Posted December 21, 2015 by Prairie Wife - 5 comments
I struggled quite a bit about whether or not I should do this post. I am not afraid to share my stories with others, that’s why I started prairiewifeinheels.com. It was more about if this story really fit the mission of our site. After all, it says in our blog description “a humorous blog” and this post will assuredly not be humorous. But, in the end I decided to go ahead and post it. Our site is about helping others through the journey of life. While I usually prefer to do it by offering a chance to laugh about life (and at me), I have hopes that this post will at least reach one person at just the right time to help them. I ask my readers to read this knowing that terrible things happen in this world, every day. You may hear about it on the news, or from a friend, or it may be your turn to experience it. You don’t have a choice about how or who is affected by these tragic events, but you do have a choice about how you react.
I was young and madly in love. I was back at home on summer break, between my freshman and sophomore year, when I met Jon at a bonfire with some friends (and immediately went home and broke up with my Wyoming boyfriend…sorry). At 20 years old he was a complicated mixture of man and boy. He was tall, dark, and handsome with ice blue eyes and thick black hair. His crooked smile offered just the right amount of boyish charm and bad boy appeal.
Jon worked second shift as an apprentice at a tool and die shop (though his dream was to be a helicopter pilot), and I would sneak out to the end of the driveway at midnight where he would be waiting for me (sorry Ma and Pa). I would get on his motorcycle (I told you he had bad boy appeal) and we would ride dangerously fast with no helmet. Not a thought in my mind but the exhilaration of being young and alive, that there was nothing better than the feel of resting my head against his back as the wind whipped around us. I spent that summer completely absorbed in him, waiting for the next moment we could be together.
There was never any question of me returning to Wyoming for school. Jon, his dad, and his friend “T”, drove me back to school and helped me to move into my apartment with CollegeBFF. We stopped and spent time at Sturgis and slowly made our way to Wyoming. He and his buddy stayed a few days in Laramie, and fell in love with it. We did the typical long distance thing, sending letters and packages and racking up the phone bill. But, we both knew that it wouldn’t work forever. After a few months Jon called me with some exciting news, he had met a man who had encouraged him to head out West and follow his dreams, and even helped him to get accepted to a helicopter flight school in CO. His friend T even agreed to make the move and go on the adventure with him. He had a job interview lined up for January to work at a shop in Laramie, allowing him to make some money until school started. T and Jon began to make all the final plans to pack up and head to Wyoming, and arrived at the end of November.
They quickly found an apartment to rent and settled into Laramie life. I wasn’t able to see Jon very much those first few weeks. Between my 40 plus hours a week gas station job (graveyard shift) and 21 credit hour course load, there wasn’t much free time. But, it was still better than the long distance relationship we had been holding together for the past few months! We even exchanged simple silver rings as a promise of our future together. I was ecstatically happy, my future was shining and the life I had always wanted, my happily ever after was actually coming true!
Then it was exam week, and finally winter break. Jon, T and I made plans to drive home the week of Christmas to spend the holidays with our family. It was much cheaper than flying and I needed to be back at work the same day Jon had his job interview. Because Jon and I were both night people we decided to head out the afternoon on the 20th of December. T could take the first shift while Jon and I slept and then we planned on T sleeping, while Jon drove through the night and I kept him company. When it was daytime T could take another shift while Jon and I slept…and before we knew it we would be back home.
We loaded up our suitcases into Jon’s truck and started our 20hr trip back to The City. The roads were clear and the weather was crisp and cool, and for once not too windy. T drove while Jon dozed off and on next to him. I laid down on the backseat to sleep, of course not wearing a seatbelt. It started to get dark somewhere in Nebraska and while the blanket of snow was thicker on the side of the road it was still smooth driving. Sometime around midnight we stopped at a gas station to switch drivers and after a quick break we headed once more towards The City. As I got into the passenger side I clicked my seatbelt shut, and gently admonished Jon to buckle his (though I had just rode over 6 hours without mine on). He shook his head and said he felt safer being able to move if something ever happened, I turned up the radio and we hit the road.
T immediately fell asleep in the backseat, and Jon and I chatted about our plans for the future. In a moment of silence I saw a falling star briefly slice across the darkness, and as any young girl would, I made a wish. My whole life I have always make the same wish, while blowing out birthday candles or softly sending an eyelash on its way- that everything should happen just as God planned it. I softly smiled and reached across to Jon, holding his hand. As we drove I thought about this and that and we crossed the Iowa border. We noticed several cars in the ditch. There was no snow on the road, and no emergency vehicles so I just assumed that they were still left from a big storm a few days before.
It was dark, and I was cold, hanging upside down in the snow. I couldn’t see, and all I could hear was muffled voices. It took me several moments before my eyes adjusted and I could grasp a sense of where I was. Somehow my seatbelt was still on and I was hanging upside down, my lower body was in the front of the car and my upper body in the back seat.
