Excerpts From Unthinkable By Dixie Fremont-Smith Coskie
Chapter 1: The Call
September 6, 2001
This new school year, all seven of my children will be attending classes full time. After 16 years of staying home taking care of my little ones, I finally will be free to contemplate life without interruption, to possibly pursue some of my own interests. I had been so passionately immersed in the everyday of bottles, diapers and chaos that I never really thought of my inner ambitions. Maybe I could redecorate the house? I had always wished to rekindle my love of art, drawing and being creative. Perhaps, I could take up racquetball or tennis again? I enjoyed the exercise, competition and the way the ball had effortlessly glided through the autumn winds during my college years. I could even get a part – time job. Before starting my own family, I had worked at a small school helping mentally, visually and hearing impaired children. What job with “mother’s hours” could challenge me now?
I craved an opportunity to find out who I really was or wanted to be. I yearned to embrace my forties, to seek adventure and the opportunity to wear a different persona. I was looking forward to a new way of life, one without interruption from nine until three.
This particular morning I had pampered myself by staying in my pajamas, making my cream-filled coffee last for hours. I loved the solitude, the soothing background vocals of James Taylor, and savored a mystery novel, indifferent to the stacks of dirty dishes and piles of laundry surrounding me. I had a hair appointment after lunch and would be home to greet my children when they returned from school. The house would once again be filled with commotion, laughter, and familiarity. In the afternoon, many children from the neighborhood were playing street hockey and kickball in our big yard. The carefree spirit of childhood could be seen in their smiles. They enjoyed running, poking, and nudging one another. My son Paul had a couple of buddies visiting; they were goofing around out back in the dense woods. I recall seeing their sly and grinning expressions as they emerged from the pine needle forest, which told me they were probably up to some adolescent prank. Our eyes locked for a split second before my son abruptly turned and grabbed his bike, while still conversing and joking with his co-conspirators. I no longer existed. Paul, my thirteen-year-old son, was growing up. He was becoming way too cool to want to have anything to do with me. A pang of hurt briefly swept by, but growing up is inevitable; he was going to be an amazing young man. He was already an amazing young boy.
Around five o’clock when the phone rang, I had just started to prepare dinner; as usual, something processed, quick, and kid-friendly. Before the receiver touched my ear, I could hear my neighbor talking rapidly and loudly. It was hard to understand her words. “Dixie, hurry, come to the end of Farrar Road, Paul is hurt.” I thought that is what I heard. I did not react right away; I had just seen my son. My neighbor must have been mistaken. I needed details. “What happened, is he okay?” “Dixie, get down here, Paul has been hit by a car; the ambulance is on its way.” The phone fell from my hand, slapping and cracking the hardwood floor. I could not move. Blood emptied from my head, forcing a sharp, tingly sensation rippling, stinging through my nerves. My heart started to beat uncontrollably. My limbs went cold, then numb. A stifled scream surfaced. Eventually, I stumbled outside the door into a neighbor’s waiting car. Everything was spinning. My throat was closing.
Paul’s broken, twisted red bike lay by the side of the intersection. A black SUV idled on the other side of the road. The rush hour traffic, at a standstill, looked like a parking lot at a funeral. Commuters were getting out of their cars. A crowd of people began to hover.
My first instinct was to cradle my son’s lifeless body on the hard pavement. Dirt and blood matted his face. A deep, red liquid oozed from the corner of his lips. “Oh, my, God…is he alive?” I touched his dark brown hair. Thick, ruby blood seeped from the back of his head. He had not been wearing a bike helmet. Intense panic ripped through the air and into my lungs. The woman beside me said, “Don’t move him.” She told me she was a respiratory nurse, and she was attempting to keep his airway open so oxygen could flow to his brain. “Is he breathing?” I demanded. Slowly she nodded yes. “Is the oxygen getting to his brain?” Her eyes did not meet mine. She did not answer. I quickly asked if my son was unconscious; she hesitantly nodded, yes. I was relieved to know this, wanting to believe that my son could not feel or experience the pain and had no knowledge of this horrific moment. I wanted to change places with her. I wanted to be the one holding my son’s body. His handsome body, which I had watched grow from infancy, to childhood, to puberty.
