I have started and stopped this blog off and on for weeks; mostly because it’s fairly personal, and secondly, it doesn’t have a humorous angle to it really… unless I find something at the end that can take it there.
It was a warm, and pleasantly so, Friday evening in October 1997 in suburban West Grove, when I was sitting on the sofa waiting for a pizza to be delivered that I had ordered for the kids and I. Geri (my ex-wife) was working late and would be home shortly as our older kids, Ashley and Drew were upstairs in their rooms reading and computer gaming respectively. The doorbell startled me slightly as I stood figuring it was the pizza being delivered and opened the door. It was my neighbor from across the street, Jeff, looking a little pale as he said “Ed, there has been an accident with Terri (his wife) and the kids. Molly is with them as well.”
The odd thing I remember about this moment was my uneasy sense of calmness. I thought that perhaps they were sideswiped, or had a tire blow out, or a mild fender bender of some kind and I thought they possibly needed us to come pick them up and bring them all home. My image could not have been further from the truth.
As Jeff drove us to the site of the accident, we were both silent… my mind still playing this cruel trick of denial at the possible severity of the situation. I was naive. As we rounded the bend after a very long 10 minute ride, we were halted by a police officer who had the road closed. After we identified who we were, he avoided eye contact and directed us to park so we could walk up a small hill to where the accident was.
I can remember like it was yesterday as Jeff and I walked, and then sprinted up this hill together yet quite separate. The entire situation was now playing in slow motion as if I were watching a movie and playing a role that I was unfamiliar with and did not want to play. The smoke, the stench of gasoline and the sound of sirens were beginning to take over, and it was getting dark…
The first image truly BURNED into my mind was father (Jeff) and mother (Terri) seeing each other face to face for the first time in the surreal flashing lights and fuel smoked darkness as I noticed briefly that Terri’s arm was wrapped and in a sling of some sort. Their faces screamed anguish like none I ever seen, the words I could not hear as they embraced and I continued further into this nightmare of lights, crying, shouting, the chatter of walkie talkies, orange and blue uniforms, an over-turned smoking black SUV in the middle of the road and the ever present smell of burning gasoline as I continued crunching on broken glass for a few more yards… I could literally hear my heart pounding in slow motion as I came upon the minivan alongside of the road split in two like a broken candy bar but still held together somehow in the back. Inside the van was my daughter’s 7 year old best friend, Rachel, and she was just lying on the seat surrounded by broken glass that shimmered like ice as my mind continued to falsify reality by telling me that she was just sleeping with the only physical damage being a slight trickle of blood from her scalp that flowed delicately onto the seat of the van below her. My first thought was, WHY is she alone. Why were the EMT’s not near her? I could see them in a huddle on the street over something or someone (which I later surmised was Terri and Jeff’s youngest 5 year old son Georgie) that I could not register. I startled myself when my own voice that I did not recognize screamed, “Where is MOLLY WILLIAMS?!”
Someone answered in an echo, “She is up the bank in the cornfield!”
I scrambled through some slight brush to where there were 3 or 4 EMT’s surrounding my Molly on one of those stretchers that is used to secure a patient. In the dark, my mind continued to play tricks as I came upon my 6 year old child strapped securely as I bent down as I said, almost TOO softly, “Molly?” The way I was situated was sort of looking at her upside down, her entire face covered in blood as I leaned in to look closer. Her eyes were closed as if dead or as if she were shutting out the horrendous visual images thrust before her. She opened her eyes, and I remember with the deep red blood as a background over her entire face, that her eyes were the bluest eyes I had ever, and will ever, see in my life… she spoke to me in a tiny, quivering voice, “I’m gonna be okay Daddy,” almost as if it were a question to me and as if she was trying desperately to force away this nightmare. She had a deep gash in her forehead that was so deep, I could see her skull. If you’ve ever been a parent or anyone really, who has seen someone close in dire peril and you have to FORCE yourself to LOOK calm in your eyes and face, it is the hardest yet most crucial thing you can do. I managed a weak grin and helped the EMT’s load her into the waiting ambulance.
Molly, the EMTs and I shared a long, Friday night traffic filled, siren blared ride to Christiana Hospital while the EMT’s gave me her initial rundown of leg fractures, severe head trauma and possible internal injuries yet to be determined. Molly and I held hands as I was on the phone trying to calm my wife at the time. It seemed like it took HOURS to get to the hospital…
Unaware that all three children were taken to the same hospital and floor, I ran into Jeff in a small side hallway while I was waiting for the doctor to “hand-set” Molly’s broken leg as well as check for additional injuries. We were alone together surrounded by a sea of stark white echoes as we hugged and he whispered weakly in my ear that “Rachel will not make it. George is in a medically induced coma and under observation.” In my mind, I am thinking that this is not true and that God will fix all of this and we’ll all just go home tomorrow and eat the cold pizza while watching a Disney video. He did not fix this.
Rachel did not make it. We surrounded her “brain-dead” body 24 hours later to pray for her as the life support was about to be removed. Her organs were donated and her spirit continues to live deep within us all. Georgie had eventually come out of the coma and recuperated nicely after having plastic surgery to fix a deep “X-shaped” over 100 stitched gash in his face.
Molly has developed into an amazing daughter to me. She had plastic surgery on her forehead, and wore a leg cast while having to be in a wheelchair for several weeks. We’ve talked about that night. She once told me that she remembered feeling like the van was going to blow up with her in it due to the heavy smell of gasoline, and she thought all her teeth were broken (it was shattered glass in her mouth) and she remembers how her friend Rachel’s body was lying on her lap after the accident and she wouldn’t wake up.
The experience forced Molly and I to have a relationship like no other. A relationship where we KNOW that life is precious and that LOVE is the most important thing in the world. Rachel’s favorite thing was turtles. Molly had a first tattoo illustrated on the inside of her wrist last year of a turtle.
I’m struggling with trying to find something funny about this post; perhaps the fact that when I hug people today, I hug them a little harder and longer than most, almost inappropriately so. Life is not a guarantee. Revel in it EVERY day.