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  • Writer's pictureVanessa King

Inspiration & Blunt Force Trauma: Happy 9th Anniversary of the Day I Held That Lady's Scalp Together

I'm going to have to deal with that.

It's the thought I have when I see the metal frame come free from the cat hospital on the corner of 5th and President as I walk to the grocery store. It's Monday afternoon and I'm hosting a dinner party later, and I'm trying to remember if 8oz of sour cream is enough (it is) when the unfortunate tableau unfolds.

I've passed the cat hospital enough times in the last eighteen months to know it's the roll-down security gate that's broken loose, a grim prospect I'd never before considered. I add this strange happening to my mental list of "Uniquely New York Ways to Die," where it joins "falling AC window unit" under the subheading "Death From Above."

Outside of my head, I'm still half a block from the site as the top corner of the frame arcs away from the building and toward the people below. The rest follows with a wobble that seems unnatural for metal, lurching forward like it means to cross the street with the cluster of Park Slope residents waiting for the walk signal. And then it falls.

I assume people scream. The music and insulation of my throwaway earbuds dulls whatever sound comes from the crowd as the frame hits the ground. I think I scream. Dust plumes. People scatter. And I'm still walking toward it.

Because I'm going to have to deal with that.

I've never had real medical training. I'd been a lifeguard on and off for over a decade, and in June of 2012, I'm lifeguarding and teaching swim lessons at a community center in Tribeca, my MA in secondary education be damned. But first aid is part of every lifeguard course, and I can provide basic care. As I approach, do I hope that my measured pace has given a medical professional time to announce themselves and offer their services to whomever might be in need? Absolutely. But I know, just as I had when watching that metal stagger free, that I will be dealing with this.

Someone is screaming. Blood streams down the face of a dark-haired woman, probably in her fifties, who sits within the three-quarter frame of metal, crying "BABY B!" as she points to someone else; another woman sitting with a child in her lap. The bleeding woman pats at the back of her head with her other hand, the palm glistening red, one else is doing anything. The good ten or so onlookers appear content with their onlooking, so I sit and ask the woman if I can help. She doesn't speak much English, and is still demanding we do something about "BABY B!", but she points toward her scalp, and I lean in. A laceration, probably two inches long, bleeding, but not gushing, and a hint of white amid the blood.

Bone. I am looking at this woman's skull.

Before I can dwell on that unsettling detail, she collapses onto my lap. I can still reach the wound, so I press the sides together as best I can, a little blood oozing from the seam between my fingers. When the receptionist from the cat hospital presses gauze into my free hand, I thank her and hold it to the wound; gloves would have been better, but it's a bit late for that. A plainclothes officer shows up, brandishing his badge, but stands to the side on a cell phone, as do the other half-dozen plainclothes officers that materialize. I presume/pray that one has called 911.

Though all of this, a second victim sits in eerie silence. The toddler, not even two years old, chambered in shock in the lap of that other woman. She's a mom, I have no doubt, though not the mother of this child, and gently rocks the boy, murmuring soothing sounds as she grips his calf above and below the hideous zig-zag break in his shin. The bone hasn't broken through the skin, thank God, but the wrongness of the shape of his leg is haunting.

It's pieced together that my victim is the boy's nanny, and there is a collective sense of relief when someone realizes that the bloodied caregiver's cry of "BABY B!" is the label of the child's parent's contact info in her phone. The nanny pulls up the number, handing the phone off to yet another woman, who makes the call.

Mom arrives within minutes. She is devastated and furious. I have no idea what she might have been going through in that moment, but now that I'm a parent, I feel safe assuming her rage came from a feeling of impotence, knowing that her child had been harmed and there was nothing she could do to change that, or guilt, maybe, that she hadn't been with him to prevent it or care for him in the immediate aftermath. She checks on the nanny, taking one of her hands, and they have an exchange in what I later learn is Armenian. Mom spends the rest of the wait for the EMTs with her son, still in the lap of a stranger, because if nothing else, we're all sure no one should be moved.

When the EMTs get there, they maneuver around me to get a spinal collar on the woman in my lap. As they lift her to the gurney positioned beside us, I realize my headphones are bound in the collar and have to disconnect them from the iPod shuffle clipped to the neck of my tank top. The hot pink cords dangle absurdly from the gurney as they wheel the nanny toward the ambulance. The doors are closed, and I get up from the curb.

I'm asked a few questions by a uniformed police lady. The whole time I talk to her, I have my hands up, clawed, positioned somewhere between a scrubbed-in surgeon and a velociraptor. The blood has dried, tight on my hands and crusted beneath my fingernails. When I'm excused, I'm directed to wash my hands at a diner across the street. There, a fellow mopping the floor takes in my bloody Dr. Raptor hands with wide eyes and points me to the bathroom.

After a thorough scrubbing (have I become Dr. Raptor?), it's... done. No blood on my shirt, somehow. I go to Associated Market, still dazed by the preceding-- how much time has passed? Half an hour?-- buy what I need (devil's food cake mix, a box of chocolate instant pudding, 8oz sour cream, chocolate chips), go home, bake my cake, and host ten people in my tiny apartment, where I have one hell of a story to tell them. There's an article about the accident in the Gothamist the next day, including photos. One shows the back of my head! My hair is large.

Time goes by. I (we; my husband helps) reproduce, leave NYC, and bounce from Arkansas to Seattle before settling in Colorado. Facebook provides an annual reminder of the bloody security gate incident, and I continue working on a writing project a handful will request, but none will represent. Texts with a friend gets me started on a Pride and Prejudice retelling with a burlesque bent, and I find myself putting poor Elizabeth Bennet in a situation where she has to hold a stranger's scalp together.

But...Liz shouldn’t be tending to just any emergency situation. It needs to be relevant to the plot. Darcy should be witness to the moment, and, shoot; in the original P&P, doesn’t Jane fall ill after a wet ride to Netherfield?

Perhaps poor Jane is due for a knock on the noggin…

For the rest of the scene, be sure to preorder A CERTAIN APPEAL, coming from G.P. Putnam's Sons November 2, 2021!

...but you're wondering about the cake I made that afternoon, aren't you? As well you should; it's divine. And you have been such a good sport about reading my blog and preordering my book, so I suppose sharing the recipe is the least I can do ;) Enjoy!

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