Friday, March 26, 2004
A moment. A snapshot. A space. A place in time. Our lives are filled with them. Some moments are those of glory that you relive over and over. The emotion they create is so powerful it evokes a physical reaction. You feel a warmth shower over you. It’s as if a burning light has been placed deep inside and the heat it generates fills every fiber of your being. And then there are those moments, those snapshots, those spaces and places in time that bring a different emotion. These are the moments that irrevocably change life. These are the moments that leave an indelible mark on your soul. These are the moments you wish never happened. The moments you wish could be erased from time.
Some of these moments are seemingly insignificant in the scheme of things. Yet, no matter how small even these moments can alter relationships and change the course you are traveling. A question, unasked. A phrase uttered in a particular way. A task undone. An impulse let loose. There are things I have done, things I have said, that have produced moments such as these. Moments, that as soon as the words are coming out of your mouth or as soon as you feel your body moving you begin to regret. And yet, as much as any of these moments in the present can affect your future, they do not even approach the enormity of other fateful moments.
And so it is that 365 days ago a careless, reckless, irresponsible individual intersected with my beautiful, perfect and loving 12-year-old daughter. That moment, that space, that place in time is one of those irrevocable, indelible moments. To think that just seconds on either side could have resulted in a different outcome. But somehow, cruelly, fate decided, and that moment was born.
To this very day, I still feel that moment. I ever so clearly remember sitting in the living room talking with Bob anxiously awaiting the children’s return from school. I ever so clearly remember hearing a howling like that of a wounded animal. Immediately, something inside knew. We ran. Ran to the door, screaming Rob’s name. And, before he could answer, my eyes told me. Tori. Where was my baby? I have never and hope to never again see that look in his or anyone else’s eyes. His voice, hoarse, throaty, screamed, “she’s been hit, oh my god, she got hit by a car”. We were out into the yard and into the road before he could even finish. Running, running, not knowing what we would find. And there, there in the distance laying all alone was our little girl. Lifeless.
Not only in her body, but in her face. Oh my god, her face. That beautiful child with the porcelain skin which was now an ashen gray, seemed to have lost half of her face. And those eyes, big brown chocolate laughing eyes, were swollen and empty. Screaming. I just remember so much screaming. Poor Robbie kept screaming, “is she dead, is she dead?” And, Bob, dad, protector of his children, frantically scanned the crowd asking “who did this to my baby?” Somehow, I remembered, as a baby the way Tori would react to getting hurt. If we made a big deal out of it, she did. If we remained calm and seemed in control, she was. And so taking Bobby’s arm I asked him to talk to his little girl and to let her know we where there and that we loved her. And he did. And he held and stroked his little girl. Wanting to cradle her in his arms and yet knowing she was so fragile, motionlessly hanging on. Although to look at Tori it didn’t seem as though she could or should still be with us, she had a pulse. I witnessed her belly heave and loosened the snap and zipper on her jeans. I just remember thinking they were her favorite capris. It was the first day she had worn them.
And then, help was there. We were carefully moved aside to let rescue personnel get next to our child. It seemed an eternity. Yet within minutes they were taking her into the ambulance for transport. No words were spoken. And at that moment our family was separated. Bob and Rob needed to go off with detectives for Rob to answer questions. I watched my men walk away clinging to each other, clinging to hope. As Tori was put into the back of the ambulance, I was gently turned away. I proceeded to the front passenger door. The ambulance was just getting ready to pull away and the driver looked at me sympathetically. He reached a hand towards me to comfort. It seemed to take forever. The chaos of that ride seems so unreal even to this day. It was as though I was watching through another’s eyes. I do remember sitting backwards on my knees, clutching the sides of the seat and praying quietly to the heavens above. And then, I knew. I knew the moment her heart stopped. I saw it in her body and I saw it in his face. Wanting to scream and wanting to clutch my baby close, an inner voice took control. I heard my own voice calmly calling to Tori, assuring her of our love and begging her to stay. The young man tending to my daughter seemed startled and alarmed to realize I was present. I managed to assure there was no need to be concerned about me, just to concentrate on Tori. And, that is just what he did. Where it not for the persistence, the skill and determination of that young man coupled with a guiding heavenly hand, the ride would have ended very differently.
