Soul Food Cafe Patrons
by Audrey Larkin
On the night of December 21st 1995 my life was to be altered forever.
It began like any ordinary day. We were up early getting ready for work; I was headed for the New York School for the Deaf where I was a teacher assistant. My husband was headed for Manhattan where he was President I A T S E Local #1 stagehands union. At night he worked in the theatre where he was a stagehand.
I remember so clearly that as I pulled out of the garage, I looked up from my car into the kitchen window, as I did every morning. I always signed to him "I love you," and he would sign it back to me. He had been taking a sign language course so he could sign with me and interpret for me when we went out to the different affairs that were a part of his duty as the unions' president.I also remember that morning on this particular morning, when he signed to me "be careful"; I signed "you be careful too".
Then I left and went off to work. After work I arrived home went into my bedroom to change my clothes and look at the weather channel. We had three days off that week due to heavy snowstorms. I knew I had to drive my daughter to work that night where she would be working until midnight due to the Christmas season. While in the bedroom I noticed that my headboard on my husband's side was almost on the floor. Since it was heavy I told myself that my husband would fix it when he arrived home or the next day. Thinking back, seeing the headboard on the floor like that, gave me a strange feeling which I tried to shake off. To this day I feel as if it was an omen of things to come. Little did I suspect the changes that would take place.
Finally my daughter arrived home from school, where she was in the twelfth grade. She changed her clothes for work, we hopped in the car, dropped her off at her job and I headed on home anticipating an evening of relaxation. Finally I sat down to eat some pea soup, one of my favorites, and read my book. After finishing the soup I retreated to the living room couch, one of my favorite reading and relaxing spots. Seated in this spot I had a tendency to remove my hearing aids so I could relax and fall asleep without being disturbed by environmental noises.
Once again I had a strange feeling and decided against removing my hearing aids. I was just beginning to relax when the phone rang. It is very hard for me to hear on the phone as there are only a few people that I talk to without using my TTY and the N Y relay system. (This is a means of communication for the deaf, hearing and speech impaired persons). Alas when I answered the phone I could not understand what was being said, although I figured out it was my oldest stepdaughter on the phone. She kept trying to tell me something, which I did not comprehend. Finally she hung up and my other stepdaughter called me. After giving her the wrong relay number we finally made contact.
At this time I started to have a funny feeling in my gut. She explained that her father, my husband had an accident and was on the way to the hospital. She said not to panic, as maybe it was just a broken finger. With this she hung up after promising to get back to me.
Now I really had a sick feeling in my gut but all I could do was sit tight and wait for someone to get back in touch with me.
After what seemed like an eternity I received a call from a male who I could not understand. At this point I was really getting scared and asked the caller to call me back through the relay. A few minutes later I received another call. This time I figured out who the speaker was and I called her back through the relay. The news she gave me is etched on my mind and heart forever.
She told me that my husband had an accident, was in critical condition and told me to go to New York Hospital at 70th street and York Ave. I had absolutely no idea where this hospital was located. At this point I began trying to call my good friend to see if he could drive there with me. He lived in Pleasantville, NY; I was up in Mahopac, NY at this time. I couldn't reach him, couldn't reach my cousin didn't know what to do.
Once again the phone rang. This time it was the NY relay. The person says "Hi Audrey! It's Dennis... (my heart does a giant leap as I'm thinking it's my husband and that he's ok) Jr.
My heart fell like a ton of bricks… My husband is Dennis Sr.; Dennis Jr. is my stepson. With that Dennis Jr. tells me that my husband is in the hospital, that I should come. He wasn't sure how my husband was but told me that when he spoke to his Dad his Dad responded to him. At this point I'm became numb.
I left my house and went to pick up my daughter at work,. We got directions from one of her bosses, make one last call to my friend in Pleasantville and finally succeed in reaching him. Kimberly, my daughter and I headed down to Pleasantville to pick up my friend and his daughter, who is like a niece to me. Gratefully I slid over so he could drive. All the way we kept trying to reach the hospital with my cell phone, but to no avail. On arrival my daughter and I went through the emergency entrance and asked where my husband was and if he was okay. Their reactions told me nothing and yet told us everything. They handed me my husband's teeth, rings and personal items that they had taken from him. A man showed my daughter and I where the elevator was and we headed upstairs to the trauma unit, where we met up with most of the family members: my mother-in-law, my husbands nephew, my stepson, stepdaughter, another stepdaughter etc. Another stepdaughter and her cousin were on the way.
Hours passed. At four o'clock in the morning, after almost eight hours of exploratory surgery my husband was finally brought down to where we were waiting for him.I will never forget what that poor man looked like that morning of December 22, 1995. He was so swollen, his eyes were like bubbles, his body looked so very beaten and broken. Sitting here, trying to explain, to describe what he looked like, what it was like, to all that loved him, is almost impossible.
The news that followed this first view of my husband was devastating. It was almost as though we were hit with a bomb. The night of December 21, 1995 my husband, my lover, my friend was paralyzed from the neck down, due to a twenty-seven foot fall from the stage into the orchestra pit (the pit was down 27 feet) at Radio City Music Hall. He was trying to make a few extra dollars because it was Christmas time.
The Christmas of '95 was the first time I had ever completed all my shopping before Christmas Eve. The tree was decorated, my husband had put up lights downstairs in the family room, and things just seemed as though they were going our way for a change. Sometimes I wonder if it would have been better if things were not completed the way they were that year. Maybe he wouldn't have fallen if I had done things at the last minute like I usually did. I don't know! That is just how I feel.
The heartache and pain that I have felt since that fateful day will take a long time to heal. My husband and I had experienced a good, yet somewhat difficult marriage. But we were getting along wonderfully at this point. We had just been to Hawaii, on a business trip, for the first time that October, had a wonderful time together and swore we would go back. Through the years we had many fights over different things, but we stood together because love was there.It wasn't until I almost lost him that I realized how much love I had for him and how much he truly meant to me.
Dennis was in NY hospital from December 21st 1995 to January 24th 1996 when we went to Kessler Institute in West Orange, NJ. On March 4th 1996 he became so sick they had to admit him to St. Barnabus Hospital in New Jersey were he stayed for nearly seven months. On September 26th 1996 after beating all odds, he was finally sent back to Kessler. Finally on February 4th 1997 he was released from Kessler and we are now living with one of our daughters (my stepdaughter), in Hawthorne, NY while waiting for our home in Ossining, NY to be modified.
There truly is so much I feel about the turn my life has taken as we don't have our own space, there is twenty-four hour seven days a week nursing care, and always the threat of another infection. We have zero privacy. Yet we struggle along trying to face each day with a fresh outlook.
Although I am not a religious person deep inside my soul I feel that there is a reason for everything. There is something special out there waiting for my husband to tackle just the way he tackled, fought, and won his way up to become the President of Local One. I thank God everyday for allowing my husband to remain on earth with our family and me.
I must add that I am very proud that against all odds our family managed to stick together where other families have failed. I'm not trying to paint a rosy picture as it is far from that, but I truly believe we have something special going with one very special man leading the pack.
© 2002 Audrey K Larkins