I was not hysterical. Strangely, I was behaving calmly, and I only slowly became aware of the disbelieving crowd that was looking on. I stood up and pleaded for everyone to start praying and praying. “Don’t stop,” I ordered.
A man was standing in the intersection, next to the drip of fluids seeping down the road. In an authoritative tone, he stated that he was a doctor. He repeated several times that Paul was going to be okay. He stood a mile from my son’s limp body, making no attempt to assist him. This old man, with his spotted tie and buttoned-up shirt, was adding more chaos and tension to this already terrifying situation. I wanted him to help, or to leave, or to shut up. Cars were blocking the street; the police could not get through. When they arrived, I realized they too were useless—their main task was traffic and crowd control on this quiet country road that had become a circus. I still did not hear the sirens of the ambulance. Where were they? Why was it taking so long? Paul needed help now!
Two panic-stricken teenagers were talking very fast to an officer behind me. I needed to block out their crying, their words, and their hysteria. I did not want to hear the details and to envision Paul and his buddies cruising on their bikes down the steep hill, or to picture the impact of colliding aluminum and metal, which smashed, dented, shattered, twisted, and forced Paul’s body and mangled bicycle to somersault spastically, ten feet into the air…ten feet into the air…ten feet into the air, until Paul landed with a sudden forceful thud, bouncing and skidding on the rocks and concrete not far from the black SUV.
I did not want to look at the damaged vehicle, but I noticed the wide windshield was cracked. Glancing down the road, I began to pace, becoming frantic, desperately searching for help. I began to yell, “Was anyone else hurt? Where is the ambulance? What’s taking so long?” Shouting louder, my body shook, my voice shook, “What happened?” No one spoke. People came to my side in an effort to hug and comfort me. I swung my arms and thrashed, pushing them away. I fell to the ground beside my son, sobbing. My eyes darted toward unfamiliar and seemingly familiar people standing near the bruised car, tall trees, and small flowers that were emerging from the cracks in the sidewalk. Suddenly I sensed everyone’s hearts beating and witnessed every twitch of their muscles and movements…each individual eyelash, blinking…and Paul…silenced, unmoving. Within a millimeter of a second, the magnified and lucid world around me intently began to weave and spin and whirl, until I felt entrapped, held hostage within the confining net of a harsh cocoon. Instantly…everything had changed.
Chapter 8: Reality
December 5, 2001
Paul, it does not feel like Christmas is approaching. The merriment in the air as well as the cold temperatures are missing. It has been seventy degrees and months since the weather felt normal. We are trying to negotiate bringing you home for Christmas. There seems to be a struggle between our insurance company and the hospital administration, in allowing you to leave the ward for twenty-four hours. What a gift for all of us if we can make this happen! Dad and I will keep fighting for you.
Paul, your short-term memory is really bad. I worry you will never get it back. You cannot remember what you did five minutes ago, or have any recollection of why you’re here or what happened. I just reminded you of your accident and of the aftermath of being in a coma for two months, and you’re now at a rehabilitation hospital in Boston working to get better. I wondered out loud what you might have been dreaming about while you were in your coma. Without hesitation, and with a big smile on your face, your slow, strained, scratchy, monotone, alien voice said, “Girls.” I love you, Paul. Keep dreaming.
December 7, 2001
As Paul’s body regains more strength, his mind seems to be trying to grasp what is going on. I’m trying hard to be patient, comforting and reassuring Paul that he’s going to be okay. But my doubts are mounting daily. I too feel angry. Every five minutes, I have to repeat the same answers to his nonstop, taxing, demanding, difficult, deserving, repetitive, repetitive, repetitive questions. The aching lump in my throat is swelling. It is getting harder to hide my painful sighs, tears, and frustrations from Paul. In a scared, agitated voice, I hear my son demanding to know, “What happened to me? Where am I? Who are all these people? Why do I have to do all this stupid stuff? Why can’t I walk? What month is it? What’s going on at school? If you loved me, you wouldn’t leave me here! Take me home!”
I cannot leave his room for a moment or interrupt his ongoing rampages. He freaks out crying, insisting on leaving. Paul tries to thrash his frail, limp body to move about so he can escape from his prison bed, not realizing his legs will not support him. He looks like a caged, battered animal that has not eaten in years, and a bowl of gourmet food is just inches out of reach.
