Sam wrecked our Tahoe Friday night. He had six of his friends in the car, and they were coming home from a high school football game in a neighboring town.
Thirty-one days ago, he totaled his own car.
Both accidents were his fault.
Receiving that late night phone call is heart-stopping. The first questions, of course, are a mad rush of breathless words, strung together with tension and anxiety: “Are you okay? Are they okay? Is everyone okay?”
There is a wave of fear and dread followed by anger and disbelief and a host of a million other emotions. When it happens twice within the course of a month, it feels like a cruel joke. When six teenagers who look more like men than boys climb into your one remaining car in the wee hours of the morning so you can deliver them safely back home to their expectant parents, the weight of what could have been is crushing.
No one was hurt. I am so grateful — so incredibly grateful — that there were no injuries. When we arrived at the tow lot and I saw the accordioned van he hit, I all but dropped to my knees in gratitude. He didn’t hurt himself; he didn’t hurt anyone else. There were no babies in the backseat of that van. No toddlers. No crushed carseats. No one else’s precious children were the casualties of my child’s momentary lapse of judgment.
I know there is always a situation that is worse. There is famine and disease and pain and suffering. We had a child who once teetered precariously on that fine line between life and death. We understand Worse.
But in the throes of such chaos, this situation feels bigger than we can carry. When our professor/writer salaries are stretched paper thin to meet the needs of our family of six, this feels so very heavy. It feels like a tunnel with no light at the end. It feels impossible.
What’s heaviest of all, though, is the inevitable string of disappointments. We are disappointed in the bad choice our oldest kid made. The one we told him was non-negotiable. The one that involved his phone and him behind the wheel. The one that we pounded into his head at least a million times: No phone while you’re driving. We feel it is a failure on our part that he still does not fully comprehend the consequences of his choices. Or at least that he didn’t understand them before Friday night. Perhaps today he feels differently. Perhaps not.
This kid is so very smart, and so often thoughtless. He thinks he’s invincible (maybe all teenagers do?), but we all know he’s only human. He’s blown through our lives in the past few months like a hurricane, oblivious to everything else in his path. He has left much in his wake: tears, financial upheaval, chaos. We have had to break promises we made to our other children because of the actions of one. Our checking account cannot support the weight of so many careless mistakes. Neither can his minimum wage, part-time grocery bagger income. There is simply not enough to go around.
We’ll dig our way out. We always do. But it will be a long, deep dig. And there will be many changes that result, for all of us. The actions of one affect so many others.
We will go back again and again to the lessons we’ve tried so desperately to teach our children… Make good decisions. Do not put yourselves or anyone else at risk. It only takes one bad decision to dramatically change the trajectory of your life… or to end it.
Here’s what brought a little light to yesterday’s darkness: friends who said…
“Okay, call me. Time for you to stop crying and start talking.”
“I love you.”
“Read, sleep, have a glass of wine, be good to yourself today.”
“You’re a good Mom, he’s a good kid. Good kids make bad decisions.”
“I’m here. What can I do for you?”
There was nothing, really, that anyone could do for us today but this: show up. Thank you a million times over to those who did. Thank you to each of you who chose to say, “I’m here. I love you. Hang on.” Thank you for letting us be sad, for letting us weep over what was lost — not the vehicles, but our trust, our security, our faith in our son’s ability to choose what is right over what is convenient.
I’ve watched and listened to this Brene Brown message a million times, but I’ve never felt it more strongly than I did yesterday:
I experienced — from near and far — your warm embrace. Thank you for loving our kid. Thank you for loving us. Thank you for showing up across the miles.
In a world turned temporarily upside down, it matters.