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Park Jr. High and the Old Oak Tree

At the age of 10, my friend Sharon and I were dropped off at Park Jr. High School to watch our school’s basketball game. Holy Rosary didn’t have a gym so this is where some of the home games were played. I’m not sure of the arrangements. I think her mother was to pick us up from the game and bring us back to my house, but because of the eventual events of the day, I am unable to recall that detail. I also don’t remember the basketball game. I do remember standing in front of the school waiting for our ride afterward. I looked down at the other end of the entrance to the school and saw someone in the distance being carried. It looked as if three people were struggling to lift one person into a waiting car, but they were too far away from me to gather a clear picture of what was actually happening. I remember thinking it was strange, and then seeing the car drive by, but not recognizing anyone.

The next memory I have is Sharon and I walking into my house to a very disturbing and confusing scene. There was a woman who I recognized as the mother of a friend of my 14-year old brother’s. She was immediately in my face and seemed to be in a state of panic. She was asking me where my parents were. I didn’t know where my dad was, but I told her I thought my mom was running errands and would be home soon. Behind this woman, I saw her son, and behind him I saw my brother, Tommy, lying on the couch. I knew something terrible must have happened, but my mind was in a jumble.

My heart was in my throat as I asked the woman what happened. She said that Tommy had been in an accident at Park Jr. High. At that moment, I realized the person I saw being carried to the car in the distance was my own brother. I was afraid to go to him. I was afraid of what I would see. I remember starting to cry and I remember holding on to Sharon. I let go of her and walked to the couch.

There was blood on his face and even more on his white T-shirt. As I was taking this scene into my 10-year old brain, I remember feeling weak and sick at the sight of his arms. They lay across him, but they were swollen and misshapen. He was trying to talk, but was mumbling and slurring and his eyes were opening and closing in a strange way. I was able to make out the words, “Don’t cry, Jo.” I cried to the woman, “Why didn’t you take him to the hospital?” I wanted my parents. I thought of my uncle, who lived around the corner. Just as I was running to the phone to call him, my mother walked in. While trying to make sense of what greeted her in her own home, she started to yell when she realized Tommy lay badly injured on the couch. She cried out the exact words that I did to the woman.

The trauma of that day left me with memory gaps. From there I don’t remember what happened. I don’t know if an ambulance came or my mother took him to the hospital. I remember staying with Sharon’s family for a night or two. I remember visiting him once in the hospital. I was too young to go in his room. They brought him out to the waiting room in a wheel chair. Both arms were in casts, one up to his shoulder. I remember signing both of them.

There was an old oak tree with a rope swing that went out over a cliff behind Park Jr. High School. It became a popular teen hangout and kids would swing from the tree. I don’t know how many feet down the drop was, but far enough to kill someone if they were to fall, which is exactly what happened to Tommy. The rope broke and he fell to the bottom of the cliff, severely fracturing both arms and sustaining a concussion. He was initially unconscious and thought dead by his friends. After a week in the hospital, he was released. By then, that old oak tree had been cut down by the city. He has no memory of that day, while parts of it are burned into mine.

Family of four, Tommy in casts.

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