The year was 1976.
It was late October. October 28th to be exact. The sun was still sleeping. The air was crisp. The fog was dense.
It was 5:00 a.m., and her daughter was already wanting to rise for the day. She could hear her babbling in her crib. She rolled over to feel the spot where he should be laying, but instead, it was bare and cold. He wasn’t home from work yet, but he would be soon.
He worked the third shift at a warehouse. During the day, he went to college full-time majoring in engineering. One of the things that attracted her to him when they were in high school, (besides his smashing good looks, of course) were his brains. He was the guy who would gather up old radios to take them apart, piece by piece, only to see if he could put them back together. He was the guy who was gifted in math; she was not in the very least. One year in school, his best friend struggled in math and was in danger of failing the class. When they were passing up the tests, he noticed simply by glancing at his test, that his friend had failed it. Very quickly, he changed some of the answers for his friend to ensure that he would pass the test. Smart AND kind. How could she resist?
She got to stay home and play housewife and mommy, even though, she herself just entered the adult world. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to work; she did. She had a job as a receptionist at a medical office. When word got out that she was pregnant again, she was let go. Here they were, both nineteen-years-old, married with a fifteen-month-old and already three months pregnant with their next baby. Didn’t they learn in home economics class back then how to prevent babies? She couldn’t remember. She was busy daydreaming in class about their future together.
Both sets of their parents were, of course, shocked they ended up pregnant while they were still in high school. The only thing to do, the only right thing to do, was for them to get married and keep the baby. So when she was three months pregnant, they had a wedding in a church that wasn’t theirs on Valentine’s Day. Their married life began in the attic of her parent’s home that was converted to a tight living space for them. It was stuffy and suffocating in the summer, and drafty and nippy in the winter. It was free, though, so they couldn’t complain. They finally saved enough money to rent their very own place. They had just moved into their first house together last week. It was small, but she liked to think of it as charming.
How long could she stay snug and warm underneath the covers before her daughter’s protests forced her to start her Thursday? He would be arriving home soon.
Her thoughts drifted to their long-term dreams. He was going to finish his undergrad, and then they were going to pack up and move west to Seattle. He had visited Seattle when he was fifteen. He had unwillingly gone to visit his dad who lived there. He wasn’t a fan of his dad because he left his mom high and dry when he and his two sisters were really young. He didn’t understand how a man could do that. He, however, was a fan of Seattle. He fell in love with how incredibly different it was from their hometown of Huntington, WV. So his dream was to move to Seattle, but unlike his dad, he would take his little family with him. His dreams became her dreams.
She jerked awake unaware how long she had drifted off to sleep. The clock now glowed 5:45. She listened with her new ‘mother ears’ for her daughter, but heard stifling silence. She looked around expecting to see his dark shadow walking through their bedroom door.
And then the wails of an ambulance filled the air.
And she knew.
She knew with all her being that those wails were searching for him.
Seconds later, her daughter began to wail. It was as if she knew it too.
She lay there frozen to the mattress, unable to have a coherent thought. Her mind raced in a million directions, yet nowhere at the same time. How can you be numb yet filled with unbearable, unthinkable, indescribable pain at the same time? She came out of the trance and did what she had to do because it was her job. She, somehow, made her paralyzed legs get up and walk to her daughter’s room. She picked up her daughter and took her back to her bed with her. She smelled the top of her daughter’s head and started bawling. She prayed and cried and cried and prayed.
Their telephone was not hooked up yet in their charming new home. She couldn’t call anyone. She didn’t have a car. She couldn’t go anywhere. The minutes passed ever so slowly.
Finally, almost 3 hours later, she heard a car pull up in their drive-way. She ran to the front window and saw her dad and brother getting out of her dad’s car. She instantly fell to the ground and started screaming, “Nooooo! Nooooo! Nooooo!” She knew they were coming to tell her that her high school sweetheart, her beloved husband, her doting father of her children was gone. He wasn’t coming home.
The year is 2018 now. This excerpt is the beginning of my real life story. I’m the baby in the belly who is now almost 41-years-old. My mom is the one in bed waiting for her husband to come home from work. My sister is the one in her crib waiting for her mom to come get her. My dad is the one who fell asleep driving home from work at 5:30 am. It was dark and foggy, and he was exhausted from his school and work schedule. He was doing his best to be a better father than his father was to him. He hit another vehicle head-on ONE mile from our home. The other driver walked away from the wreck. My dad drove a Volkswagen Beetle before seatbelts and air bags were a thing. His chest was crushed from the steering wheel, he had two broken legs, and he had a head injury from hitting the windshield. Despite his injuries and because of the magical presence of adrenaline, he jumped out of the car yelling at the other driver because he damaged his precious car. (He loved that car!) The nurse in the ER was his best friend’s neighbor. She knew my dad. She reported that he kept repeating, “You gotta tell Denise, you gotta tell Denise,” as they wheeled him into the hospital. (Denise is my mom). He survived for two hours, but died before my mom could make it to the hospital. Imagine being a jobless nineteen-year-old with a one-year-old, three months pregnant with baby #2, and now all of a sudden you are a widow.
It’s truly amazing how one event can change your life story. My father’s death changed my life story before I was even born. I never got to meet him. He didn’t get to hold me. I didn’t get to hear his voice. He didn’t even get to know if I was a boy or a girl or even what my name is. I learned at a very young age that you get to choose how to react to what happens to you. I have chosen to not be bitter. To not be angry. To not blame God. Instead I have chosen to be grateful for each day and to live for my dad.
The only picture of my dad, mom, and sister together. Taken 4 months before he died.
Alisha Kuempel is a little bit soccer momish, a little bit Amish, a little bit hippyish, and a whole lot blessed! She and her husband are coming up on fifteen years of marriage! Her two sons are her dream come true. Visiting Seattle has yet been checked off her Bucket List. If you wish, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.