“Tell me about him.” I yelled over the wind and noise of the road from the passenger’s seat of the little red Miata. We were headed further West on OH-33 than I had ever been before. The sky ahead of us started to turn an ominous gray. For fear of being rained on, we stopped and put the top up before getting back on our way. Without all the wind, it was even easier to carry conversation.
“So you were about to tell me about your dad.”
My eyes were fixed on Brandon, watching the way his lips curl when he talks, the way his eyes involuntarily flit up when he’s thinking hard about something. He was still brand new to me & I was desperate to dive into the depths of his soul and know him from the inside out.
He told me the basics, what his father does, where he grew up, that he’s been through two divorces. His speech was slow, he was pausing for unusual lengths between thoughts. I assumed he was just searching for the best words to describe his father.
After a minute or two of silence I asked, “are you okay?”
“Yeah, yeah I’m just tired.”
In an effort to keep his brain engaged and to continue my deep dive, I asked “Are you guys close?”
He started slowly to respond, “I don’t know… I guess…… maybe less now…….”
My eyes are back on the road while I wait patiently for him to sift through his thoughts. I realize all too late that the car is veering to the right and we are running over the white line & off the road.
It all happened so fast.
One minute I was intently listening, trying to get to know this important new person in my life. The next, we are driving through a ditch, accelerating towards a small hill at 65, 70, 75mph.
We hit the hill face first & fly up into the air. We couldn’t have been airborne for more than 4 or 5 seconds, but it felt much longer as if time suspended. I looked out the windshield at the field of grass below. I glanced back at Brandon who seemed to have passed out. Instead of panic, I felt tranquil, an eery calm. The thoughts filtered in and out of my mind one at time. “This is really happening right now. I’m in a car accident. I’m in a car flying through the air. No one in my family knows where I am. I guess this is how I end. Hope, Hannah, Josiah, I’m sorry. I love you.”
We nose dive straight into the ground. Glass is shattering all around me.We’re still moving, upside down & backwards, sliding on the soft top we just put up moments before. We slow down at a snail’s pace. I just want to stop moving. I will it to be over. Finally, we come to a stop. Brandon jolts himself awake & starts screaming. “What happened? OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD!”
I’m rubbing blood out of my eyes so I can see if he’s okay. Before I can make out his whole figure, he’s opened his door & rolled out of the car. I’m hanging upside down, only by my seat belt. I try my door, thinking maybe I can prop myself up on the ground outside before I unbuckle so I don’t crash into the broken glass lying all around my head. It won’t budge. Brandon crawls around the car. He yanks on the door until it comes loose. He holds onto me as I unbuckle & pulls me swiftly from the car. Once I’m completely removed, he looks at my face & sees the blood dripping down from my forehead, on my arms. I’ve never seen a person look as scared as he did in that moment.
“Are you okay?” He asks in a panic.
“Im fine. I’m okay.”
He throws his arms around me, and hugs me tight. As he lets go, I get my first glimpse of the car, upside down with all its weight on that soft top, in a ditch, the front end smashed to pieces.
Brandon is taking this scene in too as a man travelling down the road jumps out of his truck and starts running towards us. “IS EVERYONE OKAY? IS EVERYONE OKAY?”
“Yes.” I reply as he gets closer. I see now that his cell phone is in his right hand dangling by his side. He pulls it up to his ear and says,”Everyone appears to be alive and okay. They managed to get out of the car…. Okay.”
He hangs up and comes over to us. Brandon gets up and starts sprinting down the street before collapsing in the middle of it, curling up into a small ball, & rocking back and forth sobbing.
I walk down to where he is & bend over, wrapping my arms tight around him, a shaking lump in the middle of the street. I’m still calm. Even at the sight of him absolutely losing it, I don’t shed a single tear. We hear sirens. He looks up at me through his blurry eyes, still sobbing, and says “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry,” over and over again.
That day I learned his dad is a volunteer firefighter. He was one of the first at the scene. I met him in the back of an ambulance with blood streaming down my face.
Later that evening after things settled, Brandon’s mom picked us up and took us to the hospital. The clinical smell, the IV bags, the beeping of the machines, it was overwhelming. It hadn’t quite been a year since I made a temporary home out of the waiting room at the James Cancer Center where my mom was being held. When I walked into my assigned room and saw the hospital bed all clean and papered and sterile, tremors went through my body. As prompted by the nurse, I climbed up on it and tried to still my nerves while she took my vitals. She left and came back promptly to let me know they’d be inserting an IV into my hand to administer some fluids. I guess I was dehydrated. My stomach was in knots and I hadn’t been able to drink the whole day.
As they prepped my hand and their tools for the IV, I was terrified. I’d watched Mom get poked over and over again, they never got it on the first try. Her veins were always hard to find and sometimes they’d dig around inside of her looking for them. I knew how badly it hurt her by how tightly she’d squeeze my hand.
The needle went in. Done on the first poke. I felt relief and then anger that it was so much harder for my mom when she was in so much other pain already.
“We’re going to keep the fluids going and monitor you for a while. Push this button if you need assistance with anything.” And then I was left alone.
I suddenly felt it, very alone. Here I am lying in a hospital after narrowly escaping death, with my first IV stuck into my hand, and not a single person in my family knows where I am. The nurse offered to call someone for me. I declined. They didn’t know, couldn’t know I was seeing someone, much less that we had been seeing one another long enough that I was already meeting his parents. It was too risky. Mom hadn’t even been dead a year. We had been completely cut off from the entire extended family, even those we were closest to. It had only been several months since Krystal, her husband, & I secretly planned our escape from the Exodus House. If I was honest with them, I might be cut off too.
Although Brandon isn’t known as the most empathetic or intuitive individual, in that moment he must’ve felt my loneliness. He asked his mom to leave him alone in his own room so she could be with me. He didn’t want me to be alone. That’s what she told me after she knocked on the door. She was a stranger to me, but she tried to comfort me as best she could and I truly appreciated the sentiment. I think that was the first time I ever felt Brandon’s love for me.
They declared us both stable and lucky to have not sustained any serious injuries after just a few hours of monitoring. It was late, nearly 1 am when we finally left the hospital.
We had almost a 2 hour drive ahead of us. We were all tired and the ride was quiet. From the backseat of his mom’s car, I looked out into the darkness. Without warning, I was suddenly overcome with every emotion and I cried. I cried for the first time that day, for the first time since before Mom died, I bawled. All of it was pouring out of me, the loneliness, the realization of what just happened, the second realization that this is the first time I’ve cried in over a year and it’s been the most traumatic year of my life. When Brandon’s mom stopped for gas, he came to the backseat with me. He asked me what was wrong but I couldn’t suck in enough breath to even try to explain. I doubt I could’ve explained if I wanted to. It was everything. Just like his little red Miata, I was a complete and utter wreck.