At night, Paul awakens in a haze screaming, demanding that I pinch him. “Mom, this isn’t really happening, I’m dreaming, right? Wake me up! Pinch me! Pinch me, hard! Wake me up! I want to walk! I want to go home!” At times I feel like I’m going out of my mind, too. But when he’s screaming, I talk softly, “Paul, you’re awake, this is really happening. Paul, you’re getting better, you’re going to be okay. Paul, hold my hand, I’m real, I m here.” When he calms down, I hide in the bathroom and cry, rocking, listening to the flow of water go down the drain, stifling his cries and moans for help before they overpower the room, again.
After Thoughts- Brianna
After Thoughts- Brianna
As her mother, I have always been in awe as to the way my Brianna sees life through her heart. How she interprets a strangers glance or a tree bending in the wind, and through her art and gentle sensitive ways, how her ability and talent can create life, and feelings upon a canvas.
Brianna was fifteen during Paul’s first year of recovery. Her carefree life shattered. Panic attacks and nightmares followed. She hid her fears by becoming quiet, by taking care of those around her, by releasing her grief through oils, pen and ink.
Our family watched how Brianna’s heart shook as her brush was in motion. How her tears mixed with the paints. We saw her silenced emotions scream with images within her artwork- they portrayed Paul’s accident. His crash had hit her hard.
I finally saw a healing process beginning to surface. Her artwork raw, real and releasing.
Brianna will leave her mark on the world through her inspirations, adventurous spirit, and funny sense of humor. She will stay true to being who she is, a caring, giving, hopeful, creative individual who sees beauty in the most tragic of circumstances.
A Moment In Time
By, Brianna Coskie, age 17, 2004
There have been times in my life when words don’t come easily, and it’s hard to verbally express my feelings, thoughts, or concerns. I communicate best through my artwork, most particularly through drawing and painting. When something comes to heart, it’s hard to put in words, but my fingers and hands urge me to find another way to express those emotions for which I cannot speak. This is why I turn to drawing; it is my way of telling a story and letting out my emotions for all to see.
Growing up with siblings always around, there was a certain joy in knowing I always had someone to lean on. On September 6, 2001, my family and I went through a traumatic and emotional time in our lives. My brother Paul was severely struck by a car while riding his bike. He was only thirteen at the time, and was not wearing a helmet. He suffered a severe brain injury that left him in a coma for two months and in a rehabilitation hospital for nearly five. He had to relearn everyday activities that we all take for granted such as feeding ourselves, speaking and walking. During this time my emotions got bottled up inside because the ones I looked to lean on, were in a need of a shoulder themselves. The only way I was able to begin expressing those feelings and to begin coping with the situation was through illustration.
The piece of art that I have selected represents the accident, struggle, and pain that my family endured during this time. As I began to tell my brother’s story in mosaic form, my anxiety slowly began to subside. I worked on this piece for over a summer, spending a particularly long time on the twisted wreckage of the bike, perhaps blaming the bike for all my pain. Each detail let me express an emotion I felt, as the bike represented my anger. Every individual drawing is symbolic to me and may allow others to see pieces of their own lives in it and the emotions they hide within. There are hidden drawings in this piece, such as a wheelchair, walker and a teardrop. The reason they are hidden is because my emotions were kept deep inside, masked from people, not easily seen. It was the faux smile I showed everyone, even though all I had inside were tears that could only be seen when you took a better look.
When my hands stopped moving and my heart fell back into place, I looked at what I did. I created an art piece of raw emotion. Among all the details of grief and pain it felt as though the painting lacked a moral. I felt compelled to superimpose the concrete image of the helicopter on top of all the others to show the truth behind the world, moving as it does. The helicopter’s speed and grace loaded with medical equipment was vital to my brother’s survival. It was representative of all the help and ultimate rescue of my brother, the symbol of life and hope that was brought to the artwork and back into my family’s hearts.
Working on this project allowed me to create a conflicting composition that is simultaneously visually appealing and disturbing. Bringing to life the images, colors, and different sections of this project were very cathartic for me. I hope that all my work will reach out and have a healing effect or bring about a change in people who may experience its deeper meaning.
This art piece allowed very different people to share a horrible moment in time that changed my life and my brother’s life forever. It also gives others hope and inspiration to believe in miracles, as my brother miraculously recovers, day by day from hsi injuries.