2pacalypse Now was underscoring some impassioned but long-forgotten fight. My then husband yelled for me to “slow down” so I tapped the brakes to take our 2001 Beetle off cruise control. I-95, 80 mph, light rain. Just then, a semi-truck blew by and I lost control to centrifugal force. On a deadly merry-go-round with no help from brakes or steering wheel, I held my breath and waited for the end. He whispered my pet name with a disappointed sigh right before we slammed into the guard rail. Seat snap, car smoke, I looked down to see twisted metal embedded in my calf. Fat and muscle and blood oozed out of the gash. I couldn’t turn my head.
His hands felt the floor for his cell phone and he dashed out the passenger door. His grey sweatshirt disappeared behind the mounting flames and I felt down my own body, hoping for pain that would prove I was not paralyzed. Tupac’s Thug Life reassurances were halted with the car and I sat watching the fire and the pouring rain in silence, forcing myself to breathe.
Then, “1–2–3, Mos Def and Talib Kweli,” floated into my brain. “Definition,” my favorite track on the brilliant Black Star collaboration was there to keep me company. “We’re the lions of hip hop, y-oh.” I tapped a finger to Hi-Tek’s steady beat on the busted central console, closing my eyes to focus on the words. I’d given up on melody months ago, as the marriage to my college sweetheart unraveled into endless hurt. It was me and the stalwart soldiers of hip hop now: 50 for anger, Biggie for heartache and Black Star for the courage to put one foot before the other.
The rain turned flames to smoke and my eyes popped open to a knock on my shattered side window. An off-duty EMT stopped on the Southbound side and jumped the divide to keep me calm until the sirens came. I focused on his smile as Mos counted off, “1–2–3…” Mallet strikes to break the window. Jaws of life. They suspected a severe spinal injury.
Supine and terrified in blinking fluorescence, there was a painful bump down as they wheeled me into surgery. “Eight layers deep, exposed bone, lucky to be alive,” are the only phrases that made it into my sing-along, “They shot Tupac and Biggie, too much violence in hip-hop y-oh.” With each pinch of the needle as bone, nerve, muscle and skin were cinched up by strangers, the Lions of Hip-Hop stayed with me. My lips moved with them, “Stop being a bitch already and be a visionary…”
A mainline of morphine explained my junkie best friend in an instant and a police man’s face pushed in close to pry for accident details. But I couldn’t stop singing. If I dropped a beat, missed a phrase, all would be lost. As consciousness slipped, the beat gave way to a smoking car, insane pain, and the back of my supposed soul mate, running away.
Six weeks later, I slipped the cast and limped out of my old life with an optimistic pair of running shoes, my beat up old teddy bear, and a single CD. “Black Star of the eternal reflection,” indeed. It wasn’t much, but it got me through. And their “Definition” remained on loop, as I began the long road of re-defining myself.
(Song recommendation by Maggie Rawling)