We are sitting at a traffic light in our new blue Ford Galaxie in downtown Tiffin. It was summer, and I was contemplating my new sandals and thinking how unfair it was to get in trouble just because I told my sister she was stinky.
I'm only telling the truth, I argued. She is stinky.
Am not, cried my sister with her stupid fake tears.
Girls!, shushed my mother.
Enough, said my father.
Then the light changed, and my dad eased into the intersection. Suddenly, there was the loudest bang I'd ever heard. The car behind us had been rear ended and it shot toward us into the intersection, missing our shiny new car by inches.
Whew, said my dad, peering into the rearview mirror. He missed us by that much. He held up his hand with a little space between his forefinger and thumb.
Oh my, said my mom. We are blessed. Girls, say a little prayer.
I prayed that my stinky sister would find stink bugs in her bed.
A lot of time has passed since that day in 1963. And as far as I know, my sister has never found a single stink bug in her bed.
But I think of the kismet of that moment back in 1963 whenever I have a close call of some sort. Like the time I jaywalked in downtown Columbus only to have a car swipe by me so close it left a stripe on my pants. Or the time I tipped a six-foot ladder up onto two legs while sneezing, and didn't fall OR spill paint.
There are times, though, when we skip our way through life, blissfully unaware of close calls we've had. Take my doctor, for instance. Today, he had a close call and tonight he's probably enjoying a typical evening at home, none the wiser.
For the past year or so, I've had sharp pains in my wrist and the thumb of my right hand. Not all the time, but some days the joints throb and it hurts to uncap my Diet Pepsi or pull the lid off a carton of Starbuck's Coffee ice cream.
Arthritis, said Ken.
Ha, I said, trying hard to forget the annoying flyer AARP sent to me in yesterday's mail. I'm too young for arthritis.
OK, said Ken. But I'm telling you, it sounds like arthritis to me.
Finally, when the pain got worse, I called my doctor who set up an appointment for me to see a hand specialist.
So today, my achy hand and I went to meet the nice Dr. Lanford. Tall, 30-ish, easy going, nice smile. We joked about winters in Cleveland as he stared thoughtfully at my xrays. Then slid his chair over and took my hand.
He pressed here. He poked there. Then he took my right thumb, pushed down and turned. Instantly, gritty pain shot through my hand. I nearly kneed him in his boy parts.
But that wasn't the close call.
The close call came a little while later when he patted my hand, looked me sincerely in the eye and said that while I may have beginnings of arthritis, most of what he saw was just "mileage."
WHAT HAPPENED IN MY MIND:
Mileage? my mind said.
MILEAGE?!!? it yelled like I was hard of hearing. I'm doing my best to build a dam against the ravages of time and this pipsqueak talks to me about "mileage"???
Listen, buddy. You try finding trendy clothes in a normal size when everything you see is made for women the size and shape of a swizzle stick. You try sneaking off to the dermatologist's office on your lunch hour for botox so everyone stops asking you why you're angry. You want to talk to me about mileage? Slide that damn chair back over here, frat boy, and I'll show you how strong a hand with mileage on it can be. Care to thumb wrestle, wimpy?? Huh? Huh? I didn't think so.
WHAT HAPPENED IN THE REAL WORLD:
The anger was startlingly instant and white hot. It blasted through my mind in about half a second. I never said a word but it must have shown on my face, because the nice Dr. Lanford immediately scooted his chair back a few inches and offered, "Well, not a lot of mileage for sure, heh heh. Just. . . you know - normal wear and tear. That kind of thing. Certainly nothing serious. "
He carefully placed my hand down on my knee and scooted all the way back to his desk. I gave a little laugh to ease the moment, and then we moved on to the what-to-do's and what-not-to-do's. He made his notes, asked if I had any other concerns, then told me to call him if the pain got worse or anything changed. I stood, and thanked him for his time. He shook my hand as he opened the door to the hall.
"Take care," he said as I walked past him.
No, you take care, my mind shot back with an evil little smile.