On August 18, 2012, I was the driver in car accident with an 18-wheeler in which my girlfriend lost her life. It’s never been a secret, and most know the basics as I’ve never had a problem talking to friends about it. However some don’t know about it at all, and while I’ll be explaining some portions of it for most of my foreseeable life, this post is in part to help with the struggle of trying to explain to people that probably won’t ever really know me.
The intent of this is not to eulogize. I wouldn’t do that here, so this is not that. And like that older post, this may also be deleted or moved at some point, as it’s far more important than the stuff I normally post here. I know the tone is kind of terse, and I don’t mean to come off as ungrateful, I just don’t want to be misunderstood.
We fought the night before, and in hindsight I can say that fights that big always seem to happen during high moments in a couple’s relationship. Similar to the way that jumping off a cliff is the quickest and surest way back down a climbed mountain. That week had been an especially painful one for us as we’d privately suffered a very devastating loss on Saturday. All that week we stayed to ourselves, only leaving the house when we had to for work. Neither of us had much of an appetite so we didn’t step out for dinner at all that week. Which is not to imply that we prepared meals that were in any way proper, because we didn’t. I’m not exactly sure why that memory stands out to me but it does. I would bring home food for the girls, and eventually I’d coerce her into having a few bites but that was about it. We spent all of our non-working time together those days, comforting each other as I expect most couples do at times like that. For us that meant most of our nights were spent together on the couch with this weird, quiet mood about us, where neither person had to say much or had much to say, but somehow we still functioned.
She was very close to her family and adored her siblings, so we made plans for Friday night to take her younger sister out for one last good dinner before she headed off for her final semester of college. The juxtaposition of her happily chatting with her sister as opposed to how down she’d been all week felt so good. I can easily say it was one of the best nights of my entire life. It was a silly, almost childlike type of fun; very hard to put into words, but just the thing we needed to raise our spirits. The day before we went out, my girlfriend in an effort to lift my spirits, surprised me with a camera she knew I was planning to buy. She said to think of it as an “early Christmas gift,” as if it wasn’t all of the middle of August at the time.
Many a picture was taken by the three of us Friday night, with my new camera. I don’t think any of them are in focus and only a few are correctly exposed, but they all capture our time perfectly. At one point that night, the three of us locked our arms and skipped down Pratt Street mimicking I-don’t-even-recall-what at this point. Again, it was silly but I don’t exaggerate when I say how great a night it was for us.
After dinner we headed to their parent’s house to get the girls, and drop her sister off. It was late and we were all tired, so it was a quiet trip. During the ride home, one of those powerful flash storms that only happen a few times a summer rolled in. The kind of storm where the wind would blow so hard for so long, that I knew trees limbs and power lines were coming down all over the place; we could even feel my truck being moved by it. During that roughly half an hour ride home, the wind blew, the rain fell, and the little girls in the backseat slept. We argued. Mountains and cliffs, we argued.
Good or bad, I don’t forget most things. Sometimes I remember conversations verbatim, down to the inflection used on certain words and the lilt with which they were said. Most of the things I do forget, are the things that I never really took in in the first place. Having said that, I have absolutely no memory of how our fight started, what it was about or where it went really. When I got her and the girls home and made sure they were settled in, I dropped the bomb that I wouldn’t be staying over that night, and immediately walked to my truck and left. I could tell she was furious, but I was too. I instantly hated myself a little, for that–for leaving her, even then, but I did, and I can’t deny that. As I’m typing this, I’m realizing it’s very similar to how we’d broken up when we were kids… storm, car and all. That’s not a story for sharing, but know that up until that moment, it was what I’d considered the worst thing I’d ever done–the only thing I’d ever truly felt bad for, as far as relationships go(not infidelity). I was just a callous immature boy, but I promised to sincerely apologize if we ever met again, and I did. But I digress. I left her and the girls, and I went home, sat around for a few hours, and stewed in my feelings until I got a text from her. Within minutes I was back on the road, heading to her house; she lived a mere 2 songs away by car. When I got there, simply put, things were said by us, and those things hurt both of us, but we figured it out. While I don’t remember how the fight started, I do remember how it ended: the two of us sitting in the cargo bay of my truck, parked on the street outside her house (either she didn’t want me to pull into her driveway, or I stubbornly decided I didn’t want to), being rained on, as we talked about what just happened between us. We shared a few laughs at how up and down our night had been, and at the realization that we were both too tall for our feet to dangle from the back of the truck, but at that point it was well after midnight, and we had to be up early, as we planned to spend the entire Saturday together. It was the first night in many weeks that we didn’t sleep next to each other, but I drove away from her house with us both feeling much better than the last time.
