Gari Di Stefano

Sid: I have on the telephone from Springhill, Tennessee Gari DiStefano. Now Gari it was originally Goldberg from Long Island. Tell me about your Jewish upbringing.

Gari: Hi Sid I was brought up in a relatively conservative home on South Shore, Long Island and we didn’t observe many of the holidays.  My parents spent a lot of time in Atlantic City but I knew that I was Jewish and that there was one rule and that I could not date a non-Jew.

Sid: Now you had one commandment so to speak did you violate it?

Gari: I surely did I found one non-Jewish boy to date and luckily his best friend was Jewish and he came to pick me up so my parents were fooled for a year and thought I was dating a Jew.

Sid: Now you actually changed your name from Goldberg why?

Gari: As a sales rep in New York I experienced a lot of anti-Semitism in the corporate world. When I could not get promoted in the various companies that I was employed because of my being Jewish I decided to change my last name to my middle name and therefore nobody really knew what I was.

Sid: Well in addition to not knowing what you was you still were I’ve got to use another Hebrew word in your words anyway a klutz.

Gari: Yeah.

Sid: In other words you had 2 left feet.

Gari: This is very true.  I was very active physically I played tennis, I danced, I skated, I kept falling a lot I’d had a lot of broken arms I had a lot of broken toes.

Sid: A lot of accidents.

Gari: A lot of accidents throughout my life.

Sid: But the worst accident occurred in 1983, tell me about it in Fleshing, New York.

Gari: That’s correct. I was leaving my home and on my way to my chiropractor I actually thought my back was out and about 15 minutes later I was in a 1983 Toyota Corolla and I was crossing an intersection very busy intersection in Queens when a 1979 Cadillac flew by the red light about 80 miles an hour and broadsided me.  My car broke in half completely bent got imbedded on her car. She dragged me diagonally across the road into oncoming traffic that was sitting at the light. So the car was bent in half and then crunched from the front.  And I stayed awake during the whole thing it was very noisy, but unfortunately it’s not like TV where people are waiting in the wings to come flying out to help you.  I think everybody was just stunned standing on the side of the road. It happened about 5:20 in the afternoon and if you know anything about New York there’s a lot of action on the streets at 5:20 in the afternoon.  There were buses, cabs, people walking, a lot of cars and everything just stood still. Now I’m sure that in my mind things were happening very slowly, but it seemed that I accomplished an enormous amount of things in the few seconds that I realized that first of all I’d been trapped in the car couldn’t get out. The front of the car was on fire and at first when I saw the fire I thought “Oh I’m not going where I thought I was going.”

Sid: Where did you think you were going?

Gari: I thought I was going to heaven I didn’t think I was a bad person, I hadn’t murdered anybody.

Sid: So are you telling me you thought you were in hell?

Gari: Well I thought I was in hell at that moment.

Sid: Hm.

Gari: And when still nobody was coming towards the car to help me get out and the realization that I was trapped, God in His mercy sent something adrenalin into my body and it surged upwards from my stomach and I had enough strength to push the door with the Cadillac embedded in it about 4 inches. In that instant I remember reading stories of cars that rolled backwards on people’s driveways and over a child and the mother came running out of the house and could actually lift the car. I understood in that moment what adrenalin allows you to do and I held my body and my right arm was dangling; I had broken over the steering wheel completely in half. So being a body builder I was very familiar with all the components in my body, and basically I felt like I had just been cut in half on the whole right side of my body was completely spilt.  I got my body out of the car, I ran around to the other side I was married at that time and that man was unconscious. I opened the door I was able to get the door open on that side I carried him because he was unconscious away from the car. I laid him down and then all of the adrenalin started seeping away from me and I realized that I was collapsing inside. I did not want to lie down on the street so just politely walked myself over the sidewalk and laid down and fixed my dress really nicely and I realized I was probably not going to go home that night.  I was not in control of my life anymore and it was a very overwhelmingly frightening thought.

Sid: What happened next?

Gari: Somebody finally came to me called the ambulance the next 5 days in the hospital I could write a book about very scary but I did develop my theory of why they called it practicing medicine. I figured if they knew what they were doing they would call it doing medicine.

Sid: I got the message.

Gari: Yeah it was very very scary. And after 5 days there where nothing had been done for me we got out of the hospital and got to an orthopedic surgeon who put a crevicular splint on my body and told me to go home and not get out of bed.  And for 2 years I was basically horizontal.

Sid:  What was really wrong with your body?

Gari: Two bones in my neck broke my clavicle split clear through, all my ribs on the right side were broken in half. My right arm got caught between the steering wheel and the dashboard and was like 6 – 7 times its normal size. Nervous, nerve damage in my right hand I had 2 of my fingers my pinky finger and my ring finger completely non-functional. And at that time we did not realize that my knees had also been crushed under the dashboard it wasn’t until 2 years later when I was actually able to finally get up that we realized that we had no cartilage in my knees and so I couldn’t really walk.  So we had to get steel braces made for both legs…

Sid: Were you angry over this situation?

Gari: That’s putting it mildly.

Sid: I mean from what you tell me a bodybuilder and obviously very physically active this must have been hard to take.

Gari: I was furious I was so angry at the person that did this to me; I was angry at God even though I didn’t know God I just didn’t understand why…

Sid: Angry at life.

Gari: I was just angry.

Sid: And your husband and you began having problems. You wanted to just get out and you went to Florida what happened?

Gari: Went to Florida I’m so excited I figured the warmth would be wonderful for healing and did not realize that the humidity could kill you if you have arthritis and bursitis which I did in every joint.  So it was a little bit of adjustment getting used to that. The weekend came and I felt its Florida I’m going to the beach. Now when you have as much metal on your body as I did you don’t want many people to see this.  So I figured if I went to the beach really really early in the morning nobody would see all of my metal.  So I went and got there I had at that point I had to leg braces, a back brace, a neck collar and 2 canes.  But I was vertical so I was please with that part and I got to the beach and I got myself on to the sand very close to the parking lot, got all of my metal off put it in my little bag and proceeded to enjoy the sun and reading.  As I’m sitting there I realize that the beach is getting filled up with really beautiful young woman I was very jealous, I was getting more angry with my predicament. And about this time a man walked up on to the beach and it was so interesting because he didn’t carry anything he just came and just strolled across the beach, proceeded to frolic in the water.  I noticed over my glasses that he was checking every person out on the beach.  And I thought “I have no chance of meeting this man because I’m crippled,” and I had such a poor self-esteem, I have a very poor self-image at this point and I stopped paying attention to him.  A few minutes later a voice, a beautiful voice very European accent, is standing next to me and he said “Would you like to go into the water?”

Sid: It’s the guy.

Gari: It’s the guy.

Sid: Hold that thought we’ll be right back Mishpochah tomorrows broadcast.

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