A woman witnesses a devastating accident. Based on a true story. 750 GP's for reviews!
|It was a bright and sun splashed day; the kind of day that makes you want to buy a convertible just so you can drive with the top down, and feel the wind stream through your hair. A day that makes kids everywhere stare longingly out classroom windows, wistful for those lazy summer afternoons. The sort of day that tempts you to call in sick to work, and take a trip to the beach to listen to the laughter of seagulls, splash in the saltwater, and cruise the boardwalk. It was the kind of day that promises tomorrow.
It was not the kind of day that one equates with tragedy, loss and funerals. Those times are reserved for gray and sunless days, for black and heavy clouds that reflect the grief that is filling our heart until it explodes with pain, the way clouds explode with rain. No, sunshine and seagulls are reserved for life, gray clouds and darkness are meant for death.
It had been an uneventful Friday, as I cruised home from work, singing along to Ben Folds Five at the top of my lungs, and smiling at the thought of the weekend to come. Brad and I had an amazing weekend planned. We'd head to Wrightsville Beach, have dinner at some fancy seafood restaurant, and check into a gorgeous bed and breakfast. Our lives had gotten so busy lately, and we were really looking forward to this weekend of fun and relaxation. "Just the two of us," I smiled to myself. The man in the blue Saturn next to me glanced over as I smiled, and smiled back. I lifted my left hand from the wheel and waved slightly. The little girl in the back seat smiled a huge toothless smile and waved back. I remember her braids clearly. They had little "ABC" barrettes at the ends, as if some loving mother had snapped them there that morning.
I smiled at her and then looked back at the road, somehow singing even louder, relishing the warm sun and blue skies that had finally come to Durham after weeks of August rain. September was opening beautifully, and I hoped it would stay this way at least for a little while. Life was brilliant.
Ben Folds Five had just sang the last lyric of "Evaporated" when it happened. The world rushed up at me and everything went from brilliant to dismal in the split of a second. It was as if the sun had been sucked from the sky, leaving behind a yawning void. I heard the scream of the seagulls mixing with my own. There was no more laughter in their cries.
I watched in horror as the Saturn beside me veered into my lane, trying to avoid a truck that was now careening between the two lanes. I fumbled with my cell phone, trying to call highway patrol, but even as I dialed 911, I knew I would be too late. Just as I pressed the final one, I heard a horrendous crashing sound. I hit my brakes as hard as I could to avoid the terrifying scene in front of me. My cell phone fell out of my hand, clattering to the floor. The blue Saturn lay on its side, and the careening truck was standing on one end. There was a horrifying stillness and silence on this golden life-filled day.
I picked my phone back up, dialed 911 as quickly as possible, and ran to the Saturn as fast as I could. The driver, the man who had just smiled at me, lay unconscious and bleeding from his temple. His chest was rising and falling steadily. I checked the back seat. The little girl looked up at me, eyes filled with... what? Fear? Pain?
"Mama," she called weakly, and in that one minute my heart split in half. I reached through the window to her, trying to release her car seat buckle but it was impossible. One of her braids had come undone, the ABC barrette hanging loosely. For some reason I felt it imperative that her braid be fixed. Some loving mother had braided her hair just that morning and I felt a compulsion to fix it. I did, noticing the rusty clasp as my hands trembled violently, hoping it wouldn't break. And then I picked up her tiny hand, holding her soft fingers tenderly, silent tears coursing down my cheeks and praying for the ambulance to arrive.
It was then that she turned her head the barest fraction, and I saw the damage. I could see through her skull to the gray matter coming through and I knew then that it was over. I cried silently for this little girl, for this lost life, for the mother who loved her, for the family who would miss her. I cried for this little girl, no older than my son is now, who would never know the joy of another summer day. I cried for the little girl who had just smiled a toothless smile, who had her hair braided, who probably liked to eat sugar cereal and watch cartoons. Who would never discover her future or her potential.
I held her hand as she looked at me, and somehow, despite everything, she smiled slightly.
"Mama" she said.
"Yes honey, your mama is coming. And so is Jesus. Don't be scared honey, we're going to take good care of you."
I kept crooning at her, smoothing her brow, kissing the fingers I could reach through the window. I wondered what was keeping the paramedics but when I looked at my watch I saw that only three minutes had passed. Three precious life filled minutes. Three last minutes.
"Don't go to sleep honey, stay awake. Mama's coming, you have to stay awake for your mommy," I said, desperately hoping for a miracle. "What's your name honey? Can you tell me how old you are?"
"Amber..." she whispered as her eyes drifted closed.
"NO!" I yelled. "Amber, tell me how old you are!"
"Love you mama," she said.
