So, a few days ago I was browsing through a lot of my old pictures and decided to join in on the 'throwback thursday' fad that's been going around on Instagram. I chose one from our honeymoon over a year ago, because that was such a great time to just spend with my new husband without any of the drama or anyone around to tell us what we need to do or what we were doing wrong. As many of you know if you've been reading my blog, it was a hard time for me and my family.
But then, I happened upon this picture:
The memories came flooding back: fear, blood, burnt metal, the sounds, birds, hysteria, my brother, shattered glass, and quite possibly the worst moment in my entire life - the moment I realized
I had killed my little brother.
Eight years ago TODAY, I was driving to school with my brother, as I had many mornings before. We lived in the country, so it was a little drive to get into town. It was the same route to school that I had taken every morning, so it wasn't any different in that respect, but that morning changed my life forever.
We were crossing a small bridge that was in the middle of a wooded area - a small ravine-type thing is under the bridge...it's not a super-long drop, but it was far enough. Also, there was no water in it - just sand. It's hard to explain so just go with it. So, I was crossing that bridge, and out from the trees flew a buzzard. Yes, a buzzard. It was a GIANT buzzard. I don't know for sure that it was a buzzard, as I'm not a bird expert, but it was a rather large bird. Regardless, it was coming straight for us. To be exact, it was coming straight towards the passenger side window, which is where my brother was. In my mind, I knew that I could not allow it to hit, as it would break the window and quite possibly severely injure my brother and quite possibly myself. Little did I know how ironic that would be now.
I swerved, towards the later half of the bridge, to avoid hitting the bird, but I also had to swerve the truck in such a way that I would not cause us to land at the bottom of the ravine. We wouldn't survive that kind of crash.
Keep in mind that all of this happened in about 2 seconds at most. I felt like it was about half an hour that I had to decide what to do and process what was happening, but it obviously wasn't that long. I ended up over-correcting, causing the truck to spin and slam into a pipe entrance. The human brain is an amazing thing, as I do not recall the actual impact, nor do I recall any pain at all on my part, other than the pain in my heart as I regained consciousness after only a few seconds (I assume), looked over to check on my brother, and saw that he was slumped over with his head hanging down and blood coming from his nose and ears - completely not moving. It was at that moment that my brain went to the obvious: he was dead. I couldn't bring myself to touch him, but I began screaming his name and begging him to please wake up! I couldn't believe it was happening ... I knew it had to just be a terrible dream in which I would soon wake up and everything would be okay. But it was far from a dream. It was very much real and very scary.
The truck spun so that the impact of the crash was on my brother's side of the truck. His door was completely crushed in and it was terrible. The back windshield was completely shattered, and we uprooted several of the posts holding the pipe entrance together. So many factors played a key role in how the events of that day unfolded, one very important one being that it had recently rained quite a bit, which doesn't happen too often around there. Therefore, the ground was wet enough for the posts to be uprooted instead of being so dry and them not budging. It would've been a completely different accident had that happened. Luckily, God was very much with us that day, and our lives on Earth were not over. Josh regained consciousness, and my brother was ALIVE. It was nothing short of a miracle. Unfortunately, that didn't mean that we would walk away without a scratch or be unharmed at all from the accident. Since his door was crushed in, I grew frantic as I tried to figure out a way to get him out of the car. That's all I knew: I had to get him out. It didn't dawn on me that maybe I should leave him where he is as to not further harm him - I didn't know if he had any injuries or what hurt. He was in and out of consciousness, so his answers were slurred and not coherent whatsoever. I just knew that I had to get him out. That's where my focus went...immediately. I pulled and pulled, twisted, kicked, did everything in my power to get his door open...and it worked! I received a large, nasty burn on my arm from this process, but I was able to get the door open enough to get him out of there. It's amazing what you can do when there's so much adrenaline coursing through your body. There's no way I would've been able to get that door open otherwise. It was at that moment that I got the door open that I knew something was still terribly wrong...he just wasn't right. I carefully got him out of the truck and laid him on the ground, with my backpack as a pillow. That's when I REALLY saw it - he had a compound fracture to his femur. I had managed to break the largest and strongest bone in his body. I hated myself, and did so for a very long time.
I remember that he complained of being terrifyingly cold, so I searched and searched for a blanket. Normally, I wouldn't have one, but we were scheduled to play a softball game that night, so I had one because I knew it would be cold. After I had Josh out of the truck and covered as best as I could, I frantically searched for my cell phone, which had been on the console prior to the accident. It was nowhere to be found. I looked through so much glass and metal - but I just couldn't find the thing anywhere! I asked Josh if he knew where his cell phone was prior to the crash. He never really answered, as he was not completely conscious, as I soon realized, during any of this. I held up his backpack in his face once when his eyes were open, yelling at him to please listen and if his phone was in the bag. He said yes, so I ripped through the thing but couldn't find the phone anywhere. So, neither phone could be found, and the road that this happened on was not a main road with a lot of traffic, so I was totally losing my mind as to how to call for help. No one was going to find us.
