On December 10th, we were feeling adventurous. We had incredible new friends and one of Brent’s favorite professors in town and there was fresh snow on the ground. We thought we’d take a trip to our favorite little restaurant in Walla Walla. The 45 minute drive was beautiful and the snow on Main Street was sure to be quaint and adorable. Plus, we are selfishly always looking for any excuse to have our favorite pizza…so if we ever invite you there, I’m sorry to tell you it’s more for us than for you 😉
We walked the gorgeously snowy streets with coffee in hand. We popped in and out of a few sweet, little bookstores and cheese shops. We ate the dreamy pizza. It was spectacular. We waddled our over-stuffed selves back to the car and began the trek home.
We were on the road a few minutes when Brent commented on the bright sun and the shiny, wet roads. He folded down his visor and that shining sun hung perfectly between the bottom of the visor and the top of the road.
And then came the sound. The worst sound I had heard to that point. A deafening eruption of metal and glass and plastic. Of airbags deploying and seatbelts locking. I smelled exhaust and gasoline and saliva and burnt rubber. I tasted blood and dust.
And then it was excruciatingly silent. My new worst sound.
Although it felt like an hour of silence, I know it wasn’t because by the time I opened my eyes, I heard the voice of my sweet friend on my right. And then that of her husband seated in front of her and a frightened cry from their precious baby boy, safely tucked in his car seat ahead of me. And then my eyes were taken to the front of our car, unrecognizable and entirely wrapped around the two front seats. As I scrambled out of my seatbelt, I caught a glimpse of movement from our professor in the passenger seat, followed by his unfittingly calm voice and I let out a breath I didn’t realize I had been holding. At that, I was overwhelmingly relieved and yet paralyzed with fear because there was still one voice I hadn’t heard, one movement I hadn’t seen.
My husband was still motionless and silent in the driver’s seat and for one second, I thought I lost him. For one second, my mind raced as it tried to wrap around the thought of life without him in it. A list of names scrolled though my mind. Names of people who have lost their people (if that’s you, I have so much to say to you here).
That one second is by far the most terrible one I’ve experienced.
By the time I reached his side, I was on my third round of panicky cries begging him to be okay. And then I heard him…through shattered glass, I heard him say, “I’m alive.”
I can still hear it perfectly. I hope I always do.
From there, time warped a little bit.
I remember being on the phone with the dispatcher. I don’t remember finding my phone or dialing 911, but I do remember that she was kind and soothing when I was being the exact opposite of that. I just kept saying, “We were in an accident and I don’t know where we are and it’s really bad.”
I remember the crazy incredible witnesses who helped some of us out of the crumpled car.
I remember our college friend, Bobby, showing up and removing Brent’s headrest and holding his head upright. Things I hadn’t been strong or calm enough to do.
I remember our sweet friends and professor being gracious and kind and comforting, even while they were shaken and in pain (and pinned under a semi truck in Blaine’s case).
I remember thanking God over and over again for the first responders. From Walla Walla and Pasco and Richland and Burbank, they joined forces.
I remember one of them ushering me to an ambulance parked behind the remains of our vehicle. And then I remember being ushered back there over and over again after I kept escaping to check on my stuck husband. I’ve never understood my 3 year-old son as much as I did in that moment.
From the back of that ambulance, I crouched down and prayed out loud and watched through a tiny window as a swarm of people cut away the chunks of metal cocooning Brent. This was my view.
And then they pulled him out.
He was free and I was already pulling on the handle for one final escape to run over and hug him. To walk back to the ambulance with him, arm in arm as we laughed and cried together about this whole, scary thing. But when I got outside, he wasn’t walking. He was being carried by medical teams and then being strapped to a stretcher and then being pushed the wrong way. Not toward me but away from me.
I ran toward the first uniformed man I saw and begged to go wherever Brent was going. He apologized and let me know there wasn’t room in that ambulance. The team working on Brent was large and they needed the spot I would have filled. He was going to Richland and I was going back to Walla Walla. I’m not sure if it was the fear on my face or just his pure kindness that prompted his next move, but that police officer then said, “We’ll get you there. I’ll take you. Come with me.” He yelled to his partner and they ran with me to his car. They turned up the heat for me and proceeded to follow the flashing lights of Brent’s ambulance for the 30 minute drive to Richland, offering words of comfort as I cried all along the way. When we pulled up to the emergency entrance, he opened the door for me and that was when I finally read his uniform. He was a Walla Walla police officer. He hadn’t planned to come here. He didn’t have any reason to drive me all that way. But he did. I wish I could have thanked him more in that moment.
When I walked in, I was immediately met by the safe and familiar hugs of nurses who are also friends. They were the ones who were with me when I saw Brent being rushed in. He was sleeping in a tangle of tubes and wires and patches and being chased by a man squeezing a bottle. I was later told that was their way of breathing for him.
Just minutes later I was joined by Brent’s parents and my sister and a few close friends who dropped everything and rushed there as soon as they heard the news. Doctors shook my hand and gave me updates. My mind was clouded as they informed me of his neck fracture and then his sinus fracture and then his scull fracture and then the blood they found on his brain. They educated me on severe brain trauma and counseled me through the reality that if/when my husband woke up, it was very likely he wouldn’t be “him” anymore.
The thoughts that wouldn’t leave my mind were, “But we were just sharing our favorite pizza. We were just heading home to see the kids. He just told me he was alive.”
I later followed a nurse up to the tenth floor, the ICU. At the time, I didn’t realize that little room, room 10113, would become my temporary home. I didn’t know I would do more praying in that room than I ever had before. I was unaware of the continued miracles I would witness there and of the love that would be shown to us. That I would be touched by the selflessness of so many who were working tirelessly to usher us through this. The unsung heroes who loved our kids and our people and picked up our scattered pieces outside the hospital walls and the nurses who worked fervently inside them.
I sat next to Brent in that room and held his hand while he slept. I cried and asked him to stay with me. To stay him and stay with me. And I begged God to help him do that.
Three days later, Brent woke up. Smart, kind, funny Brent. Before they even removed his breathing tube, he gave me a wink. The wink. The wink he’s given me since we were dating. In the past, that wink always said “I see you and I love you” but that day, it also said “It’s me.”
I can’t explain the emotions and the gratitude I found in that moment. I find myself going back and re-feeling it, putting myself there over and over again. There was a new sweetness added to my life there. A level of thankfulness I hadn’t reached up to that point.
I have whispered “thank you” to God for a multitude of reasons since that wink. Thank you for these miracles. Thank you for family and friends and strangers who love in ways that aren’t even humanlike. Thank you for police officers and fire fighters and doctors and nurses. Thank you for keeping my favorite person alive. And thank you running beside me through this. Like the man squeezing that bottle over Brent, it was you who kept me breathing.