I’ve never been much of a believer in miracles, despite the fact that on the CBS 2 News program I co-anchor every morning, we often do stories about the image of the Virgin Mary appearing on a grilled cheese sandwich or on the tummy of a tiny green turtle. As a news anchor, I deal mostly in facts. I gather information from LAPD reports, the New York Stock Exchange, the 2View Doppler Radar, and the CBS 2 Seismograph, which records the shifts and shimmies of the Los Angeles basin and beyond with remarkable accuracy. Now, however, I know that miracles do happen, because I witnessed two of them (the real deals, not the Son of God posing as a shower stain) in the same week.
The conversion from doubter to disciple began the last Tuesday in November, when my dog Marley was run over by a slow-moving BMW station wagon. Marley’s a black Lab, hand trained, and the only difference between us and the book Marley and Me is that that Marley is the world’s worst dog, and my Marley is the best.
It was my neighbor Brad who ran over her. He’s a dog person himself, the guardian of a hulking lug of a Great Dane named Duke. Brad and I often chat when we see each other on our daily walks, or at least stop long enough to let the youngster Duke take a few friendly swipes at a bored Marley with a paw almost as big as my hand.
On that cold, clear, windy afternoon, I was out walking with Marley and my 16-month-old son, who was smiling and yelling nonsense in the baby jogger. I was walking fast, despite the 25 pounds of kid lugging me down, but I slowed when I saw Brad pull up to the stop sign at the corner of my Sunset Plaza street and his. He waved hello, then waved for me to go by. He clearly saw the baby and me. What he didn’t see was my bumper-height dog, padding along a few feet behind me, off leash, with her nose to the ground.
Anyone who has had tragedy strike unexpectedly knows the old cliché is true. Time definitely slows. From the corner of my eye, I saw Brad begin to pull out and I screamed. Three day laborers walking down the hill stopped in unison, as if turned to stone. Marley tried to scrabble her way out from under the wheels, and almost made it, then she fell and the BMW’s left front wheel rolled over her like a speed bump.
Brad jumped out of his car as I gathered my broken dog in my arms, her strong jaws snapping at her shattered pelvis and putting several deep punctures in my hand. I didn’t notice. I screamed again for help, glancing at the three workers, who had grabbed the baby jogger and were holding my son safe, looking unsure and wary of their unexpected participation in this drama. Brad is the one who swung into action, staying perfectly calm as he helped me load Marley into the back of his wagon, and within a minute, we were headed to the animal hospital. As we pulled away, I yelled to my neighbor Donna, who had heard my screaming and come outside, to take care of my son, and saw the workers gladly give him up.
It was on the painfully slow trip to the veterinary hospital that the first miracle occurred. In the most litigious country in the world, in one of the most litigious cities in that most litigious country, Brad and I began having an argument about who was at fault.
“I’m so sorry,” he said. “It’s all my fault.”
“It’s not your fault,” I sobbed back. “I should have had her on a leash.”
“No, it’s mine,” Brad said, quiet and calm. “I was in a hurry and wasn’t paying enough attention.”
“I wasn’t paying enough attention,” I shot back, trying to hold Marley so the car’s movements wouldn’t cause more pain. For the rest of the interminably long ride we tried to absolve each other of guilt and responsibility.
When we arrived at the Animal Surgical and Emergency Center in West L.A., Marley’s coat was matted with blood, but the doctors couldn’t find a wound. Then, one of them realized it was my blood, still pumping from a finger. Marley’s eyes were glazed as they rolled her into the E.R. and swung the doors shut. I sat alone in the waiting room, hoping an infection from the bite would strike quick and deadly, putting me out of my misery.
Later, a nurse came to see me. Marley had a badly broken pelvis and internal bleeding. She would have to stabilize before doctors could perform surgery. The nurse turned to leave, then hesitated, as if what she had to say next might upset me more. “The, uh, gentleman who brought you in? He left, but he wrote you this note. And he left his credit card. He wants to pay for everything.”
The note was another apology and a phone number with a plea to let him know how Marley was doing. He didn’t want to leave, Brad wrote, but he thought I might feel better if he was gone. Much later that night, he returned to the E.R. with food for me and my husband, but we had gone home. When I spoke with Brad the next morning, the conversation was the same; him apologizing and insisting it was all his fault, me saying it’s okay and insisting the fault was mine.
I know how unusual this eagerness to accept blame is because I do the news. Each week, we have a story on some new lawsuit. A woman from Knoxville filing a $125,000 suit over a too-hot pickle in her McDonald’s hamburger; a New York City woman asking for $50 million from the company that makes the snack Pirate’s Booty, claiming emotional distress because eating the popcorn had added a little too much to her booty. Firefighter Tennie Pierce winning a $2.7 million settlement from the city of L.A. because his colleagues fed him spaghetti laced with dog food as a joke. I’ve done dozens of stories on the Swedish businessman who crashed his $1 million Ferrari and then told police “Dieter did it.” I’ve done dozens more on parents who beat their children to death and then insist they were just patting them on the head. So perhaps I can be forgiven for admitting that once or twice my evil alter ego kicked me in the shins and whispered, “Why is he being so nice?”
The answer is, because Brad is nice. And decent.
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On the morning of day two, Marley’s condition was still critical. But that evening, I got a call from the hospital. Marley’s internal bleeding had slowed. The ultrasound showed no swelling or fluid buildup. Marley was alert, weakly thumping her tail and eating! She would live.
A day later, Marley was stable enough for four hours of surgery to cobble her broken bones back together. The doctor had to break her perfectly good leg to get to the injured area, because the alternative of cutting through muscle and tendon would leave her lame forever. He used a hammer and drill to fix three separate breaks, and then closed Marley up with 28 metal staples.
The little Christmas miracle came home just five days after 4,000 pounds of steel thunked over her 65-pound body. For the holidays, she got six new screws, three metal pins, several lengths of wire loop-de-looped around her hip and a glob of bone glue holding her butt together. Brad and I got globs of guilt, but we also both got the gift of a new friend.
Brad said he wanted to be responsible not only for the surgery bill, but for the costs of any long-term problems that might result from the accident. I decided the guy was an angel, or crazy, or both. We had several more discussions, and still disagreed on who was more to blame. The only thing we could agree on was that Marley was the no-fault victim. So we compromised and split the bill.