Tuesday, October 29, 2013

"From Daddy, with Love"

     The date was June 14th, 2010, around 6:30 p.m. In a small town out west.

     David was only 39 when his family was taken from him by a drunk driver. The drunk driver, Matthew Carnegie, was also in the midst of a text when he struck the family's 1969 VW Van from behind, at more than 75 miles an hour, while the VW waited at a red light. The drunk driver was thrown from his vehicle, through his own windshield and ended up in the VW on top of the two children. 

     The two children, Samantha, 13, and Abigail, 6, were buckled in and might have survived the crash; but the body of Matthew Carnegie hit the back of the bench-style seat at full force, causing it to fold forward, almost completely flat, breaking the two girls' spines in half. In the 1969 van, only lap belts were installed - and back then, even lap belts were an added feature to vehicles.

     Their mother, also named Abigail, 34, and only 5' 1" tall, was whip-lashed forward, hitting her forehead on the windshield of the van, cracking her skull and dislocating her jaw. Paramedics thought she may have lived if she hadn't had the seat pulled so far forward, due to her short stature.
     Mom and the two girls had gone out to pick up new swimsuits for an outdoor birthday and swim party at a neighbor's house the next day. Their dad, David, was on his way home from work and had just passed through the same intersection around 6:20 p.m., and was waiting at home, picking up the girls toys from the front lawn when the wreck occurred. Although the family lived a good half a mile from the intersection, David recalled actually hearing the crash. At the time he didn't know that it was his family that was being killed. He said the sound of the crash resembled exploding metal. He recalled coming to a pause on the front lawn, with Abigail's small bicycle still in his hand, thinking, "What in the name of red paint was that?"  That was a saying he came up with when his daughter's were born to curb his impulse for profanity.

     After 8 o'clock came and went, David began to wonder where his wife was, so he called her cell phone. The first attempted call resulted in nine rings and then a voice mail recording. He ended the call and tried to recall exactly what his wife said she and the girls were going to be doing that day. To the best of his recollection, he could not remember her saying she would be out that late. So he lifted his phone once again and called her number. This time, there were two rings and then an answer.

     "How can I help you?" a male voice said.
     David paused, but then replied, "I'm trying to reach my wife."
     There was a moment of silence on the other end with some muffled voices in the background, and then a response from the same male voice as before. "Yes, this is Abigail Turner's phone."
     "That's my wife's phone," David said, "Why do you have my wife's phone?"
     "Yes, Sir, this is officer Anson. I have your wife's phone because she and her two children have been in an accident."
     David later said, it was at that moment that he knew the bending metal he heard earlier came from his wife's crash. He said he could hear the cop explaining things, but it all sounded like he was talking through a pillow. He told me recently that he doesn't know how he made it to the hospital, but when he arrived to the E.R., it was like a ghost town. There wasn't a nurse in sight. He said he just stood there in the middle of the emergency room in a daze. His first thought was that he needed to find his family, but his legs wouldn't budge from that spot.

     That's when a nurse came out of nowhere and touched David on the shoulder. He looked at her, and she asked him softly, "Mr. Turner?"
     "Yeah," he answered softly back.
     "Come with me; I'll take you to see your family."

     A moment of euphoria came over David as they began walking. The nurse led him out of the E.R. and to an elevator that was surprisingly close to the emergency room. They stepped onto the elevator and David noticed some of the upper floor buttons were labeled. The 2nd floor was X-Ray, Laboratory and Pharmacy; the 3rd floor was Pediatrics; the 4th floor had a suite of surgical listings, and the 5th floor was Oncology. David reached out to push the 3rd floor button, but the nurse blocked him gently as she looked right into his eyes.
     The nurse reached over to the buttons, but she didn't push 3; she pushed B.

     "B?" David said without thinking.
     "Basement," she answered.
     "What's in the basement?"

     The nurse didn't answer, but David said that when the metal doors opened, the aroma was different. The lighting was different. It looked like the decor hadn't been updated in years. He didn't know why he noticed these things at the time, but he told me he must have been mentally avoiding the obvious. He said he knew what was in the basement. He said while in the elevator, his eyes never even noticed the basement button. 

     David said he stopped the nurse as they started to exit into the basement while he still had one foot in the elevator. He asked her, "What do they look like?" He wanted to see them, but at the same time, if they were in the morgue, he didn't know if he wanted his last memory to be of them lying on cold slabs, mangled or destroyed.
     The nurse took his hand and said softly, "You don't have to go in there if you don't want to."
     "Are they all in there?" David asked as his throat began to close.
     The nurse just nodded for that question, but then added, "I did my very best to make them look as beautiful as you remember."
     David said he suddenly had a glimmer of hope come over him because he asked, "How did you know my name is Turner? Maybe I'm the wrong guy."
     The nurse placed her hand into the pocket of her scrub shirt and pulled out a cell phone, giving it to David. David recognized it. He turned on the screen, and there in full color was a screen shot of him and his two daughters from a year previous, on Abigail's 5th birthday. That is when David softly cried, and whispered, "Oh no."
     "I don't think I can do it," he said. The nurse waited patiently and remained silent, looking him in the eyes compassionately. David said as he looked down a very long corridor, he felt a pull. The nurse held David's hand and they began walking towards an over-sized nickel-plated door at the very end of the hallway. Just above it was a single sign that read: Morgue. David told me he had never paid much attention to that word prior to that day. But ever since then, he has never wanted to see that word spelled out again. Looking at that word makes him remember that huge metal door that led to what he was going to see next.

