Today, I sent flowers to a woman I have never met. I wasn’t sure what to write on the card but hoped to God it would comfort her, if anything could.
And today would have been the 23rd birthday of a woman I will never meet. According to the article in the local newspaper, she died Thursday night.
Laura had been out to dinner with a friend. After leaving the restaurant, the car she was riding in was rear-ended by a drunk driver, sending it hurtling down an embankment. Her friend was taken to the hospital, but Laura was trapped in the wreckage. After finally being cut from the car, she was flown by helicopter to the hospital, where she later died.
As is the nature of the world today, Laura’s Facebook page was still up and running. She was a beautiful young woman — dark, thick hair, glowing smile. Innocent looking, almost childlike. Beloved by all, the paper went on to say. Her mother, distraught in a way that I won’t even try to imagine, said, “Instead of planning a birthday party, I am planning for a funeral.”
Her heart is broken, I know. I have two children of my own. It could have been my daughter who was hit — gone in an instant, leaving me stunned, blindsided. But when it comes to driving under the influence, I know our sons and daughters are far more likely to be the perpetrators. Almost all of us have been the perpetrators ourselves, but by luck or fate or sheer randomness, were able to somehow make it home. This time.
That’s why I was immediately drawn to the photo of Julie, the driver of the car that hit them, in the courtroom. She was wearing an orange prison jumpsuit and sitting in a wheelchair, still healing from the injuries she sustained in the accident. She was a bit older than Laura, with dark blonde hair drawn back in a loose bun. Her pale hands looked fragile, clasped in her lap, bound by silver bracelets, I thought, but when I looked closer, I could see they were handcuffs. Head bowed, eyes closed, she appeared to be turning away from the camera, but the pain written across her face was unmistakable. It was heart wrenching.
She is my daughter also. She is me.
I wanted to tell her that everything was going to be all right — to hold her hand while she sat alone before the judge.
“She should be in jail for life,” said Laura’s sister. There has to be someone to blame because someone else is dead.
The alleged drunk driver, the paper went on to say, had a long list of driving infractions. (No prior DUIs.) She had earlier drug convictions as well — marijuana possession and narcotics. Almost as an afterthought, the paper mentioned that she was married and had two children.
I knew that she was more than a list of her convictions.
I found her Facebook page, which showed a completely different life, from the outside. Her baby boy smiled up at the camera, played the piano. She has an older girl that she drives to school, makes cupcakes for, and helps with her homework. She loves her husband and misses him when he is gone. She takes in dogs and kittens, and grows basil in her garden. They have just bought a lovely two-story home, perfect on the outside, like so many of our homes. But here and there in her posts, real life seeped through. She mentions going out with friends and staying out too late … of trying to care for the children hungover.
She talked of missing her brother, and how he had died too young. I scrolled back a few years, trying to find him. And there he was … young, smiling, handsome … he’d been a standout student and then an engineering graduate. Julie called him her best friend. I moved forward through the posts, and with a shock, found what I did not want to. He had taken his own life.
His vibrant face beamed at me from the screen in contrast — so alive. One post later, and he was gone.
Maybe that’s when things began to unravel for Julie, or maybe that was just one more event in an already painful life. I know I never needed a reason to drink. On the other hand, any reason would do.
Much to the dismay of the victim’s relatives, Julie’s bond was set low because she was not seen as a flight risk. The court did take away her driver’s license, however. I wondered how her daughter would get to school.
I sent her a pink hydrangea in a planter so that she could put it on her porch or plant it in her garden. There were only a few lines of text allowed on the card, so I wrote:
There are hundreds of people who have walked in your shoes and have you in their prayers. Hang in there, Julie. Life will be good again. Remember, you never walk alone.
From a friend you’ve yet to meet.
I sent it with a prayer, and I hope she takes to heart the words of Laura herself, as told through her mother in the courtroom. “Laura would want me to forgive you.”