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Anniversaries

February 7, 2018

Today I drove my daughter to the doctor to confirm what she suspected already: she has the flu. We tell everybody we moved to Nashville to be closer to our grandchildren, which is true, but being close to our daughter and son-in-law means so much too. I’m sure she could have gotten another ride today–or could have driven herself, as miserable as she feels–but I’m glad to be here for days like this too.

In our conversation, we brought up what we’d both thought about already: Nineteen years ago, we got a call in our home in North Carolina from Vanderbilt Hospital. I’m always thankful for the thoughtful wording of the woman who called:  “Your daughter Laura wanted us to call and tell you she’s been in an automobile accident.” Those words, despite the bad news, reassured us that she was alive, awake, aware of who she was and who loved her.

Only later did we learn that she had been unconscious when the ambulance arrived and didn’t have any identification. Her billfold had fallen as she left her dorm, headed to a choral program. Laura was in her freshman year of college, just back from Atlanta with friends, and was on her way to sing.  The car in front of her jerked out of the way of an oncoming van in their lane, giving Laura no time to react. The driver, apparently driving under the influence, was coming down the wrong side of a straight stretch of road in daylight when he hit her.  Her car, a Volvo, was unrecognizable. Every side was hit.  But the car did just what it was supposed to do, what those cars are known for, and while she had a broken arm and broken bones in her feet, she was alive.

She was taken to the Vanderbilt Trauma Center, where she spent the night, before being released the next day. My mother got a ride there with my brother-in-law, since she was much closer than we were, but I learned later that she got one look at Laura, passed out, and was put in a room to be examined. (We already knew she has what’s sometimes called “white coat syndrome,” passing out at the sight of blood or injury.) My college roommate Susan and her husband had arrived first, after I called them to get some answers for us. They had trouble finding her. Since they didn’t know who she was at first, she was admitted under the alias El Paso El Paso.

Because the call had come so late at night and we hadn’t known for a while how serious the wreck had been, I waited until the first rays of dawn to head west on I-40. I made the six hour trip in five. When I got to the hospital, Laura looked pitiful. She was hurting all over. She had shards of glass in her hair–and even in her ears. Thanks to the air bag, she didn’t have a single cut on her face. When I got there, Laura also had a throng of her friends in the waiting area.

I was surprised when she was released that day. Her dad, unable to wait for word, had caught a plane to Nashville too. We took her to Susan and Steve’s house, bathed her, and set about to help her start healing. I expected to be needed there for awhile, but she wanted to be back in the dorm quickly. When we rode over to see how she could manage, her friends surrounded her and showed her how each one had skills to help her. They found clothes she could wear over her sling. One friends, a nursing student, promised to be sure she followed doctor’s orders. The girls even strategized how to wash Laura’s long curly hair for her. When I headed back to North Carolina, I knew she’d be in good hands.

Nineteen years have passed, and while she still has some problems with her knees and feet, she’s whole. Justice moved a little slower with the driver. It took two years (and a lawyer) to learn that the Blood Alcohol Test had been filed without anyone checking it. While we weren’t able to get all the information about him, apparently, this was not his first drunk driving accident. He was out on parole for manslaughter; we suspect it was vehicular manslaughter. Laura was the lucky one.

Those college friends have remained close. They get together for girl trips, but they also meet every year or so with their husbands and children. When they came to Nashville, we were happy to swap houses so they’d have room for them all here. They are my reminder of how important it is to have a circle of real friends, of how important it is to form that same kind of circle for my friends.

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