somewhere.
Well, to set the record straight, if you’re even considering it, that was no way to extend a summer. Besides all the pain, I received hundreds of stitches, which I can still nearly make out well enough to count. Part of my leg has no feeling at all, and sometimes piercing phantom pains, because of nerves severed by glass. And the hours of boredom in the hospital bed: Not worth it. School would have been much more fun.