Christmas of 1999, pregnant and sick, Monkey's dad and I were headed to Houston to pick up the two oldest monkeys and traveling the very congested I 45. I had been sleeping as we left Dallas because it seemed like that was the only thing that pushed away the churning in my stomach. My experience carrying Little Monkey was much like eating cotton candy and jalapenos all day, sweet and fluffy but a lot of fire. Today, the fire overrode the fluffy in a big way. I am not really sure why I woke up and a million times over I have considered how that single moment, sitting straight up from a dead sleep, quite possibly saved Little Monkey's life. Immediately, I knew what was necessary.
"I need you to pull over."
"Are you okay?"
"Right here, just pull over for a few moments."
The rest stop seemed to appear out of no where. I got out of the truck and went in to pee, because as you know, pregnant women can pee on five minute intervals. Once I had managed to relieve the bladder receiving such uncomfortable pressure, I returned, hopped back in and buckled up.
This is another moment, in recounting this story where I always crave the details that escape me. How long was I at the rest stop? How long were we back on the road before I met Jesus?
I don't remember the clock time, but I can tell you the answer as clear as day.
Just long enough.
When I say that the next 30 seconds played out like a movie. I am not exaggerating. On the north bound side, I saw the exact point in which she hit the gravel on the left shoulder and lost control of the car. I quickly pointed this out as little monkey's dad was changing lanes from the right to the left. I don't know why, there was not a car in front to pass, yet he was compelled. I watched as the car turned in slow motion, end over end so quickly that there were no options for corrective measures. At the precise moment of the lane change, her car flew over us and landed upside down EXACTLY where the truck had been. In this whole journey, had anything varied by 30 seconds, I would have been crushed underneath that car without ever meeting the amazing child I carried.
The next 30 seconds, unlike the previous in slow motion, played out in fast forward. A trucker pulled up behind the scene to block traffic and got out with blankets for her. We and the car behind us, pulled over to assist. In a brief exchange with the other driver, we discover his back window had shattered from flying bone fragments. There were no other drivers out front. After an argument with monkey's dad, I was restricted to the general area of the vehicle and not at the scene because he was concerned what seeing it up close and personal would do to me, and by default, monkey. I stood there in such disbelief as I watched the most callous drivers edge around the 18 wheeler and flip us off because we were inconveniencing their holiday schedules. There were pieces of her every where, littering the asphalt and being treated like grains of sand amongst broken glass, twisted metal and Christmas packages that had flown from her backseat. I kept thinking in my head, what the hell am I going to do, I have to pick these pieces of her up? Some one loves her, someone shared a life and has hopes and dreams with her and people are driving over it like it was nothing. The EMTs arrived, in a similar callous fashion, jumped out of the ambulance laughing, taking their time and in general were uninterested in the same questions that were plaguing me. Unfortunately, they bored the brunt of my pain and anger on the side of the highway that day.
"You guys are stepping on pieces of her! Is there no one that is going to reach down and pick up these pieces?"
They stopped laughing and looked at me. I had no idea until later that they already decided she was dead. I was mortified. Maybe I was hysterical, I don't remember. I wasn't crying but I kept wondering if I was saying any of these things out loud or if it was in my head.
"It will be alright."
I was going mad. I jumped because everyone that stopped was already on the scene. I turned around and noticed an 18 wheeler parked on the hill ahead of the truck and a long haired, bearded, barefoot trucker standing in front of me. Neither he nor the truck had been there before.
"He wouldn't let me go up there.". I said, pointing an angry finger in the direction of the wreckage. "I am pregnant." I offered as explanation for the slight I felt at the moment.
"It will be alright.". He said again as he walked, barefoot across the broken glass, like it was water.
I was confused. None of this made sense. He kneeled beside her for what seemed like only a few moments and then he walked back to me. I was so angry at these people, so confused about what was happening, too idealistic about possible outcomes. The trucker came back to where I was standing.
"She went in peace. It will be alright."
I searched his face like trying to understand a foreign language. No one of this was processing. He was so tall and looked like all the pictures a Southern Baptist would recognize of Jesus in paupers clothes.
"Take care of that baby. That is a special one. You will be alright."
It was as if the entire world exhaled. I realized that things were winding down, the road was clearing. I looked back up the hill to catch a glimpse of my roadside saviour but he and his truck were gone. Of course, I knew he had not had enough time to walk back up the hill. I knew there was no noise of a truck starting, no exhaust smoke, no air brakes releasing. Some how, a mind that couldn't accept one damn thing that happened on that stretch of I 45 that afternoon, accepted that.
We loaded back up and headed off and I couldn't speak for hours. I had hoped that when the sheriff took our contact information, someone from her family would call. I just wanted to tell them that someone cared about her, a small handful of people trying to change the world, helping one soul at a time.
I look back again, on the impending birthday of my special little monkey, and wonder whats in this lesson for me and whats in store for her. She has a comprehension that is sometimes above us all. She seeks the path of peace and healing. Sometimes I think she is too grown. One of her favorite things to do is to bounce into my room and ask me what I am praying for today. Last year, my sister gave me a box of little ceramic birds, each inscribed with a prayer, to use to remember what I am meditating on. Little Monkey wants to know each time they change what I am asking for. The last time she asked, my response was:
"I am praying for Joy."
"You need some Joy?"
"Yes, I do baby girl." I promptly burst into tears. She thought that was a simple request.
That afternoon when I came home, hanging on my doorknob to my room was a 3 x 5 index card with a hole punched in it and strung on ribbon. She had drawn a smiley face with a caption that said "I am so happy" and underneath in bold letters she wrote JOY. She never asked if I got it, never wanted the approval some of her art projects require, it was a simple, tiny answered prayer.
Much like Little Monkey herself.
I am so lucky, raising three fantastic kids that I find myself once again, on the side of the road, trying to understand the things life has hurled at me, that I am with a small group of people working to make life better for those around them, one soul at a time.
To Val, I so appreciate your love and support. I don't think I would be nearly as inquisitive, nearly as focused and nearly as engaged in building a new life for my family, had it not been for you there holding my hand, one step at a time.
To Krissy, thank you so much for such interesting conversation and being so open. I am so lucky to have met you while you are on a journey of your own.
To Kevin, I so appreciate the lessons in peace you have begun to teach me. I look forward now to sitting still, breathing deeply and knowing that all is right with the world.
To Beau and Susan, thank you for showing me that a house of worship can be a place for friends, fun and support. I would not have started a deep, soulful look at what I want my life to be had it not been for your demonstration of unshakable faith, even in hard times.
My children are so lucky to have the opportunity to know each of you and feel the difference you have made in the lives of their mom. I only hope that some day, I am able to provide such uplifting influence in the lives of each of you. I am so grateful for you all.