The Day He Died
Can I remember that Tuesday? Barely.
I remember folding my daughter's tiny laundry, having reached the breaking point of seeing her clean clothes, towels, and bibs piled in the laundry basket. I remember standing at my bed, finishing up the last of it and feeling slightly proud that it was done. My husband had returned from bowling, as Tuesday was league night, but he was probably working at his desk.
And I’m sure that, like any other weeknight, I was just thinking about getting to bed so I could get to and through Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday to the weekend. I didn’t think about calling my brother, or calling anyone for that matter. I just went to bed.
Before Dawn Wednesday Morning
Like every morning, the alarm went off and I wasn’t ready. I stumbled to the clock, hit the snooze button, and went back to bed.
Then the phone rang. I briefly wondered who was calling so early, then elbowed my husband to get up and get the phone because I could still get a few minutes of sleep before the alarm would go off again. It was probably a wrong number anyway. He didn’t move fast enough to stop the answering machine from picking up and I heard a panicked, hysterical voice come through right before he got the phone.
My stomach is turning, I know something is wrong. Something is really wrong. He looks stunned and confused; I can hear the voice on the phone even though he is across the room. I am out of bed now, and he hands me the phone, saying it’s my mother.
It is 5:40 in the morning on a Wednesday, and my life will never be the same.
I feel sick and take the phone. I can barely hear what she is saying, although she is very loud. She says “Tom was in a fatal one-car accident last night.” My first thought was, who died? What I said to her was “WHAT?!” because by the time my mouth was moving, my brain had realized that the description of fatal had to refer to Tom, since there were no other cars involved, but I wanted to be wrong.
I don’t remember much else of the next few hours. Mom was hysterical, I was too. At some point, I learned that the car crashed into a tree and caught fire. That the police were at my mom’s door first thing that morning to tell her his car was in an accident and that the driver of the car had died, but was unrecognizable due to the fire. There was no reason to believe it was not Tom, as it was his car and he hadn’t come home.
She said she had already called my dad. I asked if she had called my stepsister, she said no. I said I would. I called, but I don’t remember what I said. I called a coworker at home and told her what had happened and that I wouldn’t be in to work and didn’t know when I would be. I called my best friend to tell her what had happened and that we might need her to pick my daughter up from daycare depending on what was going on that day. I felt bad telling her about this tragedy; she had her own daughter’s tragic birth and death to deal with only one month earlier, but she was my best friend and knew Tom as long as she had known me – how could I not call her?
Somehow I got my daughter up and dressed, and Daddy made her breakfast. I went through the motions for her, kept it together; at only 18 months old, what could I say to her? Why put her through seeing her mother flip out when she couldn’t possibly understand it? He took her to daycare. I got in the shower. And cried and cried, howled, wailed, as the hot water washed my tears down the drain.
One week and one day later was my father’s 59th birthday. The next day was my 30-year-old brother’s funeral.