It was the summer of my 9th year when I was almost gone again. Days were spent running barefoot with my younger cousins, Tonya and Tara, in the field between my home and theirs. Kinky hair running wild or in slept on, half-undone plaits scattered over our heads because everyone over age 16 was too busy to comb it. Why make time when only the rare car passing by could see us anyway. The field was littered with tall, red weeds that tasted sour. They dangled from our mouths like long limp toothpicks. The stickers, sandspurs I think less country people called them, were abundant too.
I don’t remember the game we were playing that day or the joke Tonya told that made me laugh as I attempted to dislodge the spiky brown sticker from my right index finger. With my finger. I inhaled first with my laughter but couldn’t get out the verbal ha ha, because the sticker was in my throat.
I couldn’t speak. My entire world became fixated on the sticker. The silence.
The 3 of us—9 year-old me, 7 year-old Tonya, and 5 year-old Tara—went running into my house. A bunch of people over age 16, my brother Michael, sisters Regina, Cynthia, and Janet, and Mama and Deddy, were gathered in the family room. My eyes bugged and I grabbed at my throat with two hands as my cousins yelled.
“She swallowed a sticker!”
I looked at my mother and saw the fear stretching her eyes wide. Everyone but my mother stood frozen. Mama went into action, grabbing me from behind. I never asked her where she learned the Heimlich maneuver, but she performed it without hesitation on me. Twice she lifted me off the ground. Nothing came up.
I don’t remember getting into the car, but there we were in the light blue Ford with the one long front seat. Deddy driving, Mama in the middle, and me closer to the middle in her arms than the passenger door. She watched me intently as I drooled into a paper towel unable to swallow my own saliva. We raced to the hospital, which one I don’t know.
In the Emergency Room, we learned that the sticker had lodged on my vocal cord. And before long the doctor reached into my throat with some kind of fiber-optic camera, light, and tweezers while I lay there on the ER gurney wide awake.
“Don’t swallow,” he said. And then it was out.
“Good thing it landed where it did. Had it gone into her lung…” he said to my mother.
The nurse brought me a warm blanket and I twisted into a content fetal position. Crisis averted and Mama fell into a more normal black mama role smoothing down my wild, kinky hair. We were in public, after all.
Blind luck or spared for a reason, I’m still not sure.