What's a Father to Do?
Chapter 1: Disaster
My world almost came to an end two years ago. It was a warm spring evening in May. Well, in one way, my world shattered that night and I am just now coming to grips with the aftermath. Let me explain.
My name is Jeff Grove, and presently I'm 36 years old, and I'm 6'3" tall and weigh in at 180 pounds now. I have two daughters: Brianna, or Brie, 13; and Catherine, or Cathy, 12. Three years ago, I was also married to my beautiful wife, Karen, or as I called her 'My Pixie'. We joked about us as a couple, since Karen was 4'10 when we met in high school, and grew to a whopping 4'11" by the time we were married in college. Some called us Mutt & Jeff, others the ogre and the pixie. But I loved that woman so much, and still do, even to this day.
Shortly after the birth of our first child, Amber, I teased Karen to have a pixie tattooed on her leg so she would always be my Pixie. She agreed and we went to a place off campus that I knew about and asked what they had in the way of fairies or pixies for artwork. We picked one that was much like Tinker Bell, but with much more pronounced boobs and a wispy gown. The gown was a very light green and her hair was a wild flowing red, much like my own redheaded Pixie. Three years after Amber was born, we had Brianna, and we had Cathy a year later.
Amber took after her mother and was small and almost fragile looking, but strong of heart and talented; she could play almost any instrument. She became first chair flute at 12, then switched to oboe the next year and became first chair at 13. Brie and Cathy took after my side of the family, tall, thin, and not musical, more athletic.
The night my world was shattered was right after a concert at Amber's middle school. Karen had waited for Amber, while Brie, Cathy, and I went to get the car. I was just pulling up into the circle drive when I heard sirens. I looked around and got out of my car and stood watching as a mid 60s Camaro came roaring down the street, being chased by at least ten police cars, sirens screaming, lights flashing, and tires screeching. Somehow the Camaro driver swerved to avoid a person in the road and suddenly launched into the air and careened across the school grounds. His car hit the concrete sidewalk and flipped and continued to flip sideways all the way up to the steps leading up to the school. I had seen my little Pixie and Amber coming down the steps just before this happened and screamed Karen's name as I rushed forward.
I work as an accountant for a large state agency, and part of my job is being a first responder for the agency for my floor. I have had all the EMT training so that I can assist any problem until an ambulance and city or county EMTs arrive. I ran back to the car and grabbed my bag and told the girls to sit tight I would be back as soon as I could. I immediately started towards the people I could see lying in pain on the ground. I tried to treat as many as I could. Mostly it was bruises and scrapes, but as I got closer to the steps, I found broken bones, massive bleeding, and gashes. I tried my best until the police had cordoned the area off. One young cop tried to get me to move back, but I told him, "I'm an EMT!" and about told him to piss off. I was still scanning the area to see if I could see Karen or Amber.
I had just helped another EMT who had just arrived on the scene close a deep gash in a woman's arm, when I glanced over to the car and suddenly my world collapsed. That is where I saw a leg, rivulets of blood running down from knee to bare foot, but there just above the ankle I saw it, my little Pixie's tattoo. My vision went black and I was gone to the world. My world seemed to end at that moment. The EMT I was with said I blacked out and just crumpled to the ground. He shouted to another EMT and a cop and they dragged me off into the grass. I guess I was out for a couple of minutes before I woke up screaming, "NO!!! NOOOOOOOO!" And then just turned over and cried and beat my head and hands against the ground. Then my inner self rose to the surface, and I got up mumbling the question, "Why me??" and tried to rush to my love's side, but I was restrained by a couple of police officers. One of my fellow EMTs from the office came over to me and slapped my face and said, "Dammit, Jeff, get a hold of yourself, we've seen this all before."
"I know Sam, but Karen and Amber are under that car. I can see Karen's pixie tattoo."
Sam pulled me to him and let me cry. Sam was a great friend. We grew up together, however Sam was now divorced from his wife and she took his daughter and moved away. I helped him all through the divorce; I kept him together when she accused him of fondling his seven year old daughter. That is how she got her divorce. Sam had never touched his daughter in a sexual way, but his wife Betty insisted she saw it, and poor seven year old Sandy told the same story after several hours of grilling by CPS, Betty, and her lawyer. They showed the tape of a frightened little girl answering yes or no questions about Sam touching her where he shouldn't. Sam was railroaded, but there was nothing he could do about it. Between CPS and his shrew of a wife, he never had a chance. I never believed a word of it, and neither did Karen. Sam had been to our house too many times and never was tempted to approach any of our girls. Betty had been abused as a child, so she knew what to say and how to say it. I'm sure she coached poor Sandy until she broke down and said whatever they wanted her to say. You could almost hear Betty in the background telling her that she had a bad daddy and she must say what they wanted to hear.
Sam's lawyer tried to have the tape analyzed to bring up the background voices, but the judge wouldn't allow it, and Betty's lawyer tried to suppress any idea that the child was coerced. Sam was labeled a child molester by the lawyer and would be branded for life. It is very funny, though, that he was never charged with child abuse. It was also funny, they never made him register as a child molester, but I think the reason is because the judge finally saw through the veiled attempt by Betty to try anything in order to get a divorce. Sam's family was loaded and so was Sam, now that his trust money was available to him. He had inherited just over six and a half million from his grandparents when he turned thirty. Shortly after that Betty filed for divorce on the grounds that Sam was unfaithful. That was proved false and that is when she came up with the child molestation charge. I think before the trial was over, the judge and lawyers understood that Betty just wanted Sam's money and nothing else.
