Hulked Up, creative nonfiction by Lowell R Torres

My first memory is of pain.  No, that’s not right.

My first memory is of my father and my older brother, side by side, crying.  Then came the pain.

No.  No, that’s wrong too.  I remember riding in the car before I fell asleep.

I had jumped into the back of the station wagon because Ed was hogging up the back seat, and the back of the station wagon was like a room all my own.  Seatbelts weren’t a priority then, I really don’t remember ever wearing one outside of grandpa’s car.

Every once in a while I would peek over the seat and see what I thought was an endless expanse of darkened road before me.  So black it looked like liquid; an ongoing concrete river.  There always seemed to be a green light on the far horizon, a beacon that said there was something other than pavement and ditches in the world.  We’d get closer and closer to the beacon, only to pass it up and find another one at the end of the path, again on the far horizon.  It felt a little like looking into forever to a three-year-old.

I was eating Star Wars brand cookies; all but R2D2 because he was my favorite.  I saved the Chewbaccas as well, and made them fight to the death.  Or rather, to the consumption.

It was the summer of 1983 and we were going home.  Going home, because it was Saturday night and my parents wanted us to go to church the next day.  They were adamant that all of us kids be at church every Sunday, no matter what.  Not because they wanted us to grow up to be good Christian men and women, but because we would be out of the house for several hours.

Anyways, we were going home, traveling from some relative’s house even though I distinctly remember them telling my mom and dad to just stay there for the night.  But no, we boys had to go to church in the morning.  They left my one-year-old sister with the relatives, or she probably wouldn’t be here today.

So there we were, driving home at four in the morning.  I fell asleep in the back of the wagon.  Ed was asleep in the back seat.  My mom snoozed in the front passenger seat.  You can’t blame us; it was four in the morning after all.  My dad fought it as long as he could, but it was a difficult battle what with the Sandman having dominion over the rest of his family already.  He ultimately failed.  He fell asleep too.

I woke up to crying, begging and pleading.

“Wake up, Lo-Lo.  Please wake up.  Laura, wake up honey!”  My dad’s voice, only it wasn’t.  It didn’t sound like him at all.  His voice had a deep timber like mine does now, with the ability to crack like a whip when angered.  This wasn’t like that at all.  It was higher than usual, and sounded cloudy.  He sounded like he was talking through a wet rag or something.

“Wake up Mommy!  Mommy!”  Ed’s voice, full of sobs and hitching, trying to act like a big boy even though he was frightened more than words could say and just wanted the comfort of his mother who was only three feet and yet an eternity away.

My brother and my father were outside the car, only they were funny looking.  They were upside down, which was just weird.  And why were they outside the car?  Were we home already?  Most importantly, why was my father crying?  I’d never seen him cry before, and the only other time I would ever see it again would come nine years later, when he was banned from his favorite American Legion.

He wasn’t much of a crier.

The windows were missing.  All of the windows.  That was when I realized my brother and dad weren’t upside down, the car was.  I don’t know which one of them noticed that I was awake first, only that all of a sudden they both had their full attention on me.  My dad reached in to grab me, but I wouldn’t budge and a yelp of pain got him to stop pulling.

My little mind couldn’t process what was happening.  All I knew was that I wanted out of the car.  Wanted my daddy or mommy, only I didn’t see mommy.  Where was she?

I looked around and saw a huddled, twisted form that resembled my mother, but didn’t look like it could be her, though I knew it was.  I shook her, called out her name, but nothing.  She didn’t move.  My dad was calling me again, and I tried to go to him, but I still couldn’t move.

My leg felt like it was gone, like it didn’t exist anymore.  I couldn’t see it either; it disappeared where my mother’s twisted middle began.  She was lying on top of it.  As the car had rolled off the road and into the ditch, we were all pitched about except my dad, who was wearing his seatbelt.  When the car finally stopped, she came down on top of me as I was still spinning.  As a result, my small body kept moving while my leg stayed still.  My mom is a large woman; it wasn’t pleasant.

The struggle to get unstuck was one of the greatest physical hardships I’ve ever encountered.  That could be in part because I’m lazy and try to avoid most physical hardships, but also I was so young and so damned panicked.  I would have given up had I not been frightened out of my mind.  The roof of the car beneath me was covered in ditch water, glass, and Star Wars cookies, which made my stomach twist every time I saw them.  And to top it off was the darkness, which my dad could only keep at bay for small periods of time with his cheap lighter, despite my frantic pleading for more light.  When the lighter finally ran out of fluid, I ran out of excuses to stay in that car.  I pushed and pulled and dragged myself by steady increments until I was free enough for my father to grab me and pull me from the wrecked remains of our family car.

My leg was numb at first, but as the blood rushed back that numbness changed into an excruciating pain.  I tried to join my dad and brother in their attempts to wake my mother, but I was spent.  Physically, mentally, everything-ally.  I lay in the grass and tried not to die.

I don’t remember much else about that night, other than being put in the ambulance with Ed.  It was surreal, being all strapped in, looking at my brother with the neck brace on him and thinking how stupid he looked.  They didn’t have a neck brace on me.  I don’t know why, they didn’t have one small enough or something, but I remember being able to look around even though I was told to keep my head still.  I also remember begging the paramedics not to cut up my pants because I really liked those brown cords.  They did it anyways.

The rest of that chaotic time in my life is a blur.  My mom’s mother and father only lived a block away from us at the time, and they stepped in to take care of us while my dad stayed with my mom at the hospital.  I remember flashes of him in and then out of the house again, like a phantom.  My mom was hurt pretty badly.

I made out alright, and so did Ed.  My leg was messed up but no breaks; nothing very serious.  One of Ed’s shoulders was banged up and sore but okay.  We both had other assorted cuts and bruises, his cuts on the chest and mine on my arms.  And we each had an abnormally large scab.  Mine was under my armpit, about the size of a grapefruit.  It was like a rug burn, only weird because why there and nowhere else?  I was wearing a shirt, after all.  Ed’s was on the side of his face, which made him look hideous for a little while there.  I’ve always wondered about those scabs and how strange they were.

Even stranger, perhaps, is how I rehabbed myself.

I couldn’t walk for some weeks after the accident.  I could hop on my good leg, and use objects to hobble around with, but putting my weight on my left leg made fiery pain shoot up and down it.  And then one fateful Saturday morning I was watching WWF on television, a family routine.

My dad was usually right there next to me, cheering for the Hulkster, Junkyard Dog, Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake, Superfly Jimmy Snuka and all the rest of them.  I cheered for Andre the Giant even though he was a bad guy, because who could hate Andre?  My dad wasn’t there that day, and neither was Ed, who was too busy sulking in his room about his scabby face.  My grandma was in the kitchen making lunch.

Hulk Hogan was fighting a bad guy as usual, and as I watched I decided that if the Hulkster could come out every week and beat the snot out of some jerk, I could get up and walk on my own.  No stupid accident was going to deprive me of an ability I’d only learned in the last two years.  No way, no how.  So I built up my courage, sucked up some pride and got to my feet.

And promptly fell onto the coffee table, grasping for purchase.  My leg still hurt like hell, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me.  I started doing laps around the coffee table, slowly at first, holding onto the side for dear life.  But as the match went on, and Hulk began doing his infamous “hulking up” I walked faster, used the table not as much.  By the time he gave his foe the atomic leg drop I made a lap with no help from the table, and promptly collapsed on the couch.

And that was how Hulk Hogan helped me learn how to walk again.

Hulked Up © Lowell R Torres.  All rights reserved.


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