Opinion: Broken Bones Heal Stronger

What one staffer’s father’s accident taught her about the meaning of family.

I used to only imagine what it would be like to lose my mom or dad, and how it would affect my life. It usually was only a fictional, brief thought. I never realized the fear that almost losing a parent could bring until my dad had a near-death experience. 

It was December 8th, 2020, and I had just finished school a couple of hours prior. My dad and I had gotten into a fight about something ridiculous, that, to this day, I can’t even remember. He left shortly after on his daily bike ride in Pasadena, which I was glad for as I didn’t want to speak to him. I began angrily working on hemming the dark green dress I would wear on Christmas. I shoved headphones into my ears so I could listen to overly dramatic music while I worked.

My brother Bruno was in another room playing video games with his online friends. I found it inspiring and a bit scary that he could spend so much time conversing and playing with people he had never met physically. We hadn’t talked for what seemed like months except for an occasional word at mealtimes. As I started to calm down while pinning the folds of my skirt into place, I let out a small sigh anxiously, knowing I would have to talk to my Dad when he got home. I heard a creak of a floorboard behind me and turned around to see my mom white in the face clutching her phone in her hand. 

“Everything’s okay,” she said in a slightly unconvincing tone. “But your dad’s been in an accident.”

My heart dropped to my feet. “Is he okay? What happened?”

My mom told me that my dad had been riding his bike when a car had hit him. We didn’t know any details yet at the time. We didn’t know that my dad had somehow flown 25 feet in the air from the collision spot. We didn’t know that he had broken his dominant arm and his left leg in both his tibia and fibula. All we knew was that he was on his way to the hospital. We knew that he was already on blood thinners that made him extremely susceptible to bleeding because he had just had heart surgery a couple of months prior. 

X-ray of my dad’s broken wrist. (Lucia P.)

My hands felt numb as my breathing quickened. My mom didn’t say it out loud, but I knew my dad had been in mortal danger. I sat down on my sewing chair and hugged myself, which gave me no comfort. My dad could have been dead for all I knew, and the last words I had spoken to him were in anger. I felt so guilty and utterly repulsed by myself. 

I realized that I might never get to apologize to my dad, and I was certain I would have broken down then and there if my mother hadn’t told me to go take care of my brother. She had gone out to try and find where the collision had occurred and if my dad’s bike was still there. 

With what could I comfort him?  What words could I offer when I knew nothing about our father’s state of being?  So we sat there on the couch for a moment in silence, until he reached his hand out for mine and I took it. I have always thought of my brother as little, the younger one, with his boyish face and unruly brown hair and look of innocence in his eyes. But holding his hand, I realized that we were acting as each other’s anchors. 

“Do you want to watch a movie?” my brother had asked.

This might seem insensitive and completely inappropriate for the situation that we were in, but we both needed a comforting distraction. 

“Sure,” I said, “What do you want to watch?” 

“Kung Fu Panda?”

I almost smiled when he said this. When we were little, we would watch Kung Fu Panda or some cartoon Batman series almost every Friday night. Whether he knew it or not, I think he was trying to feel some sort of nostalgic comfort. He wanted to watch something that he knew the ending to. We sat there on our big brown couch, he on one corner and I on the other, watching a children’s movie about talking animals. For a moment, everything was okay. 

Later that night, my mom had come home and told me and my brother that our Dad was going to be okay. He was just going to be staying at the hospital for a while. I knew she was trying to make us feel better, but somehow I just felt worse. My mom decided to call my dad so we could talk to him, probably because we wouldn’t get many chances during the day. 

My dad’s wrist post-surgery. (Lucia P.)

Once my mom dialed my dad, she spoke with him for a while before handing off the phone to my brother. I was getting more and more anxious the longer I sat there, but my brother was busy cracking a joke to my dad in an attempt to lighten the situation. Although it can be annoying at times, my brother has a knack for creating a more comfortable and goofy mood in any situation, which I admire about him. After a couple of minutes, my brother passed the phone to me, giving me an encouraging smile.

“Dad?” I whispered, my voice cracking slightly. I attempted to put on a brave face, but my voice betrayed my emotions. 

“Hi honey!” my dad said. “I’m okay, everything’s okay.” I felt bad when he said that. Wasn’t I supposed to be comforting him? He was the one in an accident, not me.

“How is Mom?” my dad asked. My dad and I are very conscious that my mom carries our family’s weight on her shoulders. If she doesn’t take a step back once and a while to breathe, she will run herself into the ground. In that moment I felt a responsibility and purpose; I would take care of my Mom and brother and make sure we all got through this. 

My brother and dad eating ice-cream together after he got back from the hospital. (Lucia P.)

“She’s holding herself together for us,” I said softly, not wanting my mom to hear. “Dad…I’m so sorry.” My voice faltered. “If I had known, which I didn’t, and I shouldn’t have said any of it, but I was upset and angry, and now you’re hurt and it could’ve been…”  My words were a garbled mess, but my dad seemed to understand.

“But I’m here, and it’s all okay. You don’t have to be sorry for anything. I love you, and I’m okay, so that’s all that matters.” He said exactly what I needed to hear, but that didn’t stop me from crying.

The past month or so has been a blur of cleaning, studying, and stress.

The accident took place a month or two ago and it seems like a distant nightmare. Today, my dad is recovering in his wheelchair and is slowly gaining the strength to walk again. My brother and I have become closer throughout this time. I continue to make sure my mom knows she doesn’t have to push herself so hard to be everyone’s anchor and forget she needs to be anchored too. 

Although the accident turned my life upside down and tested the limits of my family, we are stronger for it. During the pandemic, we have become each other’s only support systems. At the moment all we have is each other, we have become so deeply accustomed to each other’s thoughts and emotions, and can support one another in a personal and loving manner. 

My dad, finally home from the hospital and recovering on our couch. (Lucia P.)

My relationship with my brother has changed the most since the accident. I have never felt comfortable calling my brother a friend, but subconsciously, he has become that and more for me in the last few months. Although we argue and bicker, we also talk and care for one another. That night when I took my brother’s hand for comfort has changed our relationship for the better. He is no longer just the annoying boy playing loud video games in the room next to mine. He is a friend, ally, and someone who I know will always have my back.  

I wish I didn’t need a car accident to help me realize what I need to nurture in my life and what I need to expel from it. Everyone keeps saying how lucky I am that my Dad is alive and healthy, and frankly, this frustrates me to no end. There is no erasing it or changing the past. We just have to press forward with the knowledge that we survived. My family and I were not lucky, or fortunate. We were strong and supported each other through times of hardship, and that is how we made it through.