We were having another great day out by the lake; now it was time for some lunch. With all the fresh air and exercise we were enjoying, the food would surely taste extra-good.
I picked up the tray of cold drinks from the scrubbed kitchen table, Rob hefted the covered basket of cold cuts, potato and rice salads and slaw, and Ed brought up the rear with the plates, napkins and silverware on another tray.
The three of us headed back out of the cabin towards the small dock on the lake shore, where our teenage daughters were continuing to improve their tans.
Ed’s family have owned this part-section of land for generations; he’s invited us out here for weekends and public holidays ever since the girls learned to swim well enough to be trusted in and around a lake.
The three of us go back some ten years. I’ve been extremely fortunate in finding such great friends, as has my daughter Hayley. Let me tell you how we met.
Oh, and I’m Henry, by the way, but I go by Hal to my family and friends.
When our daughter Hayley was almost three years old, my beloved wife Hazel was killed instantly at the age of 25, together with our unborn son, when her car was T-boned by a drunken trucker who didn’t even see the stop sign he was accelerating thru.
My world fell apart that day.
I had to formally identify her mangled body, and even with the support of genuinely kind and sympathetic hospital staff, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. My beautiful woman, who’d lovingly kissed me goodbye as I left for work that morning, had dropped our daughter at her parent’s house while she went to do her weekly shop, and hadn’t come back. It didn’t help that it was a closed casket funeral – she’d effectively been crushed in the car – and that my final visual memory of her was after the accident, the adored face that had smilingly greeted me every morning and evening for four years, bloody, broken, and damaged almost beyond recognition.
It was bad enough for our parents, who hadn’t seen her in the morgue, but who were denied a final viewing and a chance to look at her beautiful features one last time as they said their goodbyes at the funeral home. It was especially hard for them that they had also lost their future grandson; they’d been even more excited than we had been when we announced that we were expecting again.
The funeral was doubly difficult with a toddler in my arms – Hayley of course knew that Mommy was not there with her, but didn’t, and couldn’t, understand why we were putting this big box in a hole in the ground and all crying. To me, the world lost all its color that day; I do remember the unnatural vivid green of the artificial turf that they used to cover the excavated dirt in the cemetery, but otherwise my memory of the event is gray and black. Lots of people did their best to console us, but I was numb with grief and could only nod and thank them for their thoughts and prayers. I didn’t even feel anger until after my love was under the ground, just an emptiness that I had never before encountered.
I was devastated at losing my soul-mate, and I found it real difficult to stay in the house which Hazel and I had chosen together, that we’d scrimped and saved for the deposit, and where we had started our family and our hopes for a long and happy future together. I very nearly sought solace in a bottle; but caring for Hayley was too much of a responsibility for me not to be sober, and one drunk session was enough to show me that it was no way out – weeping and hungry toddlers and hangovers do not go together! Our parents gave me every support they could, but nothing they could do or say would bring my Hazel back from the dead. My boss was real good about it; he gave me compassionate time and fixed it so that I could do flexible hours and work from home some of the time.
Once Hayley was born, just in case something bad happened, Hazel and I had both taken out double indemnity disability and death insurance, which paid out twice the amount in case of accidental death, and the trucker’s firm paid me a substantial settlement in installments, rather than be taken to court and bankrupted in one go.
The trucker himself had no assets; he went to jail to be a burden on tax dollars – fortunately I wasn’t needed at the trial, because by then I was real angry at his selfishness and stupidity, and I wasn’t sure that I could be in the same room as him without having a go at him. I didn’t need to be locked up myself for trying to kill his sorry ass right there in front of the judge. Who the fuck drinks breakfast out of a bottle and then goes off to their driving job? Rehabilitation be damned; I wanted the sonofabitch to die in jail, preferably a slow, painful and lingering death, with plenty of time to reflect on how he’d fucked up his life as well as mine. He’d gotten away with murder was how I saw it at the time, and still see it. And what kind of lowlife supervisor lets a clearly drunk driver take a tractor and trailer out of the lot onto the public roads? At least the firm fired him as well, even if the snowflake District Attorney wouldn’t prosecute him as an accessory.