But, someone did drive up, finally, and I ran to the road as fast as I could to ask for a cell phone or for him to call for help. It was only later that I realized who it was that drove up first on the scene. A little boy and his grandfather were on their way to school - the same family that attended our church - the same little boy that lost his entire family: mother, father, baby brother in a car accident not long ago. I'm sure it was horrifying to see another scene such as the one that lost him his entire family. And I hated myself yet again for the events that unfolded that morning. I was causing that little boy to relive the most painful memory of his short little life. I was a terrible person.
The man allowed me to use his cell phone, and it was at that point that I realized I was bleeding - I had no idea where it was coming from or why there was so much. Nothing hurt. But the blood was everywhere. And it wasn't stopping... I used his phone and called my dad. Yes, I called my dad first and not 9-1-1. I told him that I had an accident and that Josh was hurt but that we were both alive. I explained where we were and he firmly told me that I had to call for help. I hung up with my dad, and I don't really remember what happened next. I don't recall calling 911, so I'm pretty sure the man did that for me, as I couldn't exactly pinpoint the name of the road we were on, even though I KNEW which road it was. My brain was not functioning as it normally did, so it's understandable. While I was on the phone, someone else drove up and went straight to my brother behind the truck. He stayed with him and talked with him, keeping him semi-conscious and not allowing him to fully fall asleep, as we were both pretty sure he had a severe concussion. The next few moments are also unaccounted for. I don't recall very much time passing between that phone call and help finally arriving. All I remember about those moments in between was being next to my brother and completely and totally losing my mind. He was hurt. Terribly. I was somehow hurt, somewhere. What had I done? Where was the help? What was taking them so long? What was I going to do? Why did I swerve to miss the stupid bird? Why did I inflict so much pain to someone that I loved so much? Of course I didn't do it on purpose, but I hated myself. I was so mad that it wasn't me that was horribly hurt instead of Josh. I wanted nothing more than to switch places with him, but I couldn't.
Soon thereafter, an ambulance, fire trucks, and police cars arrived on scene. Finally! I was forced to leave my brother and tell the officer exactly what happened. I believe it was at that point that my grandparents arrived, as they didn't live very far away and wanted to - needed to - be there for us. And for that, I will be forever grateful. That was also the day that I saw my grandpa cry and show fear. Living in a small town, everyone knows who you are and who you're related to. I'm so thankful for that because someone knew that my grandparents were, in fact, my grandparents and knew them/had their phone number to call them. My grandpa went to talk to EMS that were with my brother to ascertain what his injuries were, and my grandma stayed with me. After that, I was forced to be seen my EMS to assess my injuries, of which I very rudely yelled at everyone and anyone that I had none - that I was fine and felt fine. And when I say forced regarding all of this, it's only because I demanded to be allowed to stay with my brother, by his side, while he was taken care of by medical professionals. I refused to leave his side, but, like I said, I was forced. I know now, and knew shortly thereafter that it was for the best, but I was so mad that they made me leave him even for a minute. But, it was apparent that I was injured, somewhere, and that I had already lost a lot of blood. I felt like I had been running around like a maniac trying to find phones and then flagging down someone for help. I hadn't realized that my clothes were completely drenched in blood. I remember finding that pretty gross. But I was still convinced that I was fine and that I didn't have any injuries. I was wrong.
EMS placed me in a neck brace, telling me not to move my head anymore, and then strapped me down on a stretcher. I was livid. I wouldn't leave Josh. I yelled and screamed at everyone to please take care him first, but there were enough people to look after us both. Some time passed, just how much, I'm not sure, but then a helicopter landed in the pasture behind the accident. My brother was being life flighted to Austin. Realizing that his injuries were so bad that he had to be life flighted, my hatred toward myself only grew. It grew and grew, and I prayed. I prayed that Josh would be okay. I prayed that this would all soon be over and everything could go back to normal. But normal didn't come. Not for a long time.
Josh was life flighted to Brackenridge Hospital in Austin. No one was allowed to ride with my brother in the helicopter, so my dad and grandpa took off for Austin to be there as soon as possible. I was taken by ambulance to LaGrange Hospital for my injuries. My grandma rode with us in the ambulance. That was the LONGEST ride of my life, and my head was killing me. I repeatedly asked the paramedic to PLEASE (okay, begged is more like it) look at my head and fix the stupid neck brace. It felt like my hair was being pulled out of my head with such strong force. And, my begging was not met with results, because he just repeated that we would be at the hospital soon and that I would be okay. He was not understanding my obvious state of 'not okay' at that time. But I was being ridiculous, and he was the professional, and I needed to just wait until I was at the hospital to be assessed by yet more doctors. But it hurt!
