Departures – 6/22/12

The following took place shortly after 6pm last night in front of Terminal 3 at the San Francisco International Airport.

Arriving at San Francisco International Airport’s departure gates, the taxi hugs the curb as it inches forward. As I exit the street side door into the cool early evening air, the screeching tires bring my eyes level with hers as she stares blankly ahead, caught by surprise as she rises from the crosswalk.

Her feet dangle in front of the headlights as she reclines, suspended above the car’s hood. Weightlessness gives way to gravity, whipping her shoulders forward, a desperate look of panic on her face. Her body stiffens, parallel to the ground in the split second before she hits the painted white lines of the asphalt. The bag leaves her hand on its own trajectory, exploding in a soft rustle of papers. Her head rests on the crook of her elbow, as if peering under the car for a bauble that rolled away. Legs forming a figure four, a single cry focuses the attention of each passerby caught facing away.

I change course from the trunk of the taxi where the luggage awaits. In a few steps, thoughts of my mother play across my mind, remembering that day at Logan when she braced the boy’s head, kneeling in the crosswalk next to the car, years of stable comfort in her hands, softness in her voice. She waited for the ambulance, the board, the braces. Her colleagues, joined by their mission, announced themselves, red and yellow lights flashed across the concrete supports. As she waited, her words steadied the boy as the crowd grew.

Again I change direction seeing a passerby rushing from the sidewalk, then another, kneeling, hands pressing the woman down, each palm urging her not to move. I am not my mother, my lack of training does not go beyond initial stability, a task several others are accomplishing with ease.

I rush through the sliding doors, searching for an airport uniform, anyone with a direct line to emergency medics. Moments later I am standing in front of the security gates as the steward requests a passenger’s boarding pass and identification.

“A woman has been hit by a car. You need to call for help.”

The man’s eyes focus on the paperwork in his hand, continuing the process with the dull precision acquired over years of mundane practice.

Grabbing his arm, he matches my gaze.

“A woman has been run over,” I embellish slightly. “You need to call someone.”

The words do little to wipe away the glaze of monotony in his eyes. I look at the passengers next to me, searching for someone who understands my plea.

“Call a doctor,” a woman finally states, joining my cause.

I return to the curb as I am certain someone has called for help by now. Structure is taking the place of the random actions that unraveled less than 30 seconds ago. A man is directing traffic around the woman’s outstretched legs, another volunteer works further down the drop off zone, forwarding cars and shuttles one by one with the firm movements of a construction site policeman.

Several men and women are in the street, focusing their efforts on the motionless body. Within a few minutes the sirens approach, wailing against the murmurs of the growing mass of onlookers, pulsing lights dancing across the rooftops of cars that steer slowly towards a single lane exit. Police officers point the civilians away from the woman, releasing them from their momentary charge, as authorities interview the driver. The predictability of delivering the stretcher, securing the neck-brace, and loading the patient disperses the onlookers.

Some of the first responders grab the handles of their luggage and roll through the doors to their flights while others help loved ones to awaiting cars or sluggishly slip in to taxis.

As I turn away, the images of my mother continue in my mind and I know her voice continues to calm that boy.

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