I cried harder. Where were the paramedics?!
They arrived then, sirens screaming, lights blazing. They rushed over to me. I told them I was the first responder to the scene and that it seemed to me the little girl was the most damaged. Then they pushed me aside, doing their medical thing. Minutes later, they had Amber out and laying on a stretcher. I sat on the ground shaking, watching the scene around me unfold, terrified, unable to comprehend the harsh reality of the situation. I watched as a seagull landed a few feet away. It sat quietly, watching the scene, somehow unafraid of the chaos surrounding it. It looked at me and I looked back, transfixed.
The next words I heard stunned me out of this stupor.
"Tag her and bag her."
"Wait what? But she was alive! She was alive! I kept her alive all this time!"
I looked back at the seagull, but it was gone, lifting off in flight to join its brothers. I could hear it's cries as it flew off, eager to flee this terrible scene. Wait! Don't go! But the bird was gone, and I was here, and Amber was... Amber was....
"Ma'am, she's gone."
I dissolved then, a human river, coursing over the street and collapsing into myself. This baby, this child, this bright eyed beautiful little girl: she deserved more of a eulogy than "Bag her." Six years of life, reduced to two harsh words. I thought back to my musings in the car.
The kind of day that promises tomorrow.
But Amber wouldn't have any more tomorrows.
I followed the ambulance to the hospital unwilling and unready to let go of the situation. I found out that the driver, the man in the front seat, was Amber's uncle. He was hurt but not fatally. They said he'd live. I knew he wouldn't. One glance at his eyes told me he'd never get over his guilt and grief. His body might live but his spirit was destroyed. I talked to him briefly, he thanked me for being with his niece. I didn't want his gratitude. My presence had done nothing to save Amber. I had failed.
Her mother was there and I will never forget the look I saw in her eyes the minute they locked with mine. Their was a deep hunger there, a desperate need for knowledge. She clung to me sobbing, as I held her awkwardly; unsure and afraid.
"Was she... did she?"
"No," I said, somehow understanding.
She sobbed harder, but smiled at me, grasping my hands, begging silently for something. Anything.
I gave it to her.
"Her last words were for you," I said. "She said 'I love you, Mama'."
She clung to me harder than ever then, sobbing, screaming, wailing... It went on forever until finally, her body wracked with grief, she quieted, shuddering silently. Our tears mixed together, uniting us and making us one. Yesterday, I had not known she existed: Today we were bound in a way no two strangers should ever be. She grasped my hands, holding them tightly for several moments. When I finally opened them I found a one hundred dollar bill. This startled and confused me. I tried to refuse but she cried even more, insisting I keep it. It bewildered me, accepting money in the wake of loss... and for what? For holding the hand of a dying child? For providing her mother with the details she so desperately needed? No. I couldn't take it. But I couldn't not take it either. Nothing hurts quite like the pain of holding a child as they lay dying in your arms: nothing is as frustrating as being helpless to save them. I had spent mere minutes with Amber, had only known her sweet spirit for the briefest of moments, but the grief I experienced tore at my heart. And this was her mother. I could not fathom the depth of her misery. If handing me that money made her feel even the slightest bit better, I wasn't going to refuse her. But I knew I'd never spend it. I couldn't.
I finally went home that night, promising to stay in touch with the mother. I knew I never would. As I undressed for bed, I found the hundred dollar bill crumpled in my pocket. I took out a magic marker and wrote the words "For Amber" on it. Later on, I would laminate it and keep it in my car as a sort of talisman, never to be spent but only remembered.
But I found something else that night as I emptied my pockets. It was the barrette from Amber's braid. I fingered it lovingly, as I started to cry again; the days images flashing through my mind. I looked down at the barrette and through my tears I noticed an oddity. The clasp wasn't rusty. The metal looked shiny and new, free of the damages of time and use. I wondered at it, almost disbelieving, but trusting in what I saw.
Skeptics could make a million arguments; it wasn't the same barrette, it could have fallen from another of her braids, it could have come from her mother accidentally. I could have gotten it anywhere. But wherever it came from, I choose to believe it was a sign. A sign that Amber was whole and well somewhere, that her pain and damage were undone, and that she was bright and new. Just as bright, happy and new as that fateful day had promised. A promise of a thousand tomorrows that had never come.
The thing is, there are no promises of tomorrow. We only have today, this moment, this second. Tomorrow, for some of us, will never come. So spend this moment, this today, smiling at a stranger instead of scowling. Say "I love you" to the ones you love, even when you hate them. Just make it matter. Make life matter. All too soon its over.
Spend today not dreaming of the future, but beginning the present.
Really, the present is all we have.