When we were greeted at the first emergency room by social work and chaplain staff they lead us down a corridor to the family room. I could not, would not, enter that room. It irrationally felt to me that if we didn’t enter that room then death could not touch us. We stood in the hall. Stood hanging on to each other until a nurse offered us a moment to be with Tori before we continued on to the trauma center. I can’t begin to explain what those next few moments were like. We walked into a cold, stainless brightly lit room and in the center was our child. She lay motionless, without expression. They had carefully pushed back her hair and wiped her face for mommy, dad and Rob. A gentle whisper told us it was time to go. The next journey seemed even longer, more desperate. At this time we still had no idea as to the extent or severity of her injuries. Details didn’t matter at that point. Only saving our child. When we arrived at Hasbro staff flew into motion and we awaited word. At the first hospital I had Tori’s favorite stuffed animal brought to us. Tori, even at 12, always carried Baby with her whenever we traveled. I carried that animal with me and held him tightly to my chest. Someone appeared with a small jar. Inside were Tori’s rings. I just remember Bobby holding tightly to that jar, so tightly his fingers were red. He clutched those rings to his chest for hours. Sometime much later I remember gently prying the jar from his hands. People. Family. Friends. Dear sweet friends who rushed to our side. In addition, the band of police personnel around us swelled. Tori was stabilized and prepared to go to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. Once there, we gathered in the family room. That room was to become the hub of our lives for the next several weeks. Friends spilled into the hallway as word of the accident spread. Unfortunately, as we clung to one another a newscast told the rest of the story. An unbelievable story of an individual, who not only left our child at the side of the road to die but continued on her way to strike another vehicle. Now that individual had a name and a face. And, something, I can never erase from my mind, I saw the vehicle, and the damage, staring at me from the television screen. Somehow our circle of friends, and more importantly, Tori, survived those next few hours. The team surrounding Tori included many physicians from many different disciplines. Neurosurgeons to relieve the pressure inside her head, orthopedics to tend to the many fractures and broken bones causing massive bleeding, plastic surgeons viewing the damage to her face and foot, intensive care doctors, radiologists and general surgeons, all paraded in and out of the family room. It would be days before those same doctors would be able to tell us that Tori was stabilized and would stay with us. Ironically, it would be just after that joyful news that we would be hit with the next blow. An MRI told the story of extensive damage to her brain. Bob and I sat together holding hands listening in disbelief and with a heavy heart to the words the physician spoke. There were certain things they could assure us. There were certain healing processes they could predict. The broken bones, aided by more surgeries, would heal in time. The gruesome slashes to her face and foot would mend. Her brain, however, would not.
I remember thinking in the first few hours she lay in the PICU, how little she looked like Tori. Her features were so distorted, one side of her face terribly bruised and misshapen. It was impossible to look at her without your eyes gravitating to the cruel split below her lower lip. It would be several days before they would attend to that gaping wound. There were so many other priorities. Her bones have healed and her scars are mending. Some things may remain to be seen. One growth plate was fractured and time will tell if it will allow growth at the same rate as the uninjured one. Her foot, also so cruelly ripped open required several surgeries and finally a skin graft to close the wound. In addition, the foot was so severely crushed wires were placed inside to help support and rebuild. Tori overcame many obstacles early on. One can only imagine how much her physical condition, built from years of martial arts training, and her determination aided her in this quest. When Tori began breathing on her own she was extabated without a problem. Slowly, as each tube, each bolt was removed Tori looked more and more herself. And now 365 days later one priority remains. It is still, the unknown factor.
And so each day as others her age go off to 8th grade, the malls and dances, Tori gravitates between a wheelchair and a hospital bed. Instead of running through the halls of Deering Middle School with friends, she is pushed down a corridor in a brain injury center by caregivers and therapists. Jeans and hoodies have been replaced by stretch pants, and jerseys.
Some things have not been replaced. Her tight circle of friends remains the same. In fact, the circle of love engulfing Tori has widened. And though we can never ever come to understand or accept why, there are some lessons to be learned.
Take the time to make those controllable moments in your life, the kind of moments that you will treasure. Make the most of those moments. Say what is in your heart and do what is your hearts desire. Take a moment to hold close those you love dearly and tell them how you feel. Once a moment has passed it is gone forever. Don’t regret what you could have done, could have said. Live in the moment. Hope for the future.
And so, one year later, we still wait. We wait for that moment, that breakthrough, that possibility that time does make a difference. Time does heal. Live in the moment. Hope for the future. That’s what I do.