Events of July 4, 2012
The Preliminary Fun
Only two homes top our driveway, ours and our neighbor, "S." (I desire to respect his privacy as I know he valued it.) Other houses surround the area closely, but we each have five acres, which provides a little buffer and results in most of our interactions being with "S" in neighborly matters.
Mild curiosity at most attended the approach of "S" to our patio. His high spirits were shared by the group, everyone was enjoying the day. He held a sack of goodies, so I trotted over to join the men. I'm an inquisitive person after all. The more I can witness, the better I can write. Or so I figure.
With pride and manly fun, "S" displayed his prizes: grapefruit sized mortars with arm-length fuses and a rocket.
Note: Mortars is another term for aerial fireworks.
These were professional grade too. My husband, his brother Will, and my father-in-law conspired in the shop talk. He was there to ask permission (can't scare the kiddos) as much as to share his excitement with others. We did not hesitate to give it. I was intrigued by the large explosives' ability to be connected together to start a chain reaction. The boys wanted to know how he planned to light them off. Typical men.
His plan: weld a 3/4" thick steel tube to a launching pad of sorts. He'd set up on the field on the far side of his house. We'd get a great view, but he'd be away from others.
"I'm only going to light them off if I feel safe," he insisted many times over. We agreed, and my husband and his brother offered to help. They had no shortage of welding and engineering experience. "S" refused. "No offense, but I don't want the liability of you two." Bless that man.
The Final Show Begins
We chattered with excitement about the prospect of "real" fireworks with the rest of our gathered family as the sky grew darker, until the show began. Our vantage point on the hill and the open land provided ample opportunities to view the neighborhoods' below bombastic celebrations. Aerials are sold in a nearby town, but still illegal in ours. No one bothers to enforce it though. I shudder now to think of our discussion on the matter.
We're safer here with them than the old neighborhoods with their cedar roofs, we told each other. Besides, the police were probably enjoying the show as much as the rest of us. We even joined "S" in starting our sprinklers up to keep the large lawns a bit safer from fire.
My husband and his brother started their antics again, this time with a collection of fountains they lit off in sequence. We oohed and aahed appropriately, but took a break to visit another neighbor lighting off his own, small aerials. How beautiful they looked up close, how inspiring and impressive to view them from ground level as they exploded overhead. I held my sweet husbands hand in delight at each one.
"What a perfect Fourth of July," my sister-in-law commented on our return to the patio and the fountain extravaganza. "I don't think anything could ruin this day." We all nodded and uttered our concurrences.
The men took up their display and as their grand finale came to a close..Boom! The explosion rattled our chairs a little as "S" first mortar exploded with perfect timing. We applauded his unintended timing and generosity. What a show. What night. More, we cried. Do it again, "S"! Oh look at the smoke cloud it leaves, someone noted.
Out of our own pittance to the pyromania gods, we awaited "S's" next offering. His wife, "C" drove up in their mule, a higher-powered golf cart-like vehicle, then took off back to the far side of their house, out of sight.
Joy Turns to Terror
The crowd's impatience grew as a few minutes passed. We discussed possible set up time or the wife's appearance indicating a possible problem. Five or ten minutes after the first explosion, we heard another report. The show was back on! But no great display of light followed.
Smoke rose up behind our neighbor's house but too low to be right.
"We should check it out," Will suggested. "Make sure nothing is wrong."
He ran first, then my husband. I paused for an instant. I'm pregnant. Not very helpful.
"But I know first-aid," I told myself, and then took off after them. We heard the screaming before we arrived. The shrill cries of anguish and fear.
"Call 911! Help! Someone help!" a woman shouted. I turned back to the family on the patio and restated her request to call and added the address they would need, then kept running. A bit confused I saw neighbors on a nearby balcony and shouted up at them to know where to go. Shouted to the screaming woman that 911 was being called, help was on the way. Will arrived first, my husband not twenty seconds behind him, and then slow me. Two others had arrived as well, but I couldn't identify them in the dark. But it couldn't have been more than a minute since the explosion. A minute for all those conversations. All that thought and worry.
I rushed to "C" as I saw her first, but then looked for "S." He was on the ground, motionless. His body hunched over, looking so small for his normal size. I checked him. Lying in his gore, I knew he was beyond any help I could offer. No CPR would fix this man. I couldn't even attempt it with so much damage to his chest. Even his bloody face seemed to say, this is beyond you. So I returned to his wife and started my orders. I knew the voice I would need. Confident, calm, commanding. She needed help, and I could not be ignored by those who might think I was guessing at the right actions. I'd heard of that before.
