Katie hung up the phone and looked at me, “Makaila, you need to come with me, its about Ethan. He’s been in a car accident.”
We all sat there for a moment longer than we should have, no one reacted. Until one of us kicked into gear and said, “Guys! Let’s go.”
I stood without thinking. Without feeling. I put my Bible in my bag and wondered why I was so cold. Why I felt like metal inside, almost like I could taste cold steal, like my blood and my bones where cold, unresponsive steal.
I climbed into my friend, Kelly’s, car, leaving my truck there in the parking lot. We drove over to Ethan’s house where he, and his cousin, Jared, and Jared’s wife Katie lived.
Jared was there, waiting for us with a change of clothes and a toothbrush for Ethan, still not sure what was needed and trying to think of whatever he could. Jared said Ethan had been airlifted to some faraway hospital. A shiver of terror shot through me. Airlifted? Why would he need to be airlifted?
People were talking, jumbled thoughts coming out in a hurry, rushing from his room to the kitchen, to the den and back again, gathering this and that, dropping stuff, bumping into one another. I was annoyed at everyone. None of this seemed important. We had to get to Ethan. We could come back for this stuff later. Ethan needs us now.
I needed to tell them all to get into cars and drive, but the words wouldn’t form. I just stood there in the kitchen, clutching the back of a chair as people swirled around me, grabbing things out of bedrooms and bathrooms, making phone calls, and checking messages. I heard the words “critical condition” and I stupidly reasoned that must mean at least more than one broken bone. My mind was playing tricks on me. I couldn’t compute a scenario that was anymore than some bruises, maybe a broken arm and a few cracked ribs. But if that was all it was, then why was I frozen to the kitchen floor, unable to form the words I needed to say or make any kind of productive move in any direction.
Finally we all found ourselves in vehicles. I was back in Kelly’s car. I reached for my lavender latte reflexively insisting with every ounce of my mind that everything was normal and fine, but my drink was now cold and gross.
Before Kelly started the engine, she grabbed my hand and said, “let’s pray”.
I couldn’t comprehend most of what she prayed, everything was a spinning blur until she spoke these words, “Lord, your will be done.” She paused a beat. When she spoke again, her voice sounded more urgent, “and God, we pray your will is life. In Jesus name, Amen.”
“Amen” I heard myself say after her. But as she started the engine, I kept wondering why did she say that? Of course His will is life. It was as if I literally could not compute another option. The idea that death was God’s will that night never entered my mind, not until we stopped at Kelly’s place next, waiting for her husband, David, one of Ethan’s closest friends.
At this point I was kicking myself for not driving my own vehicle. Whatever state Ethan was in, he needed his people there with him. Why was it taking us so damn long to get going. When we got to Kelly and David’s apartment, Kelly stepped into their bedroom to take a call from David. I heard her suck in air and repeat the words, “the other driver is already dead.”
I stepped into their bathroom and repeated the words to myself, “the other driver is already dead.”
Slowly the reality crashed into me. That was the other other option. Life or death.
“The other driver is already dead.”
I hated those words, like they were a person who had betrayed me.
“The other driver is already dead.”
Yes, I hated those words.
I felt I ought to grieve this human being. I knew if I had heard it in another context, I would have started fervently praying for “the other driver’s” family and friends. But just then, all I could do was hate the words.
“The other driver is already dead.”
Part of me was raging at Kelly for saying it that way, as if it was just a matter of time before our driver was also dead. Tears came then, panicked, choked, angry tears. What in the world was happening? I gripped the sink with both hands and watched my tears run along the curve of the sink and down the drain.
Then I told myself to get a grip. Ethan was going to be fine. Fine. A few broken bones, maybe an impending surgery, a few months of recovery, but he would be fine. I would help him, and we would come out of this better than ever. I ripped some toilet paper off the roll, wiped my eyes and blew my nose. Yes, he would be fine.
I stepped out of the bathroom and Kelly wrapped me in an embrace, “he is going to be okay,” she said, “I really have a peace about this.” I nodded and said nothing, just followed her into her car.
