Morning Fog

The call you dread

How many times did my mother tell me, hysterically, during those crazy years in between the time I started driving and the time I married, “for all I knew you were lying dead in a ditch by the side of a road?”

That would be because I was notorious for not calling and not coming home when instructed. And because my mother never learned to let go, even a little bit.

I have been thinking about that a lot lately.

For the record, I never ended up in a ditch — by the side of the road or anywhere else, for that matter. Neither had anyone else I know, come to think of it. But somehow that phrase stuck in my head, and I think I have used it on my own kids a time or two.

But Thursday night I got a call that gave me new perspective on that particular vehicular predicament. It is never a good thing when your phone rings at 1:53 am. Nosireebob. Not a welcome call, ever. But that is what I got.

Setting of our story: daughter dearest had just gone to Montana with her Marine, who just finished up his 11 month deployment overseas. So when my phone startled me awake, and it was her special ring that I heard, my heart started racing. To make matters worse, I was so disoriented that I shut the phone off. And then I laid there…freaking out. Wondering if I should call her back, or wait for voicemail…then it rang again, only it wasn’t her phone number. I started to answer it, but my voice wouldn’t work. It kept ringing, I kept trying to make it go to voicemail. It took several calls before I got a voicemail, and even longer before I got up the nerve to listen to it.

It was a call from the Marine’s sister-in-law, telling me that my daughter and her marine were driving down the road, hit a patch of black ice, lost control, rolled the truck and ended up in a ditch. IN A DITCH. Nobody actually ends up in a ditch!

What ensued was a sleepless night, with phone calls back and forth constantly.

Apparently, she got knocked around pretty hard. When the car came to rest she was unconscious and her Marine couldn’t revive her. She was covered with blood, as was he. He ran up to a farmhouse for help, where they gave him blanket and called an ambulance. She did come to, at which point she was hysterical, belligerent and combative. At the point when I talked to them first, she was conscious, but all they knew was that she had a concussion for sure and that she wasn’t in very good shape. Hearing all this, I was RELIEVED. Relieved that she was a. feisty and b. not dead. I cannot stress that last point enough. I was just thankful that she wasn’t dead. I had steeled myself for the worse, so knowing that she was alive AND conscious gave me great hope.

As the night wore on, she had cats cans and x-rays and got lots of stitches. But I tell you, the longest part of the night for me was the time between when I first talked to them and when they called me back from the hospital to update me an hour later. During that time I tried to sleep, but was basically hyperventilating and praying so hard that I actually heard a voice tell me that she was going to be fine. It was a reassuring voice that just broke into my thoughts and prayers with that announcement.

As it turns out, it looks like she is going to be okay. She has bumps and bruises and some stiches…by her eyelid and her chin. She has at least one black eye. But her catscan was normal and no broken bones. Of course, she is taking vicodin and I’m sure she will have aches and pains, but I finally talked to her last night and she sounded pretty good. Even better when I talked to her today.

I’m still shaking and upset about the whole thing, but she has no memory of it. She just remembers waking up at his brothers house. She doesn’t remember the accident or the hospital or the ambulance or going home or anything else. It is seared into my memory, however, as one of the worst experiences of my life. I keep thinking about how close she was to dying. Having an accident on an icy road in the middle of winter is bad enough…but your odds really go down when you also roll over, land in a ditch, total the vehicle and being found bloody and unconscious.

I am keenly aware of how fate has continually teased me with my daughter’s life.

First of all, I tried for many, many months to get pregnant with her. When I finally did, I nearly lost her. In fact, everyone thought I had miscarried her, but an ultrasound revealed a still beating heart, so I was basically sent to bed until my placenta had strengthened because I had a profound hormone imbalance at the start of my pregnancy. But of course I remember the crying and the lying in bed refusing to let her go. Silly in retrospect, in a way. I know now that I always could have gotten pregnant again, but I was desperate not to lose that baby. And I didn’t.

And then when she was 6 months old, the doctor thought her head bones had fused together too soon and she was sent for xrays. He said she could need surgery to cut her skull back open if they had fused. That was more tears and worrying and fretting and praying. She was fine.

Then when she was 8 months old, she almost drowned. I will never forget the way she looked, spread-eagled under water in the deep end of the pool. But she was fine.

And then when she was four, we were on a boat and a bigger boat kicked up a huge wake that threw us around badly. She cut her chin open badly. HOURS at the ER later, she had 17 stitches and had to be restrained and sedated before she would let them stitch her up. Talk about traumatic.

When she was 8 years old, we had a bad spin out on the freeway. My car swerved this way and that and then did a 180 across four lanes of traffic, sliding sideways toward the concrete center divide. I looked over at my daughter and saw the center divide flying towards her at 60 miles per hour and could only scream her name at the top of my lungs. It was like a prayer…take me but save her. The car immediately stopped. It just stopped. I was right next to the center divide, parallel to it as if I had parked it carefully. I was so close that you couldn’t slide a piece of paper between the car and the divide, yet it wasn’t touching anywhere. Not a scratch on the car anywhere. We were fine. I was pregnant at the time, and completely traumatized by the knowledge that my daughter would not have survived that blow had we slammed into the concrete. But we didn’t and she was fine. But it took me a long time to get over that.

Through the years, we have had lots of sports injuries…lots of xrays for bones that turned out not to be broken, that sort of thing. She took a softball to the eye senior year, and that was bad, but she was fine before too long.

I have always worried and worried about her driving, and despite a few tickets, she has escaped accident free thus far, even though lots of her friends had accidents.

I always felt like I was there to protect her and care for her and even when I wasn’t, I felt somewhat in control of her environment. It is hard to accept that I am not in control of her any more. It is hard to let go. It is harder now that letting go has resulted in an accident that nearly claimed her life. And yet, she has skated on that edge before, just never so dramatically as now.

I am feeling pretty good now…now that I feel like she will survive this event. But I am forever changed. I always thought that I could imagine how horrible it would be to lose a child. But I was wrong. The grief I felt the last couple of days was far worse than anything I ever imagined, and I didn’t even lose her. I don’t know how anybody ever actually survives the loss of a child now. I don’t know how you physically keep living and breathing without going insane. The toture I felt during those first few hours, even knowing that she was alive and most likely going to be fine, was unbearable. Learning after the fact that she had initially been unconscious, that the truck had rolled, that the cab was smashed in, that it was totaled, that they were lying in a ditch and what if both of them had been unconscious and never come to…all those thoughts were driving me insane.

This was the worst phone call I have ever gotten, worse even than when my son called to tell me that his roommate had committed suicide. That was horrible and terrible and gave me nightmares for a long time…and to this day I feel panic when I see one of my kid’s calling me because of that. But when something potentially fatal is happening to your own child, it is beyond your comprehension.

So anyway, some of the jingle is gone from my house. But then again, it could have been a lot worse. God willing, she is going to be fine.