It was a gorgeous summer morning as I, my brother David, sister
Marcia, mom, dad, and baby girl were traveling home to Laramie from
Colorado Springs where we had gone to visit my grandma. The atmosphere in
the car was fun and filled with laughter. We were glad to be together.
Our chatter was constant and our conversations often overlapped. One
learned young that if you want to be heard in my family, you must merely
speak louder than everyone else. Or, you might simply say, "Would you
please shut up for a minute so I can say something important?" We all
understood that such a plain and politely spoken command was not meant to
be offensive or at all disrespectful.
We were a bit louder than usual that morning as we had great plans
for the day. Since we had to travel through Denver
, we all agreed that we
should eat at a nice restaurant and then go to the zoo where we could eat
some more and see the animals then probably eat some more.
Daddy was a bit tense and growly, his usual demeanor when traffic
was thick as it was on that Friday morning. "Everyone and their Grandma is
on this one road to Denver," he grumbled. My Daddy is claustrophobic. He
hates traffic which is the main reason I think we moved long ago to Wyoming
the land of wide-open spaces. "You can drive more than a hundred miles on
a Wyoming highway without seeing another car," Daddy would often brag.
That was not the case, however, in Colorado. The cars were lined
up one after another, traveling 75 miles per hour, to the horizon and
beyond. We passengers paid scant attention to the outside world as we were
involved in a thought-provoking discussion regarding the strengths and
weaknesses of the highly educational hit movie of the summer, Independence
Day. The movie answered the question: Are we alone in the Universe? with
a loud no when aliens arrived and began demolishing major cities all over
the world. We all gazed out the windshield as we laughed at my sister's
comment about the president in the film: "He was so broken up over the
little wife's death that he went immediately and put on his flying suit to
go kick those alien's buts himself."
"And how 'bout the stripper who was perfectly happy in her job
and...," David began and never finished as a large truck two to three cars
ahead began rolling away from us straight down the highway.
Someone was screaming. Someone else was yelling.
"Oh my God. Oh, my God!"
I heard the unreal sound of a very loud syncopated rhythm like a
huge unearthly drum mixed with the nightmarish noise of metal bending,
crushing, and scraping, glass shattering with each thud of that heavy truck
against the inflexible pavement of the highway.
"There's a guy on the road! Oh God!"
"Stop the car! Stop the car!"
Brakes were squeeling, screaming, as drivers reacted. The acrid
smell of burning permeated the air. What was that smell? Rubber. There
was tire rubber all over the road as ten or more cars skidded to stops.
Someone was still screaming. Someone was crying. Who was that
crying? Oh, it was me. My face was wet.
Mama was hysterical. "Oh, no. No. Jesus, please help," she said
over and over.
The baby, awakened from her nap was crying, shrieking. She didn't
understand why the world had just erupted into chaos.
Finally, our car stopped moving. The seconds had passed so quickly
yet almost as if in slow-motion too. The truck was lying on it's top 30
feet away in the ditch. The young man who had mysteriously appeared on the
highway was standing on his feet, just as he had landed, five feet in front
of us. It's a miracle he wasn't run over.
"Mama, you've got to get control of yourself. Quit, stop, stop
screaming!" The craziest thought flitted through my mind. I might have to
slap my mother if she didn't calm down.
Daddy, David, and Marcia were in the front seat. They quickly
leapt out of the car.
That poor boy was standing in the middle of the highway. He must
have come out of the truck. I didn't see it happen. He was running around.
He grabbed hold of a woman from a travel trailer that had stopped after the
accident. He was hugging her, clutching her so tightly. "Just like a
drowning man," I thought. She didn't look like she knew him.
"Someone help him. Oh, please, someone help him," I kept saying.
I gave the baby her pacifier. Content now, she went back to sleep.
Daddy asked the boy from the truck a question. Daddy and David ran
towards the now still, silent truck. "Oh, God. There's someone else in
there," I said.
Marcia was holding the young man from the truck's hand. He was
obviously shaking. He kept burying his face in his hands. He wanted to
run to the truck. I could tell Marcia didn't want him to. He said
something to her, I didn't know what. She lifted up the back of his t-
shirt. "Oh, God." The skin was scraped completely off his back. It was
bleeding everywhere. He shook his head as if to say it didn't hurt.
Daddy had reached the truck. After he had peered inside a few
seconds, he turned away. He talked to another motorist who had stopped.
Several cars had stopped. At least four people with car phones were
walking around. Daddy and David started back towards Marcia and the young
man. They looked pale, shocked. Daddy put his hand on the young man's
shoulder. He spoke some words. The young man shook his head and made a
move to run towards the broken, twisted pile that was a vehicle. Daddy
told him not to go.
Sirens blared shrilly as an ambulance and police cars arrived.
David led the paramedic to the young man and then came to the window on
Mama's side of the car. His voice shook and tears glided down his face as he told us what he knew. "There were two guys in the truck. The one
thrown out looks like he's going to be o.k. The other boy was
decapitated," he said.
The paramedic was leading the young man away. "Don't let him go,"
I wanted to say. "We need to help him." He seemed to clutch Marcia's hand
before he let it go. He looked back at her one last time as he got into
the ambulance. "Don't take him," I said. "We don't even know his name."
It was too late. The ambulance left.
Daddy and Marcia came slowly back to the car, shoulders slumped,
eyes downcast. After they got in, Daddy explained, "The young man was a
passenger. He doesn't know what happened. One second they were driving
down the highway and the next, the truck was rolling. He thinks he was
thrown out the back window. He was lucky but his friend wasn't. The body
of the boy driving was slung over the back of the passenger seat so, at
first, I thought the other boy had driven. His neck was broken. His
friend said that he was only seventeen."
We all cried silently as we drove away. "What did he look like,
Daddy?" I asked.
"I couldn't see his face but his hair was cut short and was thick
and dark blonde like David's."
"Someone's brother," I thought. Someone's baby had died that day.
The atmosphere in the car was silent, filled with shock as we drove
away. I wondered what those boys' plans had been that day. How scary it
was to think that life, so precious, could be snuffed out in an instant. I
looked out the car window as we drove closer to Denver. There were so many
people with so many places to go. Did they know too how precious life was?
Somewhere people were at the zoo laughing, looking at the beautiful
animals. We decided to return another time to see the animals. Right then,
, all our well-laid plans didn't seem so important.