Stephanie awoke in a strange hospital surrounded by nurses who spoke with a southern accent. She didn’t remember how she’d gotten there, but her mom was holding her hand and she couldn’t move her head. Stephanie reached for her neck and realized there was a brace holding it in place. She hurt everywhere and felt foggy like she’d been drugged.
“Mom?” Stephanie’s voice was just a raspy whisper and her mouth was dry. Her mom stood up quickly so that Stephanie could look at her without craning her neck.
“Hi, Honey!” She smiled with a mixture of sadness and relief. “How are you feeling?”
“I don’t know,” Stephanie whispered. “Where am I?”
“Knoxville,” she softly responded.
“Tennessee? Why? What happened?”
“You were in a car accident, honey. Don’t you remember? You hit some black ice and spun off the highway… and crashed into a rock outcropping.”
Stephanie’s mind began to swim with the incredulity of what her mom was saying, and it was more than just the pain medication. It felt like her whole world was spinning back there on the highway. The song on the radio, the laughter as she listened to Jared try to sing, the way his smile changed to panic as his eyes left hers and returned to the road just as he swerved slightly while correcting the minor adjustment after serenading his new bride while flying down a slick mountain highway on the last few days of Christmas break.
Stephanie remembered the way his head always rested on her shoulder when he slept, the way he sighed just slightly when he first opened his eyes each morning and saw her lying next to him in bed, the passion in his eyes that pulled her away from the kitchen sink and reminded her that the dinner dishes could wait, and the grin on his face later when he handed her the towel to dry while he washed.
The glass that seemed to explode against the rock wall and the tangled mess of fiberglass and fabric and the deflated nylon bag that tried to stop her new husband’s head from being crushed. The sirens and the lights and the frantic people everywhere pulling and yelling and all along Stephanie kept trying to unfasten her seatbelt so that she could rescue him. I didn’t even get to say goodbye…
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Decisions, decisions, decisions. Why do they keep asking me so many questions? Cremation or casket? Cemetery near his parents, or up at the lake? Who should we notify at the school where he taught? Where did he keep his will? Did he have full coverage on the car? What about a life insurance policy? Would he want us to have a simple service for just the family, or open it up to the community? How soon will you feel like going back to Michigan? Is there someone who can stay with you for a while? What will you do now? What will you do now? What will you do now?
What will I do now?
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Stephanie’s sister was the first person to walk in the door who didn’t have that look in her eyes. She wasn’t offering any sympathy and Stephanie appreciated it. She was tired of seeing the pity from everyone else.
“Hey squirt,” she smacked Stephanie lightly on her big toe, which was sticking out from under the blanket. “I’m here to drive you back to Michigan!” She grinned from the foot of the bed. Stephanie had never been so happy to see someone smile. It was the first time she’d smiled back to anyone in several days, and it felt good.
“Beth, I’m so glad you’re here.” Stephanie sighed. “I had been wondering how I was going to get home. I don’t exactly have an extra car in Tennessee, and I can’t drive with a walking cast.” Stephanie’s enthusiasm didn’t quite reach her voice, but the underlying message was there. Life would go on. Somehow.