      Inside the room, the temperature dropped at least ten degrees from the hallway. All the lights had been dimmed except for a small lamp that had been taken from a hospital room and placed by his family; probably to set a calmer atmosphere and to hide certain things on his wife and daughters that couldn't be covered up. 

     David surveyed the room from just inside the doorway. There was only one bed. It was a regular hospital bed with a mattress and blanket. The nursing staff had placed mom and her two daughters all together; mom in the middle with her two babies snuggled up under each arm. A blanket, not of the hospital, was covered over them, and tucked in a little higher than the middle of the chest. Their faces had been washed and their hair brushed. They were indeed beautiful, just as the nurse had said.This event had really affected this small town. There had never been such a tragedy within its borders.

     David never made it over to the bed. He told me a few nights later that they looked so perfect, that is how he wanted to remember them; his two girls with their mama, looking as if they were finishing up a bedtime story and falling asleep. David left the hospital and drove back home. His mind was numb. That 's when he passed the intersection of the crash site. Pieces of the VW were still on the pavement - but other than that, it was as if the wreck never even happened. It wasn't until he got home that the real horror set in. That's when the silence of the house began to scream at him. Abigail, his youngest, was always talking a mile a minute, making funny faces and coming up with stories about the world that only a 6 year-old can make-up. Samantha, who was constantly on her phone, making plans, laughing and watching her favorite shows on Netflix. And his beautiful wife, who was always calling him honey and daddy. All of that was gone

     After I had talked to him, I had an uneasy feeling. On the drive home, I couldn't seem to get the lifeless gaze in his eyes out of my head. I figured I would give him a call in the morning and check on him to let him know I am available if he wanted to chat. Then, the oddest thing happened. I pulled into my driveway around 9 p.m. and shut the ignition off; and my front porch light blinked twice. I thought I was just tired and hallucinating. That's when I remembered, I never turned on my light. I never turned on that light.

     I got out of the car and walked up to the porch, staring at the anomaly the entire time. I put my key in the lock, and turned the key. The lock was still in place. That was a good sign. I opened the door and looked around. Everything seemed to be in order so I laid my keys by the front door and went to my bedroom. I sat on the edge of my bed and thought of those girls and what it must have felt like to be demolished by complete surprise from behind. 

     The next morning, I got up around 5 a.m. I opened up my laptop and clicked on Facebook. There was a notification at the top of the screen. "Someone is up early," I said to myself. It was from David. It read: To All, Goodbye.

     I darted out of the door and over to David's house. There were three of his neighbors loitering on David's front lawn as I pulled into the drive. I got out of my car and asked, "What's going on? Are you here about David?"
     His neighbor, Julie, started talking. "I came over and knocked on his door after I heard some things breaking. I knew his family had just been killed so I wanted to check on him."
     "What time was this?" I asked. 
     "It was around 3:30 this morning. The ambulance just left. We were all just about to go to the hospital to be with him."
     Julie was a sweetheart. She absolutely cared about everyone she met. We all went to the hospital and waited while the same nurses that took care of his family a few days earlier were now taking care of him. That's when Julie told me what happened with David.

     She said she heard a crash in David's house as she was rolling her garbage can out to the curb for pickup the next morning. Julie is a night owl, so she goes to bed late. There was only one light on in David's house when she heard the breaking of glass. Julie said she ran back inside to ask her husband if she should knock on David's door to check on him. Her husband was asleep, but woke up enough to reply, "If you want to. But be careful - maybe he wants to be left alone." 

      Julie decided she should have a look. When she turned David's door handle, it was unlocked. She entered slowly, ready to make an announcement of her presence when the bottom of the door scraped across the broken glass of a vase that used to sit right next to the door. As she leaned her head inside, she saw David's bare foot on the floor. She pushed the door the rest of the way open and there he was, passed out in his own vomit in the foyer. He had cut his other foot on the glass as he fell.

     Julie said she stepped over the glass, vomit and blood to reach David's head. She didn't know what to do. She held the back of her hand in front of his mouth; after the longest moment, a breath came out. Then more followed. What a relief she said it was. But the smell of alcohol was overwhelming. She said she had never smelled breath that strong with alcohol before. 
     She lifted his head out of the bloody vomit and tried to clean the side of his head with one of his socks that was lying nearby. That's when she called 9-1-1.

     A full 3 years has passed from that night in June when Julie called paramedics to David's house. I recently talked to him about that night, and for the first time, he was remarkably candid. 
     He said, "I knew I wanted to drink that night. I knew I wanted to become numb beyond the numb I already felt. After one whole bottle of Captain Morgan, I felt really woozy. I thought to myself that I should call it quits right here because I could already feel my jaw tingle like it does when I'm close to throwing up.

