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The Bell Curve: Janet, at her best

July 21, 2010|By Joseph N. Bell

Many years ago, I was working at my desk in my Corona del Mar home when I got a telephone call from a gruff voice telling me that my wife had been injured in an auto accident and was on her way to Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian. And that I had better get to the emergency room. Pronto.

Janet had left the house in our only car on an errand 15 minutes earlier. When I rushed next door shouting "I've got to borrow your car," our neighbor — and good friend — took one look at me and silently handed over her keys. There was a single outlet from our neighborhood to Coast Highway, and cars were backed up there. I could see my car in the distant intersection with the driver's door open, the door behind it smashed. And in the street, neatly positioned side by side, were Janet's shoes.

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I got a police escort through the intersection traffic and made it to the emergency room in 10 minutes. There I found cuts and abrasions, but no broken bones or lethal damage. But my thoughts — and yes, my prayers — during those 10 minutes ended up as the lead story with my byline in the Reader's Digest of September 1964. I know the date because I just finished reading it for the first time in many years.

I sought it out because today I'm sitting at another desk in another house, waiting for word from my two daughters about their mother's and my former wife's condition as Janet approaches her 90th birthday. I'm discovering that the words I wrote so long ago still continue to define the lifetime of good living packed into the 33 years that we shared before our lives took different directions.

So here's a patch of what I wrote — and what I remember — about that 10-minute race to the Hoag ER:

"The evidence was so vivid that I found myself contemplating — against my will — a life without her. For the first time I saw myself clearly as the completely permissive parent I was, and I realized that Janet was the iron in our family.

"This wisp of a girl, who could wear slacks or cocktail dresses with equal elan, who frequently skipped when she walked down the street — she was the one who made the tough decisions in our family, then made them stick.

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