Monday, May 3, 2010

The Phone Call

Your dad and I were in the kitchen talking on a Friday night. The phone rang. I looked at the display and didn't recognize the number.

"Hello?" I answered.

"May I speak with Dustin, please?" a man said. I handed the phone to Dad. I watched his expression to see if this was a good or a bad phone call. When his face turned ashen, I felt my stomach clench.

He gripped the kitchen island with his free hand; grasping for solidity as the floor felt like it was buckling beneath him. I knew then, that something was terribly wrong. My eyes pleaded with his as I looked at him. I silently begged him to find a way to reverse whatever bad news he was receiving. I cursed myself for answering the phone, as if not hearing the news would somehow make it untrue.

The call was over in seconds. "It's Hollywood. There's been an accident," he choked out as he grabbed his keys. "She's being rushed to the hospital."

The drive to the hospital passed in a blur of prayers and faint attempts to reassure ourselves. Our hands were clasped together so tightly that a dull ache began to spread up my arm. But it was nothing compared to the pain in my chest. As dread grew within me, I felt as if my lungs were being squeezed in a vice.

We got to the hospital and were met by the paramedic who had brought you in.

"I'm sorry." he said as he looked with compassion into my eyes.

Those two words knocked me to the ground. I was on my knees, shaking uncontrollably. Your father knelt down; put his arm around me. As the world collapsed around us, our bodies crumpled into heaps on the rug of the ER waiting room.

They asked your dad to identify your body, but I insisted upon going along too. I remember hoping wildly that it wasn't you; that one of your friends had borrowed your car and it was someone else lying under a sheet in the hospital room.

Your face was puffy, battered and bruised, and you didn't look much like the fresh faced beauty who left the house earlier that night, excited to go to a bonfire with her friends. I knelt next to the bed and wept. Dad kept pacing back and forth. I couldn't tear my eyes away from your cross necklace. I thought about what it stood for - how you wore it with pride as a declaration for all of the new things you were discovering in your life.

Your unbelievably short life.

We had to plan your funeral. Your friends were distraught, but they helped us pick out the music to be played. Your boyfriend reminded us that the day of the accident had been your six month anniversary. His parents tried to comfort him, and they offered us whatever help they could give, but we couldn't be comforted or helped. Not now.

Your brother was numb; we couldn't get him to talk about his pain, and his eyes are troubled and cloudy. The storms that brew behind them, are visible at first glance. Your little sister is old enough to understand, but young enough to pretend that it's not happening. She will eventually realize that she can pretend no longer, and her wound will open up again; the pain of losing the sister she idolized will be fresh and raw.

For the service, we put together a slide show, using the pictures I had begun to catalog for your graduation montage. I thought the photo of you holding up a worm next to the lake in California would be shown to our families and friends as they congratulated you on your graduation day. Instead, we wept as we saw it, remembering the precocious toddler you once were.

There will be no trip to London after you graduate. No convincing your dad to wear a Hawkeyes shirt, since his daughter is a star student at the University of Iowa. No medical school. No white wedding dress on a spring afternoon. Your dad won't be walking you down the aisle. Instead, he will watch as all nine of your uncles crowd around your casket as pallbearers and walk you towards the hearse, waiting to drive you to your final place of rest.

Time will be measured by the accident for the rest of our lives. Memories will be cataloged in two eras: before and after the phone call that changed our lives forever.

This didn't happen, Thank God.

But we did get a phone call from the sheriff's deputy on Friday night. Hollywood had been reported for traveling at a high rate of speed and blowing through stop signs on the gravel road that leads to her boyfriend's house. So it could have happened.

During that phone call, I could feel my pulse beat in my throat. The blood pounded through me as I waited for The Husband to be done with his conversation and tell me what was wrong. We were relieved that he was calling to explain that a farmer had seen her drive like this on multiple occasions. Relieved because we could talk with her and withhold her driving privileges in the hopes that this might be the wake-up call she needs to avoid the kind of scenario that I've written about here.

I remember feeling invincible at sixteen. I also thought that I could control the situation as I drove too fast in my car. So while I am furious with my daughter for taking risks like these with her precious, cherished life, I can identify with her actions. But speeding on gravel roads and ignoring stop signs is reckless and dangerous, and these actions can't be allowed to continue.

I hope our discussion with her, along with the consequences she is now facing, will give her a look into the seriousness of the situation. Because I would never recover from her death. I'd get up and face each day, so I could be there for my other children, but I'd be withered and broken.


Jenster said...

Oh Monnik! I read this with tears in my eyes, praying it wasn't true. I'm so glad it isn't. But what a powerful post.

I hope you can get through to her. Let her read this! That will shake her up a bit!

studentrntiffany said...

I didnt even finish reading it and was sobbing uncontrolably. I came back just now to send my love, and finished the rest of it.

You had me terrified!

Kari said...

Oh wow! That just scared the shit out of me!

I was only halfway through reading it and about to send you an e-mail when I noticed the different text colors. Thank god I finished reading.

I'm glad Hollywood is safe and I hope this scares her into being a much safer driver.

mb said...

Thank god I already knew the outcome, but awesome writing.

Little Miss Sunshine State said...

I hope she read it and it scared the shit out of her.

They really do think that nothing bad will happen. Isn't that what we thought at that age?

Dan said...

Yep, those calls from the sheriff invoke a full spectrum of emotions. The worst part is that you are never sure that the youngsters have caught the gist of the issue.

Good luck!

Writing Without Periods! said...

What a great story. Well written. Love your blog title.

Travis Erwin said...

Damn it. I should be mad at you. I hope this scares her half as much as it did me. People will say online friendships are meaningless, but let me tell you, I've never met you or any of your family and yet I was shaking as I read.

Powerful writing, but damn don't do that to me again.

Barb said...

I think I actually stopped breathing as I read this. Coming from someone who still feels the pain of losing a young loved one in a fatal car accident, I really hope she does get this message.

jnj said...

I had tears rolling down my cheeks before I got to the end... I didn't see your first sentence!! So glad it's not true!