My teenaged son was hit by a car exactly one year ago today.
I was driving home after having dropped my youngest at a school right across the street from where my older ones attend, when I found out about it. Looking back I realize that probably right about the time I was dropping off one kid within shouting distance, the other was being launched across a parking lot by a Jeep Cherokee.
That morning, lost in thought, having no clue what I would soon learn, I almost didn't answer my cell phone in time when it rang, and luckily caught it before it bounced to voice mail.
"Look, Mom, don't worry, I'm fine," my son said, his voice jagged and hepped up with the high of adrenaline. "But they're loading me into the ambulance."
I've had my share of heart-stopping parental moments, including the time we put one of our kids to bed only to find her---out of nowhere---in the throes of a seizure twenty minutes later. That episode led to all sorts of eventual angst and trauma, things that have contributed to making me a stronger person, no doubt, albeit a stronger person with a more acute fear of all that could go wrong in my beloved children's lives.
The minute you hear such words uttered, what flashes before you is all that might be wrong that you don't know. That he won't make it to the hospital before he dies, and you'll never have the chance to impart those last important words, the I love you's, because who knows? Maybe there are internal injuries and then what?
Last week in our small town that's exactly what happened. A sweet, friendly, athletic 16-year old girl was leaving her neighborhood en route to school. She turned left when the light turned green onto a busy four-lane highway, not realizing that an 18-wheeler was barreling down on her, its driver in such a rush to make it to his destination that he ignored the laws and the fact that he was manning a moving missile and just kept on driving right through a red light shattering the lives of so many people instantaneously. They say this girl died in the blink of an eye, upon impact. Of course her parents and her twin brother will have all the time in the world to die slowly from the heartache hoisted upon them.
The tragedy of this story has revisited me again and again since last week. Perhaps more so because but for the grace of God, it could have been me getting that same phone call that child's parents received that morning. Those parents who, if they were lucky, only a few short minutes earlier had kissed their girl goodbye and wished her a good day.
It resonates too with me because this is the sixth such accident in our small town in half a year's time. Two teens we know were nearly killed right along that same road by red-light runners, in one case a drunk driver. And yet it keeps happening, no one seems able or willing to stop it.
We were so fortunate. While my son was pretty banged up, had lots of cuts, scrapes and bruises, and even ended up passing out in the ER once the adrenaline wore off, he did live to tell about it, even sort of becoming a legend for a few days at school: the boy who got hit then run over by a car (by a girl who was text-messaging and speeding and who has since had additional moving violations yet still has her license). He, at least, was able to garner a few laughs over it.
I, however, remain haunted knowing that he was all alone at that moment of impact, when the front end of that Jeep met his backpack--laden as always with 30 pounds worth of textbooks that probably absorbed some of the force and likely saved his life--and sent him flying. And he was alone precisely at that moment the car then drove over his foot, the added insult to injury. This knowledge just kills me: that he was there---and I was probably right across the street--- and I couldn’t help him in such a lonely hour.
These thoughts often plague me when I hear of others’ tragedies. Innocent victims, people just going about their lives when poof, it all changes. And all ultimately alone when they most needed someone---or something---to sooth them.
I realized something interesting shortly after my son’s accident, though.
We were at a party with several families, watching a slide show of our vacation on somebody’s laptop, with an iTunes playlist on as a backdrop, when the song Wonderwall by Oasis came on.
“Dude, that’s the song I was hit by!” My son blurted out to his friends with a chuckle. Because he was listening to his iPod when he was hit, he has a personal soundtrack--a theme song--to probably the worst thing to ever happen to him.
A soundtrack. We all have those songs in our lives that bring us back to good times: that first kiss, the prom, graduation, a wedding day. But in this iPod generation, where most everyone tunes in whenever and wherever they can, songs probably link to more and more unexpected occurrences in our lives.
That my son had a theme song to the accident sort of creeped me out at first, but it didn’t bother him. In fact he was happy to hear it playing that night, even though the last time he heard it was under, uh, less than ideal circumstances.
I can't help but wonder if that girl had a favorite song playing on the radio just before her life was snuffed out. If she was lost in happy thoughts, excited about a big game, or planning to shop for a Mother's Day gift after school. Was there something there that helped her when she needed it most?
I guess I’m glad that in his hour of need, music was there to comfort, and--like that backpack--to soften the blow a little bit for my son. For me, I don’t think I’ll ever hear that song again without my heart stopping for just a moment, recalling that most important time in which I couldn’t be there for him. But perhaps when he hears Wonderwall my son will remember to be happy he’s alive, comforted just a little bit by music.