Constantly I think who I would be today if I hadn’t made that one bad decision. But to be honest, while it was happening, my choice seemed so harmless. And at the time, it was harmless. I was coming home from a long day at school. All I wanted was to sit at home on the couch with my family and watch the television. But my stomach had other plans. It was 7 p.m. and due to a day of catching up on late assignments, I ended up skipping lunch. It was the end of the semester after all. That meant my last meal was at 9 p.m. the night before. Oh yeah, I missed breakfast too. So driving past all of these fast food restaurants really wasn’t doing my stomach, or health, any favors. Before I knew it I had caved and was pulling into a McDonald’s to order myself a number five. As I was pulling out of the drive-thru and onto the road to get back on the highway, I noticed my phone buzzing in my purse from the backseat. I quickly ruled out the only possible people it could be and ignored it, having eyes for only that double cheese burger in the seat next to me. Whoever it was calling me could wait; I was driving. As I was headed down I-44, avoiding each pothole as if it had become second nature, I began heartily devouring my meal, taking sips of the soda that came along with it. One hand on the wheel, one hand on the food, both eyes on the road. Damn did I feel confident.
You see, the smart thing would have been for me to take my food out of the bag before I began to drive. But really, after replaying the scene over and over in my head, I concluded that there was no smart way to eat and drive. But doesn’t it seem a hell of a lot less threatening to eat and drive rather than use the phone and drive? I mean, you don’t see ads for that against it. Which is exactly why I did it. Ignore the phone. Eat the food. Repeat. And at the time, I felt like I was making a good, respected decision in the eyes of each MoDOT sign I passed.
Ignore the phone. Ignore the phone. Ignore the phone. I swear I chanted that mantra at least a dozen times during the whole duration of my phone was buzzing. But eating and driving can kill. And it did.
Alexander Tyson is six years old. Six years old and motherless.
As I was scoping the bottom of the McDonald’s bag for the few remaining fries with my free hand, I noticed the car next to me had begun to switch from one lane to another. My lane. Although my eyes had been glued to the road, my hands were not. I quickly scrambled to get a grip on the steering wheel, but I couldn’t very well honk and drive with one hand. Finally, my other hand frantically found the steering wheel as I jerked myself away, hearing the loud honk of her car. It was strange; the horn sounded awfully distant at that moment.
My car found the next lane after a few, poorly executed jerks, and not seconds later, found itself in the hood of another car.
She flew fifteen feet.
Although I seemed to trudge through my day, the time flew by rapidly and I was out of class before I knew it. As I pulled up to his house, I noticed the tulips had bloomed. I somberly smiled at the stinging memory and stepped out of the car as he came running out of the house to greet me.
He was ecstatic to see me; he was jumping up and down, trying to show me his 100% on his spelling test. I knelt down and pulled him into a hug, holding back tears. As I stood up I hastily wiped away the evidence and pointed to the flowers: “They bloomed!”
He laughed, a little more quietly this time. For a moment, he was poised in a vulnerable state. He had paused and was staring at the flowers, smiling. I watched intently at him, but he quickly broke his gaze and ran back inside, beckoning me to follow. I smiled and followed him inside. The rest of the evening we played games, finished his homework, and watched his favorite cartoons. Before I knew it, he had fallen asleep on my lap. Without waking him, I gently put him to bed. Before I stepped out, I noticed a drawing hanging above his bed.
This time, I didn’t hold back. The tears fell, no, they poured. I held one hand over my mouth and the other plastered against my forehead. As I stood in the middle of his room, tears streaming down my face, I recalled that spring funeral. Tulips had been strewn around her grave. They were her favorite flower. Alex and I planted those last spring in her honor. As I began to calm down, I knelt down and studied Alexander in his sleeping state, admiring this beautiful, innocent, little boy.
I shook my head and stepped out of the room, feeling more defeated than ever. I sunk myself into the couch, my actions matching my mood. One of these days I will tell him. One of these days I will be prepared to lose him when he finds out the truth about me and what I had done to his mother. But after that day, that horrid day, I couldn’t let a four-year-old go without his mother. She was a single parent already. He needed somebody. I decided that he needed me. And as strange as it seemed, nobody questioned my entitlement. It’s like they knew that I had to do this. Not to right my wrongs, because there is no coming back from that, but to be there for somebody when they need it. Because I know I would have wanted the same. And now I babysit him every single day. I get to watch him grow. And what a fine young man he is turning out to be. And so smart at that.
His aunt arrived not twenty minutes later and dismissed me with a smile and some cash. Every time I refuse the money. I’m not doing it for the payday, but she knows I’m saving for college. It’s not like I don’t reject it every time. That worked for awhile actually, but then I began finding it hidden in my coat pocket, soles of my shoes and the nooks and crannies of my backpack days later. Finally, I began to openly accept it, knowing she is only trying to help, just as I am doing.
Unfortunately, those pangs of guilt never subside. It is something that I will live with forever. Her death, changing his life completely, and my constant remorse looming over my head, reminding me every day of the accident. But watching Alex grow, seeing the tulips, seeing his drawing, somehow reassured me that things just might be okay.