One Single Solitary Word

It is said that the word most commonly uttered by a dying man, is: Mommy.

Or ‘mother’, or ‘mom’, or some similar form of the female parent. But, ‘mommy’ is the most common. When I was in my early service years I read an article that stated what I have already; that the most commonly uttered phrase of a dying man on the battlefield is, ‘mommy’ (or as also already mentioned, some variation of the sort—including including the word ‘mommy’ in a short final statement).

I understood this. It hit home. Not that I had died in battle or anything like that (death in battle would have made writting this difficult—but not impossible). No, I understood this basic—instinctive—notion due to a simple trauma I had as a child.

When I was about ten years old—or so—my mother and I were out and about, running errands and such when something very simple occurred. And it was this event that made the connection for me. That is, in the moment of the trauma, a dying man would call out for peace, for comfort, for solace, for mommy.

As I have struggled to recall the store (I wanna say Kmart) where it all took place, I can’t. However, the location is easy to remember: the parking lot. Yeah, the trauma was in a parking lot. My mother and I were out getting stuff, and we were almost done. Okay, that’s not true at all; we had just started. This was our first stop and I ruined the afternoon. How? How you may ask? Well, I got caught. In a door.

Have you ever caught your hand in something? Or just a finger? If so, then you have a pretty good idea of the amount of pain I was immediately in.

We had just parked the car, my mother climbed out, locked her door, and began to walk toward the store. Now, when I say that she locked her door, I am referring to her having used the manual locks. For those that are old enough to remember cars before the ‘90s, you will recall how door locks typically had a solitary golf-tee-like peg that had to be manually pulled up, or pushed down, to secure the door. Or you could use a key (if you were outside the vehicle—obviously).

The ‘golf tee’ door lock.
Photo courtesy of CJ Poney Parts.

My mother walked away from the car, confident in the knowledge that I was following right behind her—which I would have been had not what happened next, had happened next. Since I had to manually lock and close my own door, and I was old enough to do it, she had no expectation that I should be delayed. The process we were in was a normal event: Parent got out of car, locked door, child followed suit—and parent.

I still have a vividly clear visual of the back of my mother’s head, as she walked away. I also have a vividly clear recollection of the panic that had set in as I was worried about losing my finger.

See, as I had begun to close the car door I noticed that I had forgotten to press the lock, and I guess that’s what caused me to… pause? Pause isn’t quite right, but it’s pretty close. So yeah, as I pushed the car door closed, I had mostly used my fingers, placed on the outside the edge of the door, at about waist level (this is important). As I swung my right arm and the transfer of energy and momentum went into the closing door, my fingers fell away from the contact of the door. All except one.

To this day still, I cannot recall exactly how it occurred. I just know that one second I was closing the car door as I would normally have done, the next… Well, the next moment my distal interphalangeal joint* (that’s the last joint/knuckle of the index finger) was lodged between the car door and the frame. Yeah, I shut my finger in the door.

As the car door slammed secure, I began to walk away but noticed two things: First, that the door was unlocked; and second, I couldn’t walk away because my finger was shut in the door. That’s when the pain hit. In real life, it was probably about two-tenths of a second of time for this to occur, but in my head, it seemed like five minutes.

My eyes locked onto my finger and how the car door had caught the joint of my finger perfectly. It wasn’t moving. It wasn’t getting loose. “Mommy!” It came without effort. It came without thinking. I needed my mommy. “Mommy!”

Because it was the passenger door, the handle was directly to the right of my right hand. “Mommy!” I tried to get to it with my left. “Mommy!” It was inaccessible. “Mommy!” If I reached over my right arm, I couldn’t quite get my fingers into the door handle to pull up—due to my arm’s angle. “Mommy!” I tried reaching underneath, but couldn’t get my fingers into the handle that way either. “MO-OMMY!” My hand had been locked into the door perfectly straight, while my arm was at an angle… That little bit of difference made all the difference as to whether or not I could open my own door. “MO-OM-MY!!!” She wasn’t turning around, she was still walking away, and the pain was almost blinding. Remember, I was about ten.