David joined us and we stopped to pick up A.J., another one of Ethan’s lifelong friends.
I was furious at the unthinkable slow pace we were taking, but I said nothing. They could sense my agitation. They felt the urgency to get to the hospital, themselves.
As it turned out, David and A.J. were welcome additions to the car ride to the hospital, their familiar banter and jokes helped to put my mind at ease. Yes, this is more like it, I thought. Everyone else must have been over reacting. David and A.J. seemed as lighthearted as ever. Yes, Ethan is fine, I kept saying to myself. Perhaps this is the Lord’s way of bonding Ethan and I even closer, I thought, a valley we would weather together that would ultimately bring us closer. We drove for 45 minutes or so on a long dark desert road headed toward some distant hospital where we had been told Ethan had been airlifted to, that is until we got a phone call saying that they had changed routes and taken him to St. Mary’s.
I silently swore as we turned the car around. We would have been less than 5 minutes away from St. Mary’s from any one of our too many stops in our hometown throughout the night. I wondered for a split second why they would change course and take him to the local hospital. I had thought the whole point of the other one was for some specialist or something. Why would they start to take him there and then turn around and go to St. Mary’s?
At this, two options shot threw my mind, either it was worse then even the paramedics realized and they had to rush him to the closest hospital, or he already died, like the other driver, and there was no point in the specialist anymore. I chastised myself for thinking that and tried as best I could to shove the thought as far away from my mind as possible.
I tried to focus on the film-score music coming out of David’s car speakers and his quizzing the car, “what scene of what movie is this song in?” I didn’t have the slightest idea, but the disagreement that followed between David and A.J. felt right, more right then all this ridiculous, dramatic talk of hospitals and airlifting and critical condition. Amazing how soothing their banter was to me. As long as David kept quizzing everyone with his upbeat way of demanding we know and memorize deep trivia of every movie line, scene, and song, and if A.J. would argue David any chance he got with his dry edgy annoyance—as long as this would continue just like this, then it would all be okay. David kept calling back to the backseat, “Almost there Makaila, I’ll get you to your man. He’ll need your kisses when he wakes up.”
At some point along the way, one of the pastors who I work with at the church office called me to say he had heard that Ethan had been in a car accident and that he was praying. I thanked him, bewildered at how he had heard. I hadn’t thought to tell anyone but my parents and siblings to pray. Then he said, “I read about the accident online, it looks bad.” Again a shiver of fear shot through me. This was already in the news, and it “looks bad.”
Of course its bad, Makaila, I chided myself, “the other driver is already dead.” Hysteria threatened to take over, but I did not let it. I stayed very matter-of-fact on the phone, very in control, “Thank you for calling, Nate. I really appreciate that. They say he is in critical condition and at St. Mary’s. We are almost there. I will keep you guys posted. Your prayers mean a lot.”
I hung up the phone just as David pulled into St. Mary’s. We signed into an emergency room that was overflowing, every seat full and people standing everywhere, lining walls, and standing awkwardly in front of one another, trying not to be in each other’s way. A pastor and his wife were there in the ER for Ethan. David parked the car and joined us, followed by my parents and my brother and one of my sisters. We were starting to pile in. Another pastor, then one of my best friends, she came carrying a bag of freshly cooked fish. “I had just finished cooking dinner when I found out,” Laurén said, “I packed it up and brought it with me in case you hadn’t eaten and were hungry.”
I was glad to have so many beloved people surrounding me, here for Ethan. I felt pleased thinking that he would feel so loved when he woke up and saw all these people who had gathered for him… but where was his family and why was it taking so long for someone to give us any kind of an update?
Finally our group had grown so large that they ushered us into a vacant waiting room, but still no update.
David wandered down the hall looking for a bathroom, but that was a long time ago, now, maybe more than 30 minutes. What had happened to him? I was a little irked at the thought that maybe he had ignored protocol and went and found Ethan on his own. Irked only because I kept thinking to myself, why didn’t I do that when the thought occurred to me. I could be back there with Ethan right now if I had sneaked in the way David probably did.
