“Sir, have you been drinking?”
On Valentine’s Day, around 9:15 p.m. Chase and I were in a car accident.
As I made a left turn, Chase screamed, “Dad, watch out!”
A big white headlight sped at us. Metal and plastic crunched like the BBQ Fritos Chase crunched a moment before. The airbags deployed. And there rolled a sudden fog, a cloud of white smoke that smelled unnatural, like something was burning that was not meant to be burning.
“Dad, you okay?”
“You okay?” I responded.
“I’m fine. You okay?”
Brushing the airbag smoke from my face and finding a few hooks of BBQ Fritos on my lap.
“I think so.”
“Dad, what should I do?”
“Stay in the car.”
I open the door, curl around the back of the car, and meet the other driver in the intersection. Blood stained the collar of their green sweatshirt. Their nose bled.
“Oh my…is…is you’re son okay.”
“He’s fine. Are you okay?” I ask as blood streams down their chin, hangs, and lands on their collar.
“Oh man…I think so. Maybe a broken nose.”
A shiny red sports car pulls up and the driver shouts out their window. “Hey. Is anyone hurt? Do you want me to call the police?”
I look at green sweatshirt toweling their bloody nose with their green sweatshirt. “I think we’re okay. Yes, call the police.”
I return to the car, open the door, the airbags hang from the steering wheel and the passenger dashboard like deflated balloons. It smells like the time my 13 year-old daughter attempted to cook raw noodles dusted with cheese in the microwave.
“Chase, are you sure you’re okay?”
“I’m fine. I just spilled my Fritos everywhere. And it smells awful in here.”
Blue and red lights swirl. A car door slams. Boots on broken glass approach.
“Sir, are you hurt?”
I turn from Chase to find a young police officer standing in front of me.
“No. I’m okay.”
“Is this your son?”
“Is he hurt?”
I turn to Chase. “Are you hurt?”
The young officer steps closer and leans in. “Sir, have you been drinking?”
Up until this moment, you might say I was cool. While the other driver leaned against their car, cupping their nose and shaking, I was steadfast, clearheaded, and calm. But as the young officer waited, my heart began to pound. This was the question I secretly worried about. Vowels and consonants colliding on my tongue. Words staggering and stumbling out my mouth like a drunkard through a doorway. A drunkard who drives around town with his kid sit in the front seat, eating Fritos after 9 p.m. on a school night.
My heart pounds. My chest warms. I’m forced, again, to tell my story to a stranger. To justify myself. To explain myself. I wish my neurologist was here. And my speech therapist. And the Walgreens pharmacist. And the members of my Ataxia Support Group. And the entire United States Social Security Administration with my medical files from the last nine years.
The officer’s suspicion confirms my fear. My embarrassment.
With as much clarity and declaration I could find in that moment, I announce, “I have ataxia. It’s a neurological disease that affects my speech. I know I sound drunk but I’m not. I swear. The last drop of alcohol I had was on December 24, 2020.”
The young officer looks me over. A tow truck announces its arrival by beeping and flashing yellow lights. Chase toes broken glass. Green sweatshirt is on their phone talking and staring into the night sky.
The officer writes in his notepad.
“And when were you diagnosed with this Ax…”
“Ataxia. In 2013.”
“I have medical documentation. I can prove it. I swear.”
He looks at me for a long second. The tow truck beeps. Chase continues to toe the glass. Green sweatshirt repeats, “I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.” Yellow and red and blue lights flash across the young officer’s face.
“That won’t be necessary. Now, tell me what happened?”
That night I laid in bed replaying what had happened. The speeding headlight. The crunch. The smoke. The twinge of Chase’s voice through a fog. His hand reaching for mine. A peaceful collision inside a violent one. And, I guess as a parent, there comes a moment in your maturation when you collide with the hard truth that you’re responsible for keeping the life, the life you gifted the world, safe and alive in a place that’s random and dangerous and indifferent to their existence.
The next morning, as the coffee percolates and I search car dealerships on my phone, Chase enters the kitchen, opens the pantry door and stares at the cereal boxes who stand like soldiers on the shelf.
“Dad, do you think I can get a new bag of Fritos?”
My son’s needs are different than mine. Our worries are different. We might not be able to avoid what’s coming. And we can’t change the past. Our only choice is to move forward, replace what we lost, tell our story one more time, and be grateful to be alive.
I want to welcome everyone who recently subscribed through the Book Funnel promotion and received a free eBook version of Bedtime Stories for the Living. I hope my silly, dad brain brings you insight, comfort, and humor each Friday.
Through Book Funnel’s February promotions, I’ve teamed up with over 120 awesome authors who, for a limited time, are giving away their eBooks for FREE! These books are nonfiction and range from self-improvement to memoirs. Please checkout the links below and help emerging authors get discovered:
Portal into Knowledge:
Fabulous February Reads:
Photo of the Week:
Courtesy of my friend Kelly, Write On Fight On made it to the top of the Eiffel Tower. La vie sourit aux braves.
If you would like to share something with others (a photo, a poem, a song, a quote, etc.) that tosses some positive vibes into the world, please send your suggestions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!
For those in the Philadelphia Area: A limited number of signed copies of Bedtime Stories for the Living are now on sale at Commonplace Reader in Yardley, Pennsylvania. The Commonplace Reader is a local bookstore with a wide selection of books, super nice employees, and plenty of cozy reading nooks.
“This was an amazing book. Jay shares his journey through relatable stories that highlight the challenges every young parent goes through. His struggle with his own mortality while raising young kids only highlights the very real insecurities that we all have as we grow up and take on the responsibilities of adulthood. This is a great book for readers at any age to reflect on the challenges we face everyday and how we learn to overcome.”~ Steve, Amazon Review
If you happen to read BSFL, I would love an Amazon review! Due to some Jeff Bezos concocted algorithm, more book reviews lead to greater exposure. And greater exposure equates to higher book sales and as I wrote in BSFL, “college for three ain’t free.”
Are you a reader? Looking for your next good book to read or listen to? Check out my new page “Jay’s Book Shelf” for some book recommendations.
Here’s what I’m currently reading: Flashback Girl by Lise DeGuire
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Jay Armstrong is a writer, speaker, and a former award-winning high school English teacher. Despite being diagnosed with a rare neurological disease, that impairs his movement, balance, eyesight, and speech–Jay presses on. He hopes to help you find joy, peace, and meaning in life. For Jay, a good day consists of 5 things:
4. Hearing his three children laugh
5. Hugging his wife
(Bonus points for a dinner with his parents or a drink with his friends)
Jay hasn’t had a bad day in quite a long time.
You can also visit Jay at jayarmstrongwrites.com