Thursday, April 1, 2010

Tom vs. the School Bus

While driving home on his mo-ped from the apartment complex where he was a maintenance technician, my 19-year-old brother Tom collided into the back of a parked yellow school bus. Whenever you are reflecting on my brother Tom, it is often best not to ponder such complexities as “why” and “how,” but it might have had something to do with a Sony Walkman.

I was of the age when the world would stop spinning on its axis if I could not talk on the phone for hours to my tweenage friends. Tom’s difference of opinion with the bus is the reason my parents broke down and added the Call Waiting feature to our phone service – because I was on the phone when the operator executed an “emergency breakthrough” to inform us of the accident.

Tom returned from the hospital with cuts and bruises, a cast on his arm, and more metal in his mouth than that Jaws character from the James Bond films with Lojah Mooah. He had broken his jaw, and the doctors wired it shut. For six weeks, all of his meals would be consumed through a straw. Whereas a peanut butter and Cheerios milkshake might actually sound rather tasty, I’m here to tell you that you can drop 10 pounds instantly out of sympathy after seeing your thitherto favorite meal being poured form a blender, especially when that favorite meal is (or was) Mom’s spaghetti and meatballs.

The doctors must have known how gagorific Tom’s next six weeks would be, as they cautioned him that vomiting would be a particularly dangerous thing to do under the circumstances. They recommended that he always carry with him a pair of wire cutters or else he might actually die while choking on his own puke.

Tom heeded their advice and used it as inspiration in fashioning a necklace out of a pair of pliers. It was truly heavy metal. He wore it religiously.

A few weeks later, I was spending the night at a friend’s house and missed the Friday night freakout that I learned about after the fact and relate to you now below.

My parents spent the evening at one of the North Raleigh pubs they liked to frequent, where they were uncharacteristically joined by my 19-year-old brother Bob. The drinking age was only 18 or 19 back then. Astute readers will note that my brothers Bob and Tom were the same age, and this is because they are twins. Although a lot of people look like Tom, Bob isn’t one of them.

My parents left the bar and went home, while Bob stayed. Mom and Dad were getting ready for bed when there was a knock at the front door. Two teenagers whom they did not recognize informed them that they had just come from the scene of a bad car accident about a mile down the road. They had recognized Tom as one of the victims and said that an ambulance had taken him to the hospital.

Back at the bar, Bob, who shares a name with my father, was confused when the bartender started calling his name because there was a phone call for him.

“You must mean my dad, but he left already.”

“No,” said the bartender. “It’s for you.”

Bob was further confused because he hardly ever hung out at this place and wondered who the heck would call him there, but he answered the phone. On the other end, Mom explained that she and Dad were going to the hospital because Tom had been in another accident. They asked if Bob wanted to meet them there, but Bob said he would just go home and “man the phones.”

An hour later, Bob was at home brushing his teeth in an upstairs bathroom when there was another knock at the door. On his way downstairs to answer it, he heard noises coming from the bathroom in the basement. At this time in history, our split-level house was home to my mom, my dad, myself, and two of my three brothers. Eighteen-year-old Pete had moved out on his own, and I was spending the night with a friend, so Bob should have been alone in the house. He answered the door to find a policeman standing there (-actually, not an uncommon sight at my house during the 70s and early 80s!).

“Wait,” said Bob to the cop. “I think I know why you’re here; my brother was in an accident. But I’m glad you’re here because I think there’s someone in the house that shouldn’t be here. Let me go check it out.”

Meanwhile, in the Emergency Room, my parents told the desk clerk they were looking for their son Tom who’d been brought in from an accident in the Quail Hollow subdivision. The hospital staff confirmed that there had been an accident involving two teenagers, male and female, who had hit a tree. The girl was taken to a different hospital, but she had given authorities the name of the other victim, who was unconscious, but that name wasn’t Tom.

My dad figured that Tom might have been at a party, met a girl, given her a fake name, and the two of them took off in her car. He wanted to go in to the room and identify Tom, but the hospital staff were hesitant, apparently because the guy was in really bad shape.

They started bringing out articles of the victim’s clothing for my parents to identify. They brought out a grungy old sneaker, and my mother said, “Tom wouldn’t wear that. My other son Pete might wear that, but not Tom.”

They brought out a pair of corduroys and my mom said, "My kids don't wear corduroy." The staff thought she was in denial.

“He should have braces on his teeth. Was his jaw wired shut?” suggested my mom, but the staff looked at her weirdly and said no. Dad thought perhaps he’d gotten sick at the party and cut the wires.

“Does he have a pair of pliers around his neck?” asked Mom. “He always wears a pair of pliers.”

They thought she was hysterical. So they agreed to let Dad go in to make a positive ID.

Dad entered the room and saw his son lying there on the table in really bad shape with a big gash in his chest. It was ugly. Quite shaken, he left the room and was preparing to sign insurance papers when he was told there was a phone call for him at the desk.


With the cop still at the door, Bob started down the stairs and met an oblivious Tom on his way up.

“You’re supposed to be half-dead in the hospital,” said Bob.

“Well, I’m not,” said Tom, through his teeth. “Who’s at the door?”

They sent the cop away, and Bob thought it would be a good idea to call the hospital to clear things up. He asked for the Emergency Room and handed the phone to Tom. Avoiding the confusion of Bob M calling for Bob M only resulted in the confusion of Tom M calling for the father of the victim Tom M. Nevertheless, eventually, my father answered the phone.

“Hello? Who’s this?” he demanded gruffly.

“Tom,” said Tom.

“Tom who?” grunted Dad.

“Tom, your son.”

Half an hour later, my parents came home. Mom had to drive because my dad was so shaken up. My two brothers were waiting in the kitchen. Dad walked past them saying nothing. He went straight for the liquor cabinet and poured himself a shot.


  1. I can picture every minute of this.

  2. Wow. I hadn't heard that story about the fake tom in the hospital. I do remember Tom having his teeth wired shut.

  3. As I heard it, the other Tom had died and that your father ID-ed the body