Thursday, August 14, 2014

Inadvertent Assassin

I woke in a strange room to a familiar face. Though I was 27 years old, I was in a childlike state, a state of confusion with an inability to comprehend what was going on around me. I could see the familiar face speaking, commanding, pleading, "Jack if you hear me squeeze my hand, Jack, squeeze my hand." I knew the voice. This was the voice of my mother, so like a child I blindly complied. She was overjoyed; her only son was back from the brink. I had been unconscious for four days, put into a medically induced coma to combat the severe brain swelling going on in my skull. Swelling of the brain became the primary concern only after doctors had stopped the bleeding from the compound fracture of my leg from which I had lost enough blood to require a blood transfusion. They also had to reattach my head to my neck; it had literally been knocked off from the force of the collision. Yes, that can happen, and no, I should not be alive. Thanks to the tremendous skill of the emergency medical technician, surgeons, doctors, nurses, and all the medical staff at Johnson City Medical Center, I was given a second chance, an extraordinary gift, a gift I did not want.

This ungrateful attitude was not my immediate response. As I said, I was in a childlike state, or worse, a zombie-like state, only able to comply with simple commands like "Squeeze my hand." I have been told I would look right through people blankly, as if there was nothing going on in my brain. In a picture taken just after I had regained consciousness, my normally expressive eyes looked soulless and dead. I looked like an empty vessel, and in many ways, I was. Slowly, I regained human-like qualities, still lacking, but I now had the ability to understand these word from the doctor: "You were in an accident. You broke your neck." These words shook me; I thought my life was over. I assumed I was paralyzed, though I was not. My broken neck, by comparison, was the good news. Once I regained some reasoning ability, I asked if anyone else had been hurt, and got what I later realized was a ridiculous response. My family did not want to give me more than I could handle, so they lied. At that time, I was more than happy to accept this lie, though I had my suspicions. Another day had passed, and I could tell something was not right. When I would try to watch the news, my family or friends would change the channel. I could feel a tension in the air. It was palpable. Realizing this, my mother finally told me the truth in my I.C.U room. She told me what my subconscious already knew. She told me two girls had been killed in the wreck, and authorities believed I was at fault. Those were the most difficult words I have ever heard. Heart broken, I started crying. The hopelessness and guilt set in the instant I heard those words from my mother. I then spoke the second most difficult words a mother can hear. Tears running down my cheeks, I had a selfish request: "Let me die." Through tears and a cracking voice, my mother squeaked, "I can't." Six days earlier, I was responsible for someone delivering the most difficult words to two other mothers.

"Your child is dead."

Public opinion was revealed to me while still in a hospital bed, wearing a neck brace, feet and ankles freshly re-broken from surgery the day before. I was parked next to a gentlemen who was also waiting for a C.A.T. scan. We exchanged pleasantries, and then he became the first person to ask me the question I would face many times: "What happened?" I told the man I had been in a car accident. He asked if I had been drinking. Feeling paranoid and helpless, I lied. I told him no. He then proceeded to tell me about a guy who was driving drunk on the wrong side of the road who ran into two local girls and killed them both. He told me he had driven by the site the morning of the crash. He also told me he wished that they would give that guy the death penalty. Little did he know I was that man. Lying defenseless next to him, I said nothing. I just replied "huh." I did not have the desire to defend myself, nor the strength. Around this time I started to develop some denial. I could not accept the fact that I had killed two lovely young girls named Kimberly and Taylor, who were on their way home after working late trying to raise money for a spring break trip. It was too much for me. Denial for me was a life preserver in a hurricane; it only helped for a short while and brought no real comfort. After being arrested and posting bond from my hospital room, I went home to continue my recovery.

These were dark times. I spent the next three months in relative isolation in bed flat on my back, unable to bear weight on my legs, but still bearing a great weight on my heart. I had started to accept the fact that I was responsible for this tragedy. This reality was overwhelming; it was strangling what little life I had left within myself. I was contemplating a self-imposed death sentence, but I continued to come to the conclusion that it was too late. Along with the families of my victims, I too must endure the consequences of my actions. I had no contact with my victims' families until about four months after the crash. After my first court appearance, I was working my way out of the courthouse when I was approached by a woman with rage in her eyes, and when she spoke the words, "You took my Kimberly from me. She was my only child," her rage turned to a level of grief totally unimaginable. Her pain and the hurt those words caused me overshadowed any physical trauma I had suffered. Tears were rolling down her face. At this sight and those words, I started to crumble. My back hit the wall and a shower of tears started falling from my eyes. At that moment there was no escape. I responded with the words, "I am sorry. I would take her place if I could." These were not just words; I would give my beating heart just so that Taylor and Kimberly could spend just one more minute with their loved ones, but these words were no help to her. That was and still is what I want, but it can never be.

The next words I would speak to Taylor's and Kimberly's families came after I pled guilty to vehicular homicide by intoxication. This guilty plea was not a product of a plea deal; it was the product of the guilt I felt. It was all I could offer. After my guilty plea, I turned to the families and said that I was sorry and that I would spend the rest of my life trying to do right by their girls. This means no matter how tempting it is to end my own life, I cannot. I now have a duty to make a positive contribution to this world, because Kimberly and Taylor surely would have. Their families and friends would have to wait three more months until my sentencing at which time Kimberly's mother, grandmother, and uncle, as well as Taylor's mother, grandmother, and brother took the stand to tell me and the court how much hurt I had caused. I felt an obligation to look them in the eyes and listen to all the sorrow and grief I had caused. I wept. Their pain was too much for me to bear. The pain I had caused. They held pictures of the two promising young lives I ended; these pictures are all that is left.

I wear many scars from the wreck, but one in particular acts as a question mark. It is the prompt that leads people to ask the question I was first asked in the hospital by a guy who thought I should be put to death: "What happened?" It is a ten-inch scar that runs from my skull the length of my neck. Many people see this scar and cannot help but to ask the question. Though few people are prepared for the answer, I tell them, void of any tact, that it is from a wreck I caused while drinking that killed two girls. I have yet to find anyone those words do not silence. There is usually a pause of several seconds before they say something to the effect of "That’s awful." Then they quietly retreat. This makes me extremely uncomfortable as well; I will never escape the constant reminder of my reckless behavior. This scar gives me the opportunity to stay true to what I had told my victims' families, that I would spend the rest of my life trying to do right by their girls. I take this opportunity, no matter how uncomfortable, to warn people of the dangers of drinking and driving.

This is no cry for help; this is no plea for pity. This is an attempt to stay true to my word and do my duty to Taylor and Kimberly. This is an attempt to shock people by making them feel the emotion and pain caused by these events in the hope that they will stop and think before making the reckless, life-changing, and life-ending choice to drink and drive. I do not want people to refrain on my behalf. They should refrain for themselves and their families. For Kimberly and Taylor. They deserve it.

by Pain

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