I heard Jon calling for help “We’re in here, we’re in here.” Still hanging upside down, I started to dig franticly in the snow trying to find T, I knew he should have been back there. I called his name, I told Jon over and over that we were O.K., that I was O.K. The truck shook with the vibrations of the metal cutting tools as I franticly struggled, trying to find a way to get down and touch Jon. His voice was getting softer.
Hands began to reach for me as I screamed for them to “leave me alone and get Jon”, I was fine but I knew, I just knew something was wrong with Jon. I fought kicking and screaming as they drug me out of the truck and into the snow, leading me to the ambulance. As I turned around I saw the dark mark at the edge of the truck. As it melted the snow, the once red blood had faded into pink. I went limp. They had known that it was too late to save Jon, and that was why they had ignored my pleas.
I was taken to the nearest hospital, and as they checked me for wounds, I could hear T screaming in the next room. They called my parents and informed them about the accident, and I was placed into a room. A nurse and chaplain spent the night with me as we waited for my parents to come. When I was finally left alone during shift change, I took a deep breath and closed my eyes.
I knew it was time to make a decision. As I saw it, I had two choices. Choice one was to pretend none of this had happened and quietly go insane. Choice two was to suck it up and move forward and live my life the best that I could. I simply thought of Ma and Pa on their way to me, grieving for Jon and I, and I knew that there was no way I could handle hurting them more. In that moment I made my choice.
When Ma and Pa finally arrived the police came with them, and the accident was finally explained to me. While going under an overpass, the truck had hit some black ice (left from the earlier ice storm) and rolled. When it rolled the entire top of the truck was sheared off and the truck landed upside down. T had flown out, because he wasn’t wearing his seatbelt, and after bouncing off a semi-truck he had landed in a snow bank. He had a punctured lung and a broken back, but went on to make a full recovery. As I processed the information I came to two conclusions. First, I understood why I had woken up hanging upside down in the snow with no T, second I realized that I should be decapitated. I looked at my parents as the reality of the situation hit. Jon, who was not wearing a seatbelt, had thrown himself on top of me, keeping my body down as the truck rolled. He had received the brunt of the trauma, resulting in him bleeding to death from a shoulder wound, while I simply had a few bruises and a deep scratch on my head.
How on earth was I going to face his parents with all of us knowing that he had sacrificed himself for me? I know now that the term for what I was feeling is survivor guilt, at the time I just knew that I felt more anguish and sorrow then I could handle. The sobs that filled me were so intense that I felt as though I was going to break in two. Ma and Pa looked on with their own tears silently slipping down their faces.
I was released from the hospital the next day and we flew back to the city. Grief is a twisting journey but before it can truly begin there are mundane tasks that must be completed. We went to Jon’s viewing and I saw his parents for the first time. We held each other and cried, and after they asked, I sadly told them that there was no way that I was pregnant with Jon’s child. I attended the funeral with Pa and I got up in front of everyone, and told them about my love for Jon. I truthfully don’t remember a single word I said, but Pa has said that it is one of the times that he has been the proudest of me. After the funeral, as I stood in the receiving line like a grieving widow, Jon’s grandmother came up to offer me a hug. She looked at me and simply shook her head and said “so young, too young” and walked away.
We didn’t really celebrate Christmas that year, and I don’t have many memories of my time home. I paid for a plane ticket back to Wyoming at the previously scheduled time, and went back to work and school as planned. I had made the choice to live my life, and I was going to do it. When I was back in Wyoming I started my private journey of grief. I tried to never let College BFF see me cry and spent hours of my free time comforting Jon’s friends and family over the phone. I began to write in a journal about my feelings, and at Ma and Pa’s request I saw a counselor (though we spent more time talking about her friend that died than Jon). When CollegeBFF was gone I would stand in the shower and cry for what felt like hours, and emerge feeling exhausted and empty.
I knew that I was young and would love again, but I needed to mourn for the loss of my dream. I slowly lost touch with Jon’s family and friends as we traveled down different roads of grief. There were days when the sun shone just right on the melting snow, and the fresh spring winds caressed me as I walked to class. And I knew in my heart it was good for me to be alive, happy and living my life. Then a day would come when I would catch someone that looked like Jon out of the corner of my eye. My heart would stop and I was filled with the sorrow and loss all over again. Knowing that I needed to move on, I dated the wrong guy and got out just in time. There were (and still are) snowy days when I was almost paralyzed with fear at the thought of driving on the icy roads. Times when I found myself laughing uncontrollably with my girlfriends and suddenly realizing I hadn’t thought about Jon in days. The last entry in my journal says “I met a cowboy last night…”
I made the choice to live my life after Jon was killed, not for him but for me. I allowed myself to be changed forever by the experience, but I didn’t allow it to take over and define who I am. As I held an infant Cowboy J in my arms on a cold December night, I let tears fall down my face, and felt my heart break, as I thought of how I would feel if he were taken from me. I have had tragedy in my life, and I know that it can happen again. I refuse to live in fear, but I will hold my husband a little tighter when he leaves for work this week.
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