I’m alone in a hallway, a cold, dim hallway. My bed is pushed up against the wall. A nurse approaches. She tells me I have a serious neck injury and that it might be broken. There’s a brace around my neck, and I realize I can’t move.
“Where’s Devin?” I ask.
“Let me find out,” she says.
Another waiting room. The nurse has returned, she tells me my neck isn’t broken, but I need surgery. I sign a slew of consent forms. In hindsight, I have no idea how I managed to sign anything, I was so numb from the pain meds.
They’ve moved me to a recovery room, post-surgery. I’ve lost track of time, but it’s dark so I assume it’s night. The walls are covered in ugly tan brown, pink curtains line the windows.
Again: “Where’s Devin?”
The nurse pauses, then asks: “Do you need a chaplain?”
Time stops in that moment, everything recedes.
Devin is gone.
I spend the night alone, in and out of consciousness, with nurses and doctors coming in to check on me. I awake to the light of day, my father standing at my bedside holding sunflowers.
It was a car accident, and it happened just weeks after we moved to Atlanta. We had moved there fresh out of college, far enough away from home to feel independent. In our minds, we were “adulting.” Before the crash, Devin and I had plans to start our life together. We had plans to get married. And then all of that disappeared.
It’s been more than 20 years since the accident, since Devin passed. And to this day, people still ask about my scar. When I talk about it, I rarely mention Devin. Over time, I’ve developed a sort of elevator pitch.
I was in a car accident, I tell people.
I’m lucky to be alive, I say.
Maybe it’s because I’m trying to protect them, because I know how uncomfortable the truth can be. Maybe I’m doing it to protect myself. Or maybe, it’s a little bit of both.
It’s a story with a horrific ending. It burdens the listener, and it puts me in the position of having to comfort THEM…to let them know it’s OK, even though for a long time it really wasn’t.
Sometimes I share more of my story. To reach that level of candor, there has to be an established trust, and it’s something I usually only do with close friends. But even then, I have a way of glossing over the hard parts.
For 20 years, I’ve told the “just the facts” version. But that changed the day I went through the experience of finding my Dear World story.
Five minutes before my partner and I sat down, she asked about my scar.
So I thought – OK universe, I hear you. This is my story to share. This is the story I have to tell.
As she listened, I shared details that I’d never before vocalized – the color of the hospital room walls, thinking for a short period of time that my neck was broken, the nurse asking if she should call a chaplain.
After 20 years of giving the elevator pitch – just the facts, devoid of the real storyline – I couldn’t even say the words “Do you need a chaplain?” without tears streaming down my face.
It was so visceral – the suffering, the loss. And it reopened something inside of me that I thought had closed so long ago.
A week later, I was having lunch with one of my best friends from college, a woman who was also friends with Devin. I showed her my Dear World portrait and she began to cry.
She said how much she cared for him, and that she hadn’t talked about him in such a long time. I didn’t fully appreciate until that moment how that experience continued to sit not just with me, but with our friends too.
As I retold my story – the fuller version, the authentic version – I started welling up. And instead of trying to hide my hurt or hold back my tears, I let them flow freely.
I used to have these vivid dreams about Devin. When I would wake, I’d try to hold on to that lingering memory. The dreams felt so real, like he was there.
Someone once told me that I would forget Devin’s face, and I defiantly responded that I’d never forget.
Then one day – about a year after the accident- I couldn’t remember the details of his face. I knew he had a freckle, but I couldn’t remember where it was. I was stricken with this incredible grief, knowing that I was losing those last threads of connection.
I wanted him to be in my dreams again. He has from time to time, but never like before.
People who know me would probably say that I’m a strong person. I’ve had my ups and downs like anyone else, but I always come through on the other side feeling more resilient.
Even during the really painful periods, I feel this need to walk away having learned something. It’s that old cliche, that everything happens for a reason. If the reason isn’t clear to me, I feel compelled to search for it.
I don’t know why I survived that wreck and not Devin. I just know that I lived that day.
And I have lived every day since.