Before a year was up, Sam gained custody of Sandy on the grounds of abandonment. Her mother dumped her with her parents within a month of the divorce being final, took off for parts unknown, and was never seen or heard of again.
Anyway, to get back to my shattered life, Sam led me away to our car where I had to tell my girls that their mother and sister were gone to heaven to be with the angels. They were devastated, to say the least. We all three sat in that car and cried for what seemed hours, but was probably only about 30 minutes. Sam came back after things were being cleared up. The police found the teenage driver of the Camaro stuck in the car, seatbelt wrapped around his neck, dead of strangulation. He was a low-life punk stoner whose family had no money and no insurance, so justice was never properly served, although in a way it was. Vehicular manslaughter in Texas carried a 2 to 20 year sentence, depending on the circumstances. Most would agree that this would carry the sentence of about eight to ten years or more, but it could also be argued that the sentence should be for each count. In this case, it was 34 counts of vehicular manslaughter for an average of 272 years or life. With good behavior, he might have gotten out after 136 years, but he had it easy instead, he died at the scene.
The other lives he shattered had to carry on. Mine did, after a fashion. I didn't drink much, a beer now and then, maybe some eggnog or Irish whiskey at Christmas time, but nothing other than that. But I did follow the typical path of most people who lose loved ones. I sank into a deep depression. I went through life in a daze; I went to work, came home, fixed meals for my daughters, then went to bed and cried myself to sleep, when I could sleep. Sam forced me to go to my doctor and even went so far as to go with me for moral support. I was given some pills to take the edge off, but I still was a zombie most of the time. Sam and Sandy, now 11 like Cathy, become our whole lives. The kids had school and I had them.
After a couple of years of my mourning and depression, Sam took me by the arms and shook me until I finally looked into his eyes. Sam was about 5'10", 160 lbs., and handsome. When I looked into his eyes, I saw worry and concern. He said, "Jeff, you and Karen were there for me when I needed you the most, now I am going to be here for you. You have got two lovely daughters that love you like there is no tomorrow. You have got to get out of this rut of a depressed life and start living again. I know Karen would be beating you about the head and shoulders with the bloody stump of your arm if she was here right now, and you know it. She was one very tough lady and the very best wife a man could ever have. But you still have two little girls that are hurting too. They lost their mother and sister, now don't let them lose their daddy too."
Something inside of me snapped right then, and suddenly I knew that what I was doing was slowly killing my girls. My angels were looking up to me to carry on, and I was shirking my duty as a father. During that first year after the night that destroyed my life, I couldn't count the number of nights the three of us would cuddle up on the couch or my recliner and cry ourselves to sleep. It even happened in my big bed too. I would start out alone in bed, then there was an angel on each side of me, hugging me.
It was just starting summer vacation and the girls were out of school, so the very next day I went in to my boss and said, "I need two weeks' vacation, and I would like to start tomorrow. I can let Kevin and Gloria know what needs to be done, and they can handle my workload for right now. I may need a couple of extra days; it all depends on how things work out." I explained how I had been neglecting to heal myself after my tragedy, and that the girls were starting to slip into depression too. Bob, my boss, agreed with me and said, "Jeff, take what time you need, and you know you can take family leave for up to twelve weeks if needed. I know you never took a day off except that first week to arrange the funeral and everything. You have worked every day since then. You need to go rest, recuperate, and become a family again. Let me know how things are going, and I will make sure you have a job when you get back, and we won't save all of your work for you until you return," he said, jokingly. I knew things would run smoothly while I was gone. I supervised 12 people, and all of them were very good; I trained them myself and they were loyal to me. That was a rare occurrence in a state agency, but we did it.
That afternoon, I went down to HR and asked about family leave. If I applied for it, met certain requirements and it was granted, I could take as little as 2 to 3 hours, the whole twelve weeks, or any amount up to the 12 weeks within a year. I applied for it and it was granted on the spot. Everyone knew who I was and what I had gone through. In fact, the HR representative I was talking to was a lady by the name of Gail Cooper, who lost her husband and son in the tragedy that night. She had stopped by the restroom after the concert, and came out after the crash. She said she had to take six weeks right afterwards to be able to get her head together. She thought it was about time I finally came out of my depression induced stupor. In parting, she said, "Now the healing can begin. Take the girls to Disney World or someplace special, have fun, forget the here and now, and just have fun for a while and become a family again. I know it really helped me." She just married Tom Hartley a month ago. Tom had lost his wife and little boy too. Rumor had it that Gail was pregnant with Tom's child, that is why the sudden marriage. I really wished them the very best of luck.
I went home that evening and asked the kids where they would most want to go on a vacation. I got the standard answer when asking a child where they want to go ... Disney World. I called Sam, who now owned a car dealership, and could leave anytime he wanted. I suggested he and I take the girls to Disney World. I was taking some much needed time off, and I thought he might like to join us. Sam said, "No problemo, Jeff, I'll make all the arrangements, When do you want to leave?"
"As soon as you can get the reservations and airline tickets, I think we all need some time to relax and have some fun. Sam, you do know you don't have to treat us, but I really appreciate it."
"Hey, what good is money if you can't help out your best friend now and again?"
"Thanks, Sam, I think this is just what we need to become a real family again. I know I am going to try to get over my loss of my Pixie and my angel, and I know the girls need to get on with their lives too."
"It's about time, Jeff, now let me go so I can make some calls."
"Bye, and thanks again, Sam, you are a great friend."