New Orleans – August 28, 2008
Unless it happens to you, no one can truly describe exactly how it feels to take a bullet.
As I laid on the highway, I could see reflections of headlights on the silver slide of the handgun pointed at me as cars raced by on I-10, but the sound of the stream of rounds that followed eluded me. The vibrations and thumping of spinning wheels and roaring engines at the St. Charles Avenue exit drowned out the popping noises, leaving drivers oblivious to what was happening on the side of the road.
My left shoulder felt like it was on fire. A bullet had found a home there; its impact had thrown me backward onto the asphalt. I could see blood from my burning shoulder slithering onto the pavement and felt a piercing pain in the back of my head.
So this is how it’s going to end, Elizabeth? Bile had begun to rise in my throat. Not only will you be drenched with blood, but you’ll also be covered in your own vomit. I’d been through worse — yes, a hell of a lot worse than being shot — and those emotional wounds would never totally heal. I had no intention of dying tonight or, for that matter, during the next few decades. A surge of adrenaline suddenly pulsed through my veins. No, not like this. Not on a highway, bleeding from my head and shoulder. Elizabeth, what the hell did you do to deserve this?
My head began to feel light and my vision blurred. Every motion around me seemed caught in an ocean tide — quick to come in but slow to go back.
You have to make sure Diane is all right.
It was around midnight when Diane, my closest friend, and I had been driving to the hospital because I had slashed my hand on a broken wine glass. Earlier that night, we had been at Mandina’s laughing, drinking wine and eating oysters as if we hadn’t had a meal in days.
Check on her, Elizabeth. You need to find out if she’s OK. Despite the pain, I managed to turn my head and look behind me.
“Diane! Diane!” I yelled in what sounded like a whisper against the traffic noise, but there was no answer, just billowing black smoke erupting from under the crushed front hood of her new black Porsche SUV.
I tried to lift my head but couldn’t. I tasted blood. Shit! Now your mouth is bleeding? Christ, Elizabeth, you need to get up and see if she is alive. If you’re here, is she still in the car? You don’t even remember how the hell you ended up here.
My entire body began to shake and my pulse started to race uncontrollably; the beating of my heart was the only thing I could hear. When I left Diane to get help after we were sideswiped, her face was covered in glass and blood.
Elizabeth, if that shattered glass killed her, you might be joining her soon. I desperately wanted to turn off the voice in my head.
That’s when it started again. The pull of the trigger. The pops. The pings. Bullets ricocheted off the road around me, carving smoky holes in the road. One flew inches above my head and another shattered through the windshield of Diane’s car, spreading thousands of tiny shards like a kaleidoscope of glassy rain.
Elizabeth, you’ve got to get off this highway. You are not going to die this way. I focused my eyes on the edge of the interstate and with my right arm, tried to crawl toward it, but my body wouldn’t listen to my mind. I dug my fingernails into the asphalt, cutting my hands on the shattered glass. Even the smallest movement scraped my forearm and torso through my blood-soaked white blouse, making every inch I struggled toward the concrete shoulder feel like a mile.
I heard a piercing screech and out of the corner of my left eye and I saw a large U-Haul truck swerving across the interstate toward me as bullets tore through its tires. I bent my knees to my chest and placed my injured arm over my bleeding head as the black U-Haul logo and orange stripe along the bottom of the truck grew larger. The truck skidded toward me and I thought if only I could melt into the ground or crawl into one of those large potholes scattered throughout the city, I’d survive. Luck was at a premium and I knew I had all but exhausted my supply.
Another bullet hit the back tire of the truck, propelling it forward at a slight angle. I prayed it would travel right over me. I felt the heat from the underside of the truck and the acrid smell of burning tires and exhaust. My heartbeat slowed and I held my breath as the center of the truck seemed to magically float over me. I coughed when a burst of wind filled my lungs with exhaust smoke. When I tried to prop myself up with my right arm, I failed; I was in pain and my hand had not stopped bleeding. All I could see was the oncoming traffic as the truck’s cab headed toward the guardrail. There was a piercing scream off to my right, a splintering steel crunch and then, sudden silence. The headlights from oncoming traffic faded like smoldering embers.
Everything went black.