Thelma was almost 22 years-old the morning she drove face first into a cement truck. She was driving a 1976 Monte Carlo that a girlfriend of hers at the Bay Deli, where they both worked, had sold her for one hundred dollars.
“Thank God it was a big, big car.”
She had gotten up late that morning and wolfed down a hot dog and Fudgsicle for breakfast.
“I better go,” she said to herself.
Her roommate and she were sharing a small house on Schwartz Road behind St. John’s West Shore Hospital in Westlake. She was late for class at the Fairview Beauty Academy. She bolted out to the car.
When she got into the Chevy, she couldn’t wait for the windows to defrost more than the little bit of one inch you absolutely need to look through. She was squinting through that inch of windshield when she hit the cement truck head on.
“I never touched the brakes.”
The truck was parked on her side of the street, the front end fronting her. That was a surprise. She knew she was on the right side of the street since she could see out her side window. At first, Telly didn’t know what happened. When she tried to get out of the car she couldn’t. She was wearing a skirt and when she looked down to see why she couldn’t move she saw the steering wheel between her legs. She was sandwiched between the wheel and the seat.
Some days you are the dog and other days you are the fire hydrant.
Thelma finally got out of the car by swinging one and then the other leg over the steering wheel. Standing next to her suddenly scrap-metal Monte Carlo, looking at the man in front of her, she realized why no one had come to help her. He was white as a ghost. The rest of the cement men behind him looked like they were seeing a ghost, too. They thought she had died in the car.
“I tried to wave you off,” one of them said.
“Hey, here’s a little clue, I didn’t see you and I didn’t see the truck,” she said. “Thanks for the heads up, but I didn’t see anything.”
The next thing she knew a woman walked up to her and shoved Kleenex up her nose.
“You better sit down,” she said.
“That’s OK,” Telly said. “I’m good, I’ve got to get to school.”
“No, you better sit down. I’ve called an ambulance. They should be here in just a minute.”
“Seriously, thanks, but no. I just bumped my nose.”
She sat Telly down and when she did her skirt rode up and she saw her banged-up knees.
The convertor radio underneath the dash had slammed into her legs. Even though she couldn’t feel anything totally bad, not yet, at least, she could see both shinbones and a thighbone. It had only been a minute since she had gotten out of the car. There was bloodshed everywhere. It was after the excitement that she went screaming banshees.
Then she lost her eyesight.
“Everything’s getting fuzzy, like an old TV.”
“Just close your eyes. The paramedics are here.”
“OK, open your eyes,” one of the paramedics said.
“Are they open?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he said.
“Are you sure? Because I can’t see anything.”
“Is it like in a closet, or more like the basement, with the lights all out?”
A closet or a basement, she wondered. Oh, my God, this guy is such a smart ass. Who sits in a dark closet except crazy people?
They laid her out in the ambulance and, suddenly, her sight came back.
“It was just the shock,” she told them.
“Quit self-diagnosing,” the medic said.
“I was a lifeguard. I know my stuff.”
St John’s Hospital must have thought she was younger than she was, underage is what they thought, so they called her parents.
“You did what? You called who? I’m 21-years-old. You didn’t need to call my parents.”
“You rat bastards!”
Telly was beyond mad. She hadn’t talked to either of her parents for almost a year.
“Fuck off and die” had been the last thing she said to them the year before.
She planned on moving out as soon she turned 21, but her dad didn’t want her to grow up or move out. Telly wanted out, Fred and Alma both wanted her out, too, but they didn’t want her to go, either. When she told her parents that she would be leaving the day of her birthday, first, they beat the shit out of her, and then threw her out of the house. They literally threw her out. She had no money, no clothes, and nowhere to go.
She called her dad about picking up her clothes.
“If you come grovel for them, you can get them out of the trash,” he said.
“You keep them, dad, I’m not going to grovel.”
At the very least they raised a stubborn kid. Telly never knew if Fred really threw her clothes in the trash because she never called or went back, at least not for the clothes.
Her mom burst through the emergency room door at St. John’s at the same time as her dad got her on the phone. Before that she had been joking with the doctors, saying she cut her legs shaving.
“Oh, my God, look at her legs!” Alma started shouting.
“Who let that woman in here?” Telly blared.
“Who’s the president, who’s the president?” her dad asked over and over on the phone until the line went dead.
The next thing she knew her whole family, sisters, brother, dad, were all in the room, and the adrenaline wore off fast, completely fast. She had been sitting there, not too panicked, when all of a sudden AAARRRGHHHHHH!!
Betsy started crying and everyone got so upset about her crying that they put her in Fred’s lap. Thelma was left laid out on the table alone in pain and agony until they finally wheeled her away to surgery.
No one paid any attention to her being gone.
In the end, it wasn‘t off the charts. She broke her nose and hurt one of her knees. It had to be operated on. They told her afterwards if she had hit the back of the cement truck instead of the front she would have been decapitated.
If that had happened and she had been driving a custom convertible Monte Carlo instead of her hard shell, then “HEADLESS GIRL IN TOPLESS CAR” would have been the headline in the next day’s Bay Village Observer.
“At least I kept my head,” she told Steve years later.
“That’s what you say,” he said, ducking his head.