I continued to call out to my mother, but she just kept walking away, seemingly oblivious to the fact that I—her son—was desperately screaming out for her. “MO-O-OMME-E-E-E-E!!!” Finally, she turned around and I could see her startled that I was nowhere around. That’s when she looked up and saw me, redfaced, tears running down my cheeks, screaming for her. She bolted. Now, whatever else my mother is, she is fierce. I truly believe there is something to that rumored ‘Latin fire’. It’s a serious driving force. Do not get between the ‘Latin fire’ and its target, you’ll lose.

Within seconds my mother was at my side, asking what had happened, working to get the door open, surveying, and sizing up the situation. And, providing comfort.

It wasn’t long before we were at the hospital and the doctor informed me that I had just really hurt my finger (duh), but it wasn’t broken. Sure the flesh was a little chewed up—it looked like you could see the cartilage, but the doctor said it wasn’t (I don’t believe him, I think you could and he just didn’t want me to panic and have a freak-out). Yes, I needed to have a splint to immobilize my index finger for a few weeks. Sure the swelling was so bad that it felt as though my finger was broken, but because the door had lodged on the joint, nothing was broken—it just felt like it (all the pain and none of the realities—whoopie…).

Shortly after the hospital, we met up with my dad and had dinner (McDonald’s—to help make me feel better!). The whole thing was very… surreal. Throughout the entire meal, I got the feeling as though I was interrupting something. Almost like I wasn’t supposed to be there. Like, my mom and dad already had plans to meet up, have a serious conversation, and then life would go on. But, because I was there, they couldn’t. The strangest part about the whole event was how my dad behaved. Now, as a father, I know first-hand how sometimes interrupted plans can be frustrating and show—without intending to. But this was not how my father behaved—ever. Clearly, something was very wrong. Throughout the meal, my parents seemed to be speaking in hushed tones. This was also not typical. If my parents spoke, it was open. If they didn’t want us children to hear, they closed the door. This whole scenario was almost out out The Twighlight Zone. Normal, but just subtly out of the ordinary. 

The injury to my right hand made doing anything painful, including holding a stupid chicken mcnugget to dip in honey (I couldn’t even open the stupid honey packet by myself). I kept asking for help with things and complaining about how much it hurt to even move my hand (I’m not talking about moving my fingers about, just having my hand move as an extention of my arm). My father was so visibly frustrated by what appeared to be me, I tried to just sit quietly and eat—mostly because that’s what he told me to do. Again, not like my dad at all. Ever.

Again, as a father, I could suppose that the situation might worry him, due to the possible financial expense that I may have put the family into. After all, we weren’t poor, but we didn’t have much either. So, maybe my dad was just worried and was expressing it poorly—on accident. But, I’ll never know, as he died several years ago and I never really thought to ask about it while he was alive. Mostly because it didn’t really matter. But, when writing about this moment in my life, I couldn’t help but think of it. Oh, well. Life moves on.

After the McDinner, my dad went his way, and mom and I went home. Now, some of you may have been thinking, “Why didn’t your mom bother to turn around when you were screaming for her?” Well, let me explain that to you. I also—at that time—thought (in massive waves of panic) the very same thing.

On the way to the hospital, my mother only ever showed concern for me and my now damaged finger. Was I going to be okay? Was I hurting too much? Could I bend it? (that last one was to see if it was broken or just hurt—she knew her stuff, my mom really did) But, on the way home—once everything was settled and alright, that’s when she talked to me. She explained what was going through her mind.

See, when she first heard the scream, she—just for a brief moment (I even saw it, along with an almost imperceptible head shake)—slowed her pace, as she thought the voice was mine, but ignored it because I was old enough that I didn’t call her ‘mommy’ anymore, and I was right behind her (well, supposed to be, anyway). And, as the cries repeated, she kept wondering why that mother of that screaming child wasn’t attending to them. Then, on my last scream, she knew it had to be me, but couldn’t understand why it was so far away. Nothing was adding up—in her mind. That’s why she turned around. That’s when it all came together for her, and her mind settled it all.

Looking back, it’s fair to see that from the outside, my mother may have acted very coldly. But she didn’t. When I needed her, she was right there, showing love and concern, helping me to remain calm and focused. I never really appreciated it, at the time, but, after having my own children get into accidents, I understand what must have been going through her mind all those years ago. Yeah, when I needed a mommy, she was there.

*A great big ‘Thank you!’ to Erich for this little bit of technical jargon.

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