She was in shock. Her body shook, her skin was pale and too cold, and she was as hysterical as I'd never seen before. This was not a frantic screaming girl hysterical. This was delirium. I called for a blanket. Instructed them that her legs needed raised and her head should be supported off the wet grass. Will took her head in his lap, and I will forever respect that man for his comfort. I don't know who got the blanket for me, but I wrapped her up in it and we talked as we waited for the ambulance. I couldn't practically keep her legs up, and gave up on it when she mentioned the explosion had gotten her on the leg.
The order of our conversation eludes me now. I can tell you what she said, how she sounded, but those details are gone. She cried out for her husband. Cried for his baby (a grandchild) who was only two. They were supposed to go see him tomorrow. What was she going to do now? What would she do without him? Oh a dream, it had to be a dream. It was just a horrible dream.
I managed to learn a little. She'd been standing 10-15 feet away near the mule during the explosion. Even from that distance it had burned her leg and knocked her down. I checked the burn, but had nothing to offer her where we were. Her pants now sported a 3-inch black burn, but nothing like the damage to her husband. I left it for the paramedics. The shock was more important to treat.
I heard my father-in-law talking to the dispatcher. He checked for a pulse. "No ma'am. That's not going to do anything." Later, I learned he meant CPR. I agreed fully. But wished my patient didn't have to hear it.
She clutched my hand to her chest and I stroked her hair and face, trying to keep her from looking. She did not need to see what I saw. Let her remember her husband as he was, not like this. She'd have enough trauma as it was, enough bad memories. And more than that, I wanted to protect her. She was my charge. A neighbor, someone she knew, brought another blanket, muttering we needed to keep her warm. But I knew that. Still, this woman provided a familiar face and more comfort than I thought I could give. I rose to leave her with a friend, but she clutched my hand tighter still and I stayed. How could I do otherwise?
I heard the sirens and told "C" that help was on the way. So many people get lost trying to find our driveway. I couldn't allow that delay. They could so easily just drive on by.
"Someone needs to go down and get them!" I told my father-in-law. "The ambulance is going to get lost." I saw someone, I wasn't sure who, run down the hill and the paramedics joined us on the grass. They strode over to us, gear in hand, and knelt by "C." Myself and a few others pointed out "S" saying he was the main victim. One of the three paramedics checked his pulse, shook his head to the others, and offered a brief comment to the effect of "we're not going to change anything there."
My turn was over. I told them what I knew of what had happened, the things I had done for "C" and what I knew of her injuries (like the burn on her leg and the shock). They brought over the gurney next and we finally thought over the practical matters. Will asked if the other neighbor could go with her to the hospital, and though she was in her bathrobe, she agreed. Then "C" mentioned her phone. We searched the grass and at last found it underneath her.
"Who can we call?" I asked. She stumbled through people and babbled on about her family until she gave us a last name, and then picked her brother as they wheeled her away. Will took over that terrible phone call, and I turned to cry in my husband's arms. He held me tightly and asked if I would be all right. I reassured him, I would but I did need to cry for a moment. That's all I could allow myself.
By now the police had arrived and talked to us and Will ran to close up their house. We retold them the story I've just told you but in less detail starting at the smoke and knowing something was wrong.
"Can we move over there?" they asked mid conversation. They'd just been told that the whole area needed to be cleared because pieces of "S" where scattered around. I wasn't surprised after what I'd seen, but my stomach wasn't too pleased at the prospect of what might be on my clothes. I held tightly to Andrew's hand as my anchor to the real world. To what I knew still existed and lived. They got each of our names, birthdays, and phone numbers down. Then they explained what would happen. They needed to shut down the area and treat it like a crime scene even though obviously it was an accident. So we didn't need to help move the mule or need to stay any more. If they wanted any more information, they would call. The rest of the story is largely my husband's, and I will let him tell it when he and if he has the time/emotional strength.
I wrote this a while ago. Write after part 1 actually. But my husband hasn't had the time to sit down and write his part. We had a baby. We're moving. Lots going on. But looking back, the memories still bring an upswing of sadness. I can hardly think about it without picturing "S."
His wife, "C" and I reconnected at the funeral and now we are friends. She is a spectacularly strong woman. But we both agree we can't even look at fireworks right now. It's a bit too much still. I skipped the New Year's Eve shows. But I don't want this even to go to waste. It has brought me a new friend and I hope it will bring you all some help with whatever story you want to tell. It certainly has changed how I write certain scenes.
Ask me questions. Please. I have the time to answer those. I promise. I won't disappear from that. I'll see about my husband's side of the story, but I want you to at least have something. I miss you guys. I miss my vlogs. I hope after the move I can start again.
Thank you for reading.