Eleven Years

There are some events in people’s lives that change everything. The change is so significant that time starts being marked by “before” and “after”.

In her book Rising Strong, Brené Brown describes one of those moments in her life like this:

Several months later, on a cold January afternoon, I received one of those calls—the kind that brings time to a standstill and, without warning, violently reorganizes everything.

Violently reorganizes everything. Yes, that’s an appropriate way of describing it. The event instantly changes who you are, or at least changes the way you view yourself and the world around you. It changes the way you see, the way you feel, the way you function. Life as you know it will never be the same.

For some people, that event comes in the form of startling news about someone else or the world around them. For some people, they’re more directly involved in the event and they don’t get a chance to process it as an outsider. I’m in that category.

Eleven years ago today, I was driving to a baby shower for Mike’s cousin. I never made it.

The shower was at Mike’s aunt’s house, where I had been a number of times. I had never driven there from Fredericktown, where we had moved a year earlier, so I talked to Mike about the best way to get there. I told him I was planning on taking SR 13 to SR 603 to Shiloh. He told me that was too far out of the way, and I might be late then. I should turn onto Ganges-Five Points Road and take that from SR 13 to SR 603 because it would cut several miles out of the trip. I asked him if it was that big of a difference because I was worried about missing the turn and getting lost. He said it was, and that I would be fine.

I got in the pickup and left. We had traded Mike’s parents vehicles temporarily before because they needed one that seated more people for a day. I was planning on seeing his mom at the shower, so we were going to trade back then.

I was happy that I didn’t have any difficulty finding Ganges Five-Points Road on the way. It’s a fairly well travelled country road – paved and lined and almost no stop signs. Being September, the corn was full height and awaiting harvest. The sun was shining, and it was a beautiful warm, almost-autumn afternoon, much like today.

Then suddenly, I saw a stop sign. And a minivan. At the same time. And I was filled with panic and dread because I knew it was too late.

I have a fuzzy memory of being in the ambulance and hearing someone say something about an IV.

I have a slightly clearer memory of laying in a hospital bed being wheeled in for a CT scan.

I remember nurses and doctors busily working – examining me for injuries, taking my contacts out because there were glass pieces in my eye, checking the IV, asking me if I was pregnant or on medication.

I was confused and alone. I knew something bad had happened, something very bad, but I didn’t know what. People were doing things to me, but no one was really talking to me.

My father-in-law arrived first. They had called him right away because it was his vehicle. The first thing I said to him was, “I think I wrecked your truck. You’re going to have to get a new one.” He told me it was okay.

Mike showed up. He held my hand. His sister Mindy showed up. She picked glass shards out of my hair.

The doctor came in and asked me how I was feeling. I hurt all over, but because they had given me a painkiller in the IV, everything felt fuzzy and dull. Because they had taken my contacts out, I couldn’t see well, which added to the sense of confusion. She told me that I had, in fact, been in a car accident. I had collided with a minivan. The accident was fatal.

The minivan was driven by an older gentleman who had been taken to a larger nearby hospital and was being treated for minor injuries. His wife was in the front passenger seat. She died on impact. Their 13-year old grandson was in critical condition and had been flown to the children’s hospital a couple hours away because of the extent of his injuries.

A sheriff’s deputy came in to ask me questions. They told me I didn’t have to say anything, that I could request a lawyer. There wasn’t much I could say because I didn’t remember what happened.

Driving. The sunshine. The cornfields. The farmhouses. The stop sign and the minivan all at once. The ambulance. The hospital. The realization.

Eleven years later, that’s still all I remember. During the accident investigation and subsequent lawsuit against me, I was asked dozens, maybe even hundreds of questions about the events of that day. Those memories are not there. I think it’s probably better that way, although I still wish I knew.

Whether or not I remember all of the details, the effects are still the same.

That day I ended someone’s life. I dramatically altered someone else’s life. The 13-year old sustained significant and permanent brain damage as well as other injuries that will profoundly effect him and his family forever.

And it changed my own life. There are no words adequate to succinctly describe everything that happened to me that day and in the following months. Those experiences continue to shape me today.

Other things have changed me slowly, over time. This was different.

For me, time will always be marked as “before September 19, 2004” and “after September 19, 2004,” the day everything was, without warning, violently reorganized.

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