That anger and bitterness took some getting through; I had some counseling, but the injustice of it still really got to me. I haven’t got along all that well with God since then; Hazel and I’d lived a good life, tried to always do the right thing, and where had that got us? Doesn’t sit well with the “loving caring and compassionate” bit, does it? The preacher’s assurances that we’d be reunited in heaven seemed utterly worthless; we’d been hoping to enjoy fifty or sixty years together on this earth first. What the heck had we done wrong to deserve being split up like this?
Oh yeah, and, funnily enough, I didn’t hear anything about any ‘pro-life’ folks gathering outside the courthouse with their placards to demand that the drunk be charged with the murder of the fetus, either. Perhaps a grown man who went drunk driving without caring who he hurt is a harder and more dangerous target for their cowardly hate than a frightened fourteen-year-old who got raped by her father? I don’t mind them bothering God with their selective reading of the Bible, but I get real antsy when they bother me or other innocent people. If I recall my history correctly, the Pilgrim Fathers came over in the Mayflower to get away from being told how to live their lives? Yeah, I know that the First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion and freedom of speech, but the Constitution itself forbids any religious tests for anyone running for public office. I reckon that some of these religious freaks are coming very close to imposing their own rules and tests, and if we don’t fight back, these fundamentalists are going to drive US crazy too!
And the little white-haired old lady who said that “It’s God’s Will” when we took some of Hazel’s shoes and clothes into Goodwill? She’ll never know how close she got to having her ass kicked, just to let me vent some of my anger. Luckily Mom saw my face change, and quickly dragged the woman away from me before I could say anything.
Yeah, I admit it. I got real sour and bitter about the whole business. I probably went slightly crazy for a while. Do you blame me? I wasn’t good company for another adult – I could pretend I was fine when I was with Hayley, but I drifted away from our old friends, because their presence reminded me of all the times when Hazel and I had been with them, together as a couple. I even found it difficult to be with our parents, for the same reason, which saddened me even more.
Suddenly I was dirt poor in friendship and loving relationship terms, and fairly wealthy in financial terms. I’d have much preferred to have stayed hard-up but happy with Hazel by my side. Hell, I’d have given the million and a half straight back to be allowed to tell her in person just one more time that I loved her.
I used to go to the cemetery with Hayley every Sunday before lunch to talk to Hazel and tell her what we’d been doing; when the dirt was sufficiently settled and firmed for us to have the headstone fixed, it got much harder to go there, looking at her photograph that her Mom so wanted to have on the stone, and Hayley seeing it and crying for her missing Mommy.
Who knows what goes on in a small girls mind? Hayley smiled as she kissed the same photograph goodnight every bedtime, but when she saw it on the tombstone, she had a very different reaction. Her grandmother was very apologetic, but how was she to know?
Thanksgiving, I completely lost it. Hazel’s Dad only just finished Grace, and I was out on the porch bawling my eyes out because Hazel wasn’t with us. Luckily Hayley was too engrossed in choosing exactly what to have on her plate to notice my absence, but our parents were real sympathetic – we all ended up shedding a few tears. There didn’t seem to be a whole lot to be thankful about that year, other than still having Hayley. If she’d been in the car as well, I don’t know what I’d have done. At least I had Hayley to live for – I’d had some dark days (and darker nights) when I had gotten deeply depressed and wondered if there was any reason for me to go on.
Near every place I went held painful memories of having been there with Hazel, and after a year of grieving, and with the reluctant but genuine support of our families, I gave notice to quit my job, and Hayley and I moved away to a medium sized but vibrant town in Missouri. I’m a Certified Public Accountant, a CPA, so it wasn’t too difficult for me to re-register and start up in business wherever I went.
.... There is more of this story ...