I wake up to a bird flinging itself at our upstairs window. It repeatedly hurls its little body into the glass. Clank. Clank. Clank.
With everyone else still in bed, I drive over to the homeowner’s association office to pick up a blue balloon. I tie it to a junk-laden table placed at the front of our driveway.
You see, our neighborhood only allows garage sales twice a year. While being at the HOA’s mercy might be annoying to some, homeowners benefit from citywide advertising that guarantees a fantastic turnout for the 100+ families that choose to get rid of unneeded junk.
My goal was not to make money. My goal was to de-clutter. Besides the usual pile of toys and outgrown children’s clothing, we’ve lived in three states in as many years. In fact, for two years our stuff was spread across three coasts: Connecticut, California and Chicago. The need to move quickly while working while parenting while coping with a dying relative has taken a toll on our ability to keep up. We also have a surfeit of books from my wife’s reviewing days.
I could donate a lot of the stuff. In fact, that’s what we usually do. But the garage sale is so convenient. Drag your stuff from the garage to the driveway and people give you money.
The sale goes well. A young mom and her mom buy half of the toys, a pile of books and a bed guard rail that we used while visiting Grandma’s. We sell all of Lael’s and Seth’s old clothes. Hispanic men and women driving trucks with Sonora and Chihuahua plates buy entire bags of clothes for a few bucks. Most of the trucks are brimming with clothes, toys, furniture and old TV sets.
As the morning progresses, Lael and then Seth join me in the garage. Seth reads a few books up for sale. Lael rides her new bike in circles in the garage. Both kids are fascinated by an old black Royal typewriter I had placed on the table. My kids can’t stop playing with it.
At one point, 3-year-old Lael disappears into the house. Uh-oh, she might wake up mommy, who works the night shift. I go into the house, and sure enough Lael is writhing on the floor calling up to mom. Meanwhile the bird continues to fling itself at the window.
Near the end of the sale, a man driving a giant white Cadillac pays $10 for the Royal typewriter. As soon as the man pays, he shifts from pleasant buyer to irritated owner. He wants the kids to stop touching HIS typewriter. Maybe I shouldn’t have parted with it, but it has been languishing in a box for years.
Seth cries as the man loads the little typewriter into his car. “We have a much older and much cooler typewriter in another box, somewhere.”
“Over in that pile of boxes,” I said pointing into the garage.
“Can we get it now?”
“No Seth, it stays in the box for now.”
Seth calms down. I gave him a book filled with Grand Canyon photos. He LOVES it. Why am I selling this when we live in Arizona? I tell my boy to put it in the house.
At the door, Seth turns to ask me a question. I don’t remember what it was about. All the while, Lael is playing around me; I think she was grabbing my hands and swinging around my body or something, but I was concentrating on Seth.
Suddenly I sense her hands leaving mine. I “see” her fall in slow motion toward the ground. Lael’s face slams hard into the concrete floor.
My first thought” “I need to pick her up.” My second thought, “Blood will be pouring out of her nose like a gusher.”
If an adult had fallen like that, there would have been no doubt: automatic broken nose; concussion likely.
Even though I quickly lift Lael, time drags. Her nose looks yellow and squished. Broken for sure. Her forehead is unmarked, thank goodness. In fact, I quickly assess that her nose took the entire fall.
I hug my precious daughter against me and rush into the house. “Where is f—ing blue bear,” I mutter to myself as I rummage through the freezer. Blue bear is our name for an icy pack that the kids alternately love and hate.
Time is rusing by, so I grab a bag of frozen yellow corn and put it on her nose. The screaming and crying wake up mom. After a few minutes of fussing over Lael, we examine her nose again. It looks dented. We agree I should take her to the hospital. All the while, the bird continues to slam into the window.
At some point, Anne asks how much we made on the garage sale. “About $75 I tell her.”
My wife comforts Lael as Seth and I quickly throw the remaining junk back into the garage. I give Anne instructions on where to take Seth for his golf lessons. When I come to get Lael, she starts screaming that she doesn’t want to go to the hospital.
As I strap Lael in, I offer ice cream as a reward. Amazingly she calms down to just a whimper. As we drive down a street, I see more pickups with Mexican plates swarming through our community. Lael is sniffling now, but no longer crying. We drive past enterprising young kids selling lemonade.
“Do you want some?” I ask Lael.
She sniffs, then shakes her head no.
I get onto the main road. I drive a few blocks. Lael starts talking to me as if nothing happened. Should we go to the hospital? I weigh the financial cost of taking my lovely, wonderful daughter for medical care. I shake my head in dismay. Money is no object. She is my daughter. Still, I’m no longer sure Lael needs medical attention. I phone my wife.
“Come back home,” she says
I do, but fear, guilt and doubt wrack my mind.
We decide I will take Seth to golf, and Anne will take Lael to ice cream. Everyone seems okay with that.
As we drive to Seth’s lessons, the boy chatters nonstop while repeatedly battering me with questions about this or that. I have to ask my son to stop talking; he’s interfering with my visions of Lael suddenly becoming a vegetable after a cerebral hemorrhage. Or of me holding my daughter’s hand right before she goes under for plastic surgery.
I call Anne shortly after arriving at the golf lessons to double check on Lael. She’s fine. They scared the crazy bird away before going out for ice cream.
I immerse myself in Seth’s golf. He’s doing very well for only his third lesson, but he is near tears again. Although the boy repeatedly connects with the ball, he’s upset that it’s not popping high into the sky. Worse, everyone else is hitting the ball farther. Seth wants perfection now, damn it.
I reassure Seth. I offer advice and tips. I stop thinking about Lael for a few minutes.
As we finish up practice, the phone rings. I already know what my wife is going to say. “We’re at Urgent Care, but it’s closed. Lael’s nose is turning purple, and she has two shiners. Where did you say the hospital was?”
“What good is Urgent Care if it’s closed on the weekend?” I blurt. As I wonder if the economy is to blame, I give Anne directions to the new hospital, which is supposed to be better than the nearer facility.
“I’m hungry,” Seth says as we drive home. The boy says this about 20 times a day.
We stop at home for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Anne isn’t answering her phone. No bird.
As soon as we’re done eating, we drive over to the hospital. The interior is nicer than some luxury homes. The emergency waiting room is empty and completely spotless. I ask a young lady where my wife and daughter are. A nurse cheerfully walks me over.
As we round a corner, I spy Lael running around in circles, giggling. Hospital tags are on Anne’s and Lael’s wrist.
Lael’s nose isn’t broken, Anne tells me. Kids with broken noses don’t giggle and play. Children’s noses are all cartilage and therefore rarely break, a friendly, unrushed doctor tells me.
As we walk out, Anne jokes about their $150 hospital tour. I can’t help but do the math: we spent twice as much as we made from the garage sale. Knowing that Lael is okay is the better value.
Since we’re near a Whole Foods, we decide to drive over so Lael, Seth and Anne can eat some lunch. I’m not hungry. We buy a box of chocolate ice cream for Lael and vanilla for Seth. Guilt purchase.
Later, after things have calmed down, Anne tells me that she asked Lael what happened. “ ‘I let go of daddy’s hand,’ ” Lael told mom. “ ‘It was my fault.’ ”
I’m absolutely floored. Maybe Anne is just saying that to make me feel better. But no matter how I look at it, I’m just glad my little girl bounces.
(The bird returned as I wrote this.)