I was at my parent’s house that evening. I will never forget it. The phone rang with such urgency I could almost feel it through the line and I picked it up before the second ring. A panicked voice was on the other line screaming for my dad.
“Jake, is that you?!” I asked hesitatingly, not sure if it really was my brother-in-law.
“Get your dad on the phone! Get your dad on the phone! Daniel’s been in a car accident!” he shouted.
Immediately I ran across the hardwood floors of the dining room and into the warm glow of the living room. Almost as if the phone had caught fire from the fireplace, I dropped the phone into my dad’s lap while half yelling, half gasping, “It’s Daniel…car accident…It’s bad.”
I slowly made my way into the hallway and up the grand staircase.
She heard the apprehension mixed with fear in my voice.
I didn’t know how to say it.
“Daniel’s been—been in a car accident. It’s—it’s bad….very bad.” I finally came out with it. My mom’s face immediately filled with questions but no words came out. She rushed past me, still standing shell-shocked on the landing. I could hear her softly sobbing, “Oh, God. Oh, God, no. Oh, God.”
Those next few hours would drag by so slowly that it felt years had passed before my eyes. The waiting, the prayers, the sleeplessness and absolute fear of the unknown kept us up all night. I crawled into bed with my younger brothers who had fallen asleep out of pure exhaustion. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t even cry anymore.
Across the hall, I heard my Dad begging God just to keep his son alive through the night so he could say goodbye. Just give him one more night—and then God could take him Home. Daniel hung on for one more night and very early the next morning, my parents caught the first flight out to see him.
The next week crept by at an unbelievably slow pace. I rarely picked up the phone except when my dad’s cell phone number showed on the Caller ID. He and Mom spent every single night at the hospital. They would wait every four hours to see Daniel for ten minutes.
I don’t remember the drive down south except stopping at the scene of his accident. I couldn’t believe how small the tree was. I picked up a personal belonging of my brother’s to bring back to him. I decided I didn’t like Mississippi.
I hated the smell of the hospital. The walls were stark white. The fluorescent lights were blinding. The elevator ride was stifling hot.
“Just be normal. Don’t act weird,” my dad instructed us cautiously. He opened Daniel’s door with a soft knock and my eyes adjusted slowly to the darkness and smallness of the room. Nothing could prepare me for what I saw. Beeping lights, alien machines, the heavy smell of medicine and tangled wires made their way all over his body. My very handsome, strong teenage brother was bandaged up beyond recognition with his arms strapped to the bed. His bright red Marine Corps blanket jumped out from the stark white sheets that seemed to match the stark white walls.
He was just laying there underneath it all. Silent. Still. Lifeless.
Was he dead?
My two younger brothers stood in my shadow—almost afraid to move. Our mouths were wide open at the pitiful sight of our brother. Something primal inside of me wanted to scream and yell at the top of my lungs to get Daniel’s attention. I wanted to rush the bed and force him to sit up and start talking to us. Most of all, I wanted to blink back my tears and open my eyes to wake up from this nightmare.
Instead, I slowly walked over to his bed, touched his paralyzed body and softly said, “Hey, Daniel. It’s good to see ya. I love you.”