     "I glided around the house, talking to myself; talking to my girls. Only they weren't there. I began to feel hungry so I went into the kitchen. I checked the cupboard, but nothing looked good. I checked the freezer to see what was in there. I decided on a frozen pizza, but when I pulled out the pizza box, another bottle of Captain Morgan was staring right at me. That's when I thought, what the hell. I poured another shot. But let me tell you, it was hard to get that one down. My body was telling me not to do it, but I forced it down anyway. I told myself I was going to go right to the edge of death.
     "I put the pizza in the oven, but I don't remember if I even turned it on. I was feeling pretty bad so I figured I need to shove some bread into my belly to absorb the alcohol. And that's when I found an old bottle of pain pills my wife had when she stepped on a nail last year. I froze. I just stood there staring at the bottle of pain pills, drunk as a skunk. I picked up the pills and gave 'em a shake. I remembered she had only taken one because they made her feel queasy. There were 14 pills remaining in the bottle. I gave it another shake, only it seemed to happen in slow motion that time.

     "I looked over at the liquor and then back at the pills. I made an instant decision. There was nothing keeping me here. There was no reason to stay. So I grabbed the good Captain along with the pills and coasted over to my computer. I logged onto Facebook and typed a goodbye message. I think it took me a good ten minutes to type three words. It was like the keys kept moving out from under my fingers. It made me laugh a kind of hysterical laugh. For the first time in days, I actually felt at peace. Knowing I was leaving made me feel great.

    "After I typed out the message, I went into the foyer and sat the pills and liquor on a little table my wife kept there for fresh flowers. I don't know why I decided that was the spot. But I opened the pills and dumped the entire contents into my hand. I funneled all of them into my mouth, and poured the rum right in after. Right before I swallowed, I thought, this is it. Gulp. Somewhere between that and the floor I must have broken the vase.

     "I slid down the wall and had a seat. I was going to let myself slip into oblivion. My vision became blurry in only a few minutes and my stomach was on fire. All of a sudden, I felt a pulling on my chest and a rumble in my gut. And without any other notice, I began throwing up everywhere. It took my breath away. Even in between throwing up, I couldn't catch a breath. I felt like my lungs were going to collapse from all of the air being forced out during the throw up. 
     "I remember slowly tilting to the side with my back against the wall. About half way to the floor, I blacked out. For a moment, I opened my eyes and could see that I was lying in my own stomach contents. My left eye wouldn't open and my right eye was flat against the floor and a bit blurry."

     David leaned into me and said something I won't soon forget. He said, "As I looked across an ocean of vomit, a small pair of legs sitting on the floor came into view just on the outskirts of my mess. The legs were crossed in a butterfly position. I couldn't seem to see any higher than the legs; my head just wouldn't turn. And although I couldn't see them, someone else was stroking my hair. I never tried to lift my head; I don't actually think I could have anyway. I was exhausted from throwing up. 

     "Out of nowhere, I felt an amazing peace come over me. My face felt paralyzed but I swear I felt myself smiling in bliss. I closed my eye and literally thought I was dying. I was so okay with dying that I kept waiting to wake up on the other side. That wooden floor I was lying on felt so comfortable; probably because I couldn't feel it. Then, I heard a voice in my head. It was a song that I used to sing to Abigail when she was born. It was the only kid song I knew. Now I was hearing it in my head - in my daughter's voice."

     I asked David for the words so I could write them here:

If you love love love me, plant a rose for me - 
And if you love love love me, plant an apple tree -
So whether I come, or whether I go - 
You'll have an apple, and you'll have a rose -
If you love love love me, plant a rose for me -

Then tears formed in David's eyes as he said, "I swear as sure as I'm sitting here, I could smell roses. And the voice sounded like an angel. I might sound crazy but I don't care. I think my daughters were there with me that night and made me throw up."

     I said, "That could be true." 
     Then he asked me what I thought about seeing his daughter and feeling the other one stroke his hair. I told him, "Perhaps your wife was stroking your hair." 
     He answered, "The hand that touched my scalp didn't have nails. My wife always had long, manicured nails. My 13 year-old always chewed her nails down to the nub. I could feel the fingertips, and there weren't any nails."

     I smiled and nodded. I told him it seems his daughters had come to be with him in his darkest hour. That they were with him in the morgue, and they are with him in every moment. He asked me why he hasn't seen his wife. And I assured him that she is always just a breath away. He saw exactly who he needed to see at that very moment. I told him to keep that moment in his heart. Your family is always with you, even until the end of time.

     David moved out of that house shortly after that and I haven't seen him since. I no longer live in that small town, and I don't know where he ended up. I have tried to find him a few times on Facebook, but have been unsuccessful. Just for fun once, I tried looking under each of his girls' names, and found one for Abby and Sam Turner. But when I opened the page, it was blank, except for one picture. The one from his wife's cell phone, with one small text that read:       From Daddy, with Love 

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