My dad was on the scene as soon as possible after I called him. He called my cousins and they notified my mom of what had happened that morning. She worked two hours away and was completely unaware. My mom left work and met me at the hospital in LaGrange, as did many other people. It was kind of a blur. I received several stitches to the back of my head and received wound care for the burn on my arm. That was it. That was the extent of my injuries. The burn came from getting Josh out of the truck, and the head wound came from the back windshield shattering. The glass cut my head open, and apparently, head wounds bleed. A lot. Hence, the large amount of blood everywhere.
After knowing that I was okay, my mom left for Austin to be with my dad and brother. My cousins took me to their home in LaGrange and took care of me for a few days. Grossest thing ever? Hair covered in blood. My cousin very graciously helped me take a shower and get as much blood out of my hair as possible. But I asked about my brother for days. I wanted to see him. I had to. My sister drove in from Corpus Christi and stayed at my cousins' house with me. I was a mess. I hated myself and I couldn't think of anything but my brother. Was he okay? I had to see him!
The accident occurred on the Friday before Spring Break that year, so there was no school that next week. However, for some stupid, strange reason, I felt the need to go to the softball game that night. Obviously, not to play, but to talk to my coaches, and I guess I thought seeing the girls would be helpful. But it wasn't. I was in pain - my body ached from the whiplash of the impact. And I assume someone would've called up to the school to inform admin of what happened. Anyway, we didn't stay long. Then, we went home to get some clothes. I also wanted to see where it happened. I had to. The truck had been towed away, but everything else was still there. I could still see it. I can still see it today, as I'm reliving it again. I had nightmares for weeks and weeks.
But, after a few days for my body to settle down and my mind to calm down, which was pretty much impossible, I was finally taken to Austin to see my brother. But, once I got there, I couldn't go into his room. I knew that I would see him in so much pain and it was all my fault. I went in, though, told him that I loved him and that I was so very sorry, and I sat on the other bed in the room. I couldn't touch him or go near him. I had hurt him enough already. It turned out that he not only had a compound fracture of his femur, but he also was cut up on the back of his head from the glass, as I was. He received staples in his head. He also had a broken finger and a collapsed lung. What a great sister I was...
He went through surgery for his leg and had a metal rod put in to align the bones back together. The next few weeks were tough on everyone. I apologized a bajillion times to every visitor and every family member. Not only did I hurt my brother and myself that day, but I also hurt everyone that loved and cared for us. I know that it's every parent's nightmare to receive a phone call like my dad got that day. But I couldn't talk about what I was feeling or how I felt. I told myself that it didn't matter - all that mattered was that my brother was okay. And he would be, in time. He had a long road ahead of him as far as recovery, and I did everything in my power to be there for him or to just disappear and not be in the way.
In the end, Josh healed and we've talked about it a few times. He couldn't go by the accident site for several weeks, and it's totally understandable. He also didn't want to talk about it or know exactly what happened. I don't blame him. I blamed myself. I blamed myself for years, apparently. I was a sophomore in high school and only 16 years old at the time of my accident. Years later, as a sophomore in college, I experienced more hardship. I ultimately sought counseling on campus and was diagnosed with depression and PTSD. That's right, four years after my accident that day, I was still beating myself up about it and holding myself responsible. And I wouldn't - I couldn't - talk about it to anyone. But, counseling seemed to help, and my family was there for me no matter what. They supported me and repeatedly told me that they didn't blame me - at all. Most importantly, to me, my brother didn't blame me. Not even for a second. His response: "Stupid bird". He not once questioned why I didn't just let the bird hit the truck. NOT ONCE.
This taught me two very important life lessons:
1 - Life is short and can be taken from any of us at any moment. We are not guaranteed tomorrow.
2 - Everything happens for a reason.
Wearing our seat belts saved our lives that day! Today, both my brother and I are alive and healthy. We did not suffer serious, life-threatening or altering injuries. I cherish every single moment that I'm blessed to have with every one of my loved ones, as I don't know when their last day will be, or mine. I know our time on Earth is limited, and I try to live every to its fullest. Life is too precious and too short to hold petty grudges or to throw your time away.
Everything that happened that day, although tragic and life-changing, had a purpose. It showed me that life is fragile and so precious. It opened my eyes to that fragility and to the importance of family. It's by and through their support that I'm still here today and as sane as possible. It was meant to be my brother instead of me - I did all that was humanly possible to help my brother that day, getting him out of the truck. And he is such a strong person to have gone through the pain and suffering of his injuries. God knew that he was strong enough to get through it and survive. It's also brought our family closer together. Not only was I rudely awakened to life's fragility, but my family was as well. We are closer than ever, and we don't take a single second for granted.
My faith blossomed after my accident. I was already a follower of Christ, but it became much more than that after that day, eight years ago. I began attending the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at school and searched longer and deeper for meaning and answers. I know that we are both alive today because it was not our time to go. We were meant for much more than we had accomplished prior to that day, and God proved it by saving us.
To my family, I love each and every one of you. You are all my rock, as you well know already, and without any of you, I would not be the person that I am today.
I know this is quite a long story, so if you've made it this far, thanks for hangin' in there! :) ♥