It is twelve years ago tonight that two sheriff's deputies showed up at my door at about 10:30 PM to tell me that my wife had been in a car accident and that she and one of my children had been taken to Strong Memorial Hospital. Below is the first part of a memoir I am writing about that experience entitled "Are You There Alone".
Before you, gentle reader, get to the memoir let me share with you my love for my two children Brigid Kathleen Markham and Ryan John Patrick Markham who were both killed in a drunk driving crash on March 10, 1993. Brigid was 5 and would be 17 this year, and Ryan was 8 and would be 20. Brigie and Ryan had 7 older brothers and sisters and now would have 7 nieces and nephews as well as one sister in law and two brothers in law. Life goes on and I have alot to be thankful for and I am a very blessed man, but there is a hole in our family which will always be there.
Our family is not unique. In 2003, 17,401 people were killed in the United States in alcohol related traffic fatalities. This happens year after year after year. This is 8 times the number of people killed on 9/11. Terrorism is not some foreign enemy but your friends and neighbors brought to you compliments of Budweiser.
Are You There Alone?
“Are you there alone,” she asked, “or is there someone there with you.?”
“My daughter is here,” I answered.
“Well, I’m not supposed to tell you this, but I understand the situation you are in and since I know you, I’m sorry to tell you that Brigid is dead.”
My heart sank, but I had known the answer to the question before I asked her, “Do you have Brigid there?”
She had said “Yes” and I had asked, “And how is she?”
The two deputies at my door a few minutes before 11:00 PM looking very somber and serious, maybe even a little scared, had the duty to tell me that my wife had been in a car crash and she and my son had been taken to Strong Memorial Medical Center. They told me that I should go there immediately.
I asked, of course, “How is she and my son?”
“You need to go there and talk to her and she can give you that information.”
This made no sense to me. If she could tell me what was going on I was sure she would have called me herself.
“Talk to her?”, I stammered.
“Yes, she will tell you what is going on’” was the hesitant reply.
I knew they were lying. Maybe not lying, but they weren’t telling me the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, like police officers and others involved in the criminal justice system are supposed to do.
“My son is there, too,” I croaked.
“Yes, and your wife can tell you what is going on.”
They shuffled their feet as if to leave, their duty done.
“Wait a minute,” I said. “You mentioned my wife and son, where are the other kids?”
The two deputies looked like deer caught in the headlights. For a few seconds they just stared at me as if they were collecting their thoughts trying to figure out what to say to me.
“Well,” said the shorter of the two, “ the 12 year old is at Park Ridge Hospital, your daughter is at Genesee,” and the other deputy chimed in, “and your other daughter is at Lakeside.” They stood awkwardly waiting for me to absorb this.
“Oh, God,” I thought to myself, “this is really serious.”
I thanked them for the information. They nodded solemnly and left.
My 17 year old daughter, Mary, said “What do we do now dad?”
She looked scared. I knew that she knew that we had a grave situation on our hands.
“Call Colleen,” I said, “ and tell her to come down here.”
“Don’t we have to go to Strong, dad?” she said.
I choked. I could feel the knot in my throat. “Breath more deeply, Dave”, I said to myself. “I’m not going anywhere until I find out about the other kids. Call Colleen,” I said.
Colleen lived in her own apartment about 2 miles away. She came right away and arrived in 15 minutes with a look of fear in her eyes.
I told her quickly what I had been told by the Deputies.
“You call Park Ridge,” I said, “on the house phone, while I call Genesee on the office phone.”
When the woman at Genesee had told me that Brigid had died she asked if there was anything else she could do for me. Just as she asked, Colleen hung up from Park Ridge and said, “They told me they can’t give out any information over the phone, you have to come down there.”
“I can’t go down there!”, I barked.
“Look”, I said to the woman on the phone from Genesee, “can you call Park Ridge and find out the condition of my son there?”
“Sure” she said as she put me on hold.
Colleen said, “What’s happening, dad?”
“She is going to find out about Joe for me”, I said.
I could feel the dread rise in me.
“I’m sorry, Dave”, she said, “Your son is deceased at Park Ridge.”
“Thank you”, I said. “Thank you very much for helping me find out.”
“I’m very sorry, Dave,” was what she said as she hung up.
“Breath, Dave,” I said to myself as my two daughters, Colleen, age 20, and Mary age 17, studied me with fear and consternation written on their faces.
“Are we going to Strong”, Colleen asked?
“I have one more phone call to make,” I said. “I need to find out how Maureen is.”
When I called Lakeside I found out that Maureen was there and going to be OK. She may have broken some ribs, had a severe belt burn over her collar bone from the seat belt, and the doctor was worried that fluid could build up around her heart in the pericardial cavity so he wanted to keep Maureen for observation.
The nurse told me that Maureen was distraught over not knowing the condition of her mother, two brothers, and sister. I told the nurse that Brigid and Joe had died and that Angela was at Strong with Ryan and that I was about to leave to go the 22 miles to the hospital to find out how they were doing. The nurse asked if I wanted Maureen to know about Brigid and Joe’s deaths. I told her no, I would tell her myself when I could get out there sometime the next morning.
I looked at Colleen and Mary. “Let’s go”, was all I could think to say.
To Be Continued