A pastor I work with at the church showed up unexpectedly. It was the same one who had called me on our way into the hospital. I was delighted to see him, so pleased to have his support. I didn’t let this flood of people coming into the hospital bring the weight of the situation down on me. When someone is in the hospital, people come and support… this was normal, right? I thought to myself. It shouldn’t alarm me, everything is fine. Its all gonna be fine. Pastor Nate prayed for all of us in the waiting room and then a few minutes later got up to leave. I gave him a hug and thanked him for coming.
Eventually David came back. His face looked whiter than usual, like the blood was no longer flowing freely to his face, but I looked again and his same familiar smile was raised in his signature positive outlook. When his wife asked him where he had been, he provided no answer that satisfied the twenty or thirty minutes he’d been missing from the group. I asked him if he found out anything more and with his smile somehow still etched upon his face he said, “they won’t let us know anything until Mr. Cutuli gets here, got to respect the Father, you know.”
I should have known then. I should have realized that they gave us our own private waiting room and yet no one was coming to tell us anything. I should have realized. I should have seen the signs. But it was still so incomprehensible.
I sat with my back to the wall and my face to the entrance of the waiting room so that I would be the first to see if a doctor came in with news. I wasn’t worried exactly, not like I ought to have been. I was just anxious to see Ethan, to finally look into his blue eyes and know that he was just fine despite the craziness of the night.
I threw out some joke to Lauren, and impressed myself with my confidence in the situation. Stay in control, Makaila, don’t panic, everything is fine.
I smiled at everyone I passed, trying to borrow from David’s positive outlook. I glanced over at him, he was still smiling, still talking to others, so why did my stomach turn at the whiteness of his face. He looked steady, confident… so why did my insides begin to tremor when I met his eyes from across the waiting room. I pulled my jacket tighter around myself.
For some reason, I got up… I can’t remember why. Whatever I was going to do, I never did, because Nate came urgently back in, meeting me at the entrance just as I had reached the far side of the room. His eyes locked on mine. “He didn’t make it, Makaila.”
“Are you joking?” Those where the first words out of my mouth, so far from my mind was the possibility of death. It was incomputable.
I have known Nate a long time, he is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met, his timing is usually impeccable. But all I could think in that moment was, this is SO NOT funny, Nate. I was getting ready to lay into him, to let him know how unfunny his joke was.
But before I could get any more words out, Nate shook his head. He didn’t look like he was joking.
My mind reeled to try to comprehend some meaning. Of course Nate wouldn’t make such a joke, he wasn’t cruel. But still, this didn’t make any sense. Surely he had gotten some false information.
“I’m sorry,” he said as a sickening look spread across his face, I had never seen that look in Nate’s eyes before.
Finally I realized what he was trying to tell me: Ethan was dead.
“What?” I breathed out as the room began to spin. My brother was the first to my side, he grabbed me and wrapped his arms around me and I began to groan and wail into his chest… not crying, not really. I was not sad, not yet. I didn’t know grief nor sorrow, not yet.
Suddenly I knew why death was never a real option in my mind. Because the Lord had just parted the heavens to speak my life’s purpose to me only a few short hours ago—a purpose that Ethan was essential to. How was I supposed to do any of this without him? Not how was I supposed to live, that I knew I could do, I only needed God to keep on living past this moment. But what about all the rest? What about my “created-purpose”? What about the fact that God was in the middle of something, building something beautiful and meaningful between us? Both Ethan and I could sense God at work so much… how could this be the dead end it was all leading up to?
The wails I could hear somewhat distantly and feel coming out of my throat were not the sounds of mourning, but of complete and utter confusion in the depth of my soul. How could this be? Where was my God?
I remember being so grateful for my brother just then. I stood there in his arms, my wails slowing to steadier breathing. I became aware of the sound of men weeping, friends and cousins of Ethan’s who were closer than brothers to him. Pockets of people all there for Ethan huddled around the waiting room, now clinging to each other in this dark moment of unthinkable reality.