Saturday morning I woke up with a lot on my mind after the somber note the previous night had ended on, but by the time I took a shower, got dressed and left the house, I felt much better and had high hopes. I knew it was going to be a good day. We were attending her family’s annual cookout in a park somewhere a few hours away, on the other side of the Bay Bridge. It was a pretty big event in her family, and this was the day I was to meet the extended members of it. I knew her immediate family well enough already, except her father, whom I’d met just once, on our first date, when I was a kid. I got to her house and everything seemed normal, except us, but we hadn’t been normal all week. To the girls it was just like any other Saturday afternoon but with a planned day at the park. I loaded up the truck, with everything we were taking, and shortly after 1:30 pm we hit the road.
The weather that day was absolutely amazing with its light blue skies, white clouds, and gentle breeze, compared to the night before. The fight was still fresh in our memory, so while we were very happy to see each other, there was still a semi-surreal awkwardness between us, as if we couldn’t tell if the night before had really happened or not. I knew that would go away shortly, but when I stopped to get gas, and snacks for the girls, as we had an almost two hour drive ahead of us, I still snuck a text off to her. I didn’t know she’d responded until much later, sadly. She knew how much I loved clouds and photos, so on the drive across the Bay Bridge, she picked up my phone and started taking pictures of them, for me. At that moment, I couldn’t possibly love her more, and that’s my penultimate memory of her.
Things get really spotty here, so if I seem to be glossing over stuff now, that’s why. Please don’t mistake my brevity for indifference, because just as I’ve already shared all the little things that don’t matter to anyone else but me, I would love to do the same here, but I simply don’t have the memories…I wish I did. I can only recount the things that I do remember for sure. About 20 minutes after we crossed the Bay Bridge, we were in an accident with an 18-wheeler. I have no memory of the impact whatsoever, but I learned later that the truck struck us on my lady’s side. My memory of then goes directly from me driving, to me physically fighting with random white men trying to pull me out of my truck, while the girls cried in the backseat, and she appeared to be sleeping to my right. I kept screaming for her to wake up while trying to fight back. I remember the one guy cutting my seat belt off, and me wondering why I couldn’t even raise my arm to stop him. I was so confused. I of course later learned I was knocked unconscious, my elbow was shattered and my neck was slightly broken. The guys I thought were attacking me were paramedics or firefighters trying to get us out the truck. I don’t know how long I was out, or how long the girls were crying. I just thank God, nightly, that physically they walked away with only minor injuries.
When they finally got me out, I was still resisting as much as I could, but in hindsight, I doubt it was much. I was disoriented, and only had use of one arm. I want to say it took a while, but it was probably only little more than a minute from when I came to. They strapped me down to a stretcher, secured my neck and started wheeling me somewhere, and then I started really losing my shit. I’m very claustrophobic and it hit me hard to be strapped down like that, and by that time, her youngest daughter was already out of the truck and crying. I could hear her but not see her. I started yelling “take me to her,” followed by various obscenities and such. Again, I was in shock at that point. I’m sure the idle threats of a one-armed man (even if he doesn’t know it yet), strapped to a stretcher at every joint, is something that EMT’s ignore damn near daily, but for whatever reason, one of them asked if I would calm down if she came with us.
I don’t know if I held her hand for the whole chopper flight to Hopkins, or if she held mine, but whenever I went out(multiple times) and came to, we were still holding hands, while she cried. Later, I learned from a news story hat her older sister had flown with us. I have no memory of that because my field of vision was limited by being strapped down.
