“So, Paul, how was your Christmas?”
“Oh, not bad. Saw family, watched the kids open presents, dealt with family drama, totaled my car nearly killing myself and family, spent Christmas Eve in the police station and hospital, nearly went broke, had oral surgery, didn’t eat for 2 days, in-laws’ house got broken into and ransacked. Pretty uneventful…”
This will go down in history as the Christmas from Hell in my family. I must append that statement with gratitude to God that we’re all alive and (relatively) well despite it all, but Murphy’s Law was in FULL effect all week. Want the full story? Okay, you asked for it. Buckle up, kiddies, it’s a bumpy ride…
Christmas Eve started about the same as always. I got off work a couple hours early and headed home to help Sonya get the final touches finished and kids ready so we could head out to Ida and spend Christmas Eve with my side of the family. The gathering is usually a high point of the season for me, as it represents a certain amount of stability and tradition over the years. I have spent the majority of my Christmas Eves with the same gaggle of about 15-20 family members for most of my life. I was excited and happy.
Earlier, while I was at work, my mother called me to ask for a ride, as my grandfather and uncle were heading up early and she felt she needed a nap first. I said it’d be tricky with the whole family in the car, and we wanted to take Sonya’s compact instead of my gas-guzzler to save some gas money. Nonetheless, I told her to call me if she couldn’t make other arrangements. By 4pm (our anticipated departure time) I hadn’t heard from her, so I gave her a call. She’d decided not to attend.
This would make the second family holiday in a row she had decided to skip for whatever reason. I was livid. After calling my sister to see if she had left yet and relay the news, she said she was almost to Ida already. She was deciding to turn around, as our mother’s withdrawal from family events had gotten her too pissed to enjoy Christmas. I told her to keep going, grab a drink to calm down, and that I would bring our mother to Christmas, come Hell or high water. I then drive out to Bloomfield Hills to talk my mother into attending.
When I arrive, she’s sitting in her recliner (one of only 2 places in the house one ever finds her) talking to my sister on the phone. After a little additional encouragement, she decides to go and spends the next hour and a half getting herself showered, dressed and ready. As she’s extremely overweight, diabetic, asthmatic, etc., these things take her a long time and there’s no rushing her.
We finally hit the road about 6, pick up Sonya and the kids, and head out to Christmas Eve. I’m fairly pissed at this point, because since Sonya wants to leave at 9:30 at the latest to get the kids in bed, it means only about 2 hours of festivities and curtailing my drinking to maybe 1 beer – 2 with a big meal, maybe.
We still manage to cram a lot of fun into 2 hours. My cousin Lori digs out the dinner makings for us to reheat and I have a good meal. Wonderful comfort food like turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, squash, rolls – good traditional stuff. We watch the kids open their gifts from the family we won’t see later in the week, sing some carols, and chat. It was everything I love about Christmas Eve with my family – just truncated a bit.
About 10pm, we hit the road. It’s drizzling a bit, but nothing major – or so I thought. After a few minutes, everyone but me is asleep in the car. About 10:30pm, we get to Outer Drive or so on I-75 and hit a patch of black ice. The car skids to the left median wall, bounces like a pinball across the freeway to the right shoulder wall, hits a small abandoned car, sending it flying about 30 yards on the ice, and comes to a stop with kids screaming and all aboard frightened and confused.
I look around the car’s interior to assess Sonya and the kids’ conditions. Sonya is okay, but startled, Liam is wide-eyed and crying, and Courtney’s face is bloody, but she’s conscious and alert. Panicking, I attempt to get out of the car and help Courtney from her door. Sonya stops me, reminding me it’s not safe and proceeds to clean Courtney up with a spare napkin. Just a bloody nose – nothing broken or teeth missing. However, as Sonya is contorted around helping Courtney, another, larger SUV barrels at us on the same trajectory we took and careens into us at full speed. It hits our back corner, spinning around us, and landing in front of us. If Sonya hadn’t stopped me from getting out of the car, I’d be dead.
Sonya calls her parents in Flint and our dear friend, Leigh, who both immediately jump in their cars to come to our rescue, while I call 911 and am told to wait for the State Police. Meanwhile, we’re all sitting in my totaled car, unable to move, watching car after car skid out around us. Liam is in the back seat, praying, “God, I don’t care about presents! I just want us to all get home alive!” We saw at least 7 other cars narrowly miss us in the HOUR we waited for the State Police – who, despite a SECOND 911 call, NEVER SHOWED UP! Thankfully, the Lincoln Park Police, who just happened to be driving by, saw the pile-up and closed the freeway, got EMS out, and helped as much as they could. It was not their jurisdiction and they shouldn’t have had to, but they weren’t going to leave people helpless in a crash zone. God bless them.
After some debate with EMS about the seriousness of Sonya’s back and neck pain and whether she should go with EMS to the hospital or just wait for our ride to drive us to the ER on our own, she is finally put in the ambulance and taken to Oakwood Hospital. I pile the kids and whatever toys they could carry into one of the officers’ police cars to go to the Lincoln Park Police Department. By the time we get everything situated, both of our cell phones are dead. We get to the Police Station and an officer is nice enough to plug my phone into a squad car to charge, as I only had my car charger with me. Meanwhile, the kids have calmed down and are both simply grateful that we’re all alive. They play with the toys they brought while I try and tame the mood further – for the kids AND myself – by playing some Christmas tunes on my ukulele.
I get the phone back after about 20 minutes and call the in-laws and Leigh. Leigh is a few minutes away and comes to pick us up. I swear, as she opened the door to the police station, I could see a cape around her neck, fluttering majestically in the breeze – our own personal superhero.
Leigh gathers us up and after getting some directions from the officers at the station, we head to Oakwood Hospital to check on Sonya. We get there and are directed to her room. She’s been there an hour with no attention form a doctor. She’s still in pain, but the initial exam seemed not to indicate any serious injuries (i.e. nothing broken, bleeding, or punctured). We all hang around until her parents arrive, trading off visits to the room to observe the 3-visitor limit. When her parents arrive about 2:30am, we decide it’s best to get the kids home and in bed and try to regain some normality to the holiday.
Leigh piles us in her car again, while Sonya’s parents stay with her in the ER, waiting for the x-ray results. We drive home and, not surprisingly, the kids fall asleep on the way. Leigh drops us off, helping to get our salvaged presents and the kids in the house and settled to bed. This wonderful woman woke up in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve, braved driving in the dark in unfamiliar territory (2 of her biggest phobias) to come rescue us in our darkest and most frightening hour without a second thought. If that isn’t the definition of a true friend and hero, I don’t know what is. God bless you, Leigh.
I spent the next 2 hours wrapping presents, calling the State Police to get the whereabouts of the remains of my car, and calling Sonya to get updates on her condition. Sonya gets home about 5:30 with a pronounced slowness to her movement and prescriptions for a muscle relaxant and an anti-inflammatory. The prognosis is still good. They didn’t find any breaks and she SHOULD be fine in a few day – or so they seemed to think. We sort out the details of the presents and wrapping for the kids’ stuff and hit the hay about 6am.
A very heartfelt and enormous "God Bless You!" to our personal super hero, Leigh McLaughlin and the Lincoln Park Police Department, without whom we might not have made it to Christmas Day!
God willing, this is the LAST of the drama for the year.
Heh. Yea, RIGHT!