My memory of this point is even spottier than the time of the accident because I get my days in the hospital mixed up. While I don’t have a memory of the accident, I feel like I remember damn near everything from the hospital on. But some of it is probably wrong because I can’t remember the order, or the days in which some things took place. I was there from Saturday until Tuesday or Wednesday, and in that brief time I had a lot of conversations and a lot of visitors.
My first real memory is of some point that night though. I woke up in Hopkins, and her daughters had been replaced by her sisters, but only the older sister was in the room with me at the time, I believe. Maybe my best friend was there as well, but I don’t recall that exactly. I asked her what happened and she told me we were in an accident on our way to the big family day. I almost didn’t believe her, but I was clearly laying in a hospital bed.
She said the girls were fine, but Cynthia was killed immediately in the accident. I cried until I passed out again.
I should say now that her immediate family has shown nothing but grace in the face of all of this. I can only imagine the feelings and sense of loss they feel, but they’ve been nothing less than the kindest, most caring people to me. To be told that your love is gone forever, and be ruled at fault, but not even have the memory to say definitively what happened is a hard thing. My last memory of her seemingly asleep, is a harder thing. For their support, and love, I owe her family something I can never hope to give them back, but I am grateful beyond words.
As I said, I was released from the hospital the following Tuesday or Wednesday. I had an appointment set for Friday morning with the surgeon that was going attempt to repair my arm. I thought this meant the surgery would happen that day, too, but I was wrong, and it was just a consultation of sorts. The actual surgery wouldn’t take place until the following Wednesday. Funeral services were also held that Friday morning, but I was advised not to attend. I could barely accept that then, but I understand it now. My aunt and cousin went in my stead.
Since I wasn’t having the surgery that day, and I couldn’t attend the funeral after my appointment, I asked to be taken to the garage/junkyard where whatever was left of my truck had been taken, to retrieve what I could of our things. It was roughly a 2 hour trip from the surgeon’s office, and I was still heavily drugged, stiff and in much pain. I had a constant headache for some 40 odd days straight, so it wasn’t a trip I was really up to making. I didn’t want to do much those days, except sit quietly alone, in the dark, cry and sleep…so much sleeping back then. When we got to the junkyard, I didn’t even recognize my truck at first. Other than the obvious damage from the actual accident, someone had cut the whole roof off my truck, and just placed it back on top at some point. I don’t know if that happened on the scene or someday later at the junkyard, but I suspect the latter. They’d taken all of the major things they could find and secured them for me in the office, but amazingly, my iPhone was somehow still in the truck, on the side of my seat. It not only survived the accident, and the rain from sitting in a mostly open truck for days, but it even still had a charge, 6 days later; I barely believed it myself. That was when I saw that she’d responded to the text I had sent her before the accident, as well as other texts from friends and family. It was a very, very odd feeling to receive that message from her at that moment.
As I said, all the other stuff they’d secured in the office, so I got my camera and most of my tools back. It was a huge sense of relief to get the camera, as it holds significant sentimental value for obvious reasons. I also got her purse, which was almost empty, except for her digital camera, and a dress she’d brought just in case she needed to change her clothes at the park that day. I don’t know that I’ll ever check the memory card, but her actual camera was effectively destroyed. It’s still in that dirty purse, in my basement, along with the dress that still carries her scent even now.
I’m going to end this here. I’ve been wanting to write this for as long as you can imagine, but I could never bring myself to share like this. Even this overly long ramble seems like it’s both too much, and still insignificant in a way. This was only ever meant to be a simple recounting of things. Well, a thing, as it all sits in my mind as one long event. I swear on everything I hold dear, I do not share this for want of pity or sympathy. I have okay days, and bad moments, with the majority being the okay days, in which I’m blessed to be able to say with honesty, I smile happily, and I remain here, still. During the bad moments I talk, I cry, I get over it. If you catch me during one of those moments, just smile and nod, please. It’ll be over soon