Those First Hours:
On Saturday, March 10th my husband and I were returning to the farm from an evening out, just the two of us. It was the end of my birthday week, and he had been spoiling me rotten. We were on an emotional high, laughing, relaxed, having a really good time together, bellies full but not miserable, oozing romance and peace in every way… It was shaping up to be one of those weekends that can make a person forget all about being surrounded on both sides by unreasonable work loads. (This is my husband’s professional lot right now… but he carries it very well!)
He was driving. It was about 8:35 p.m., rainy and foggy and already quite dark. Very dark, actually. He had just slowed to approach the front gate to our farm when we saw it.
A white pickup truck was wrecked in our path. Just north of the farm, between us and our gate, very nearly facing us in our lane. Its front bumper was pointed into the deep ditch there, headlights on but dim and mostly choked by the fog.
The rain was glinting off of a million pieces of shattered glass, spread evenly from one side of the paved road to the other. I had never seen anything like that, and it took a moment to register. For a split second I was dazzled by the wet, glittered blackness. Then we both saw him at the same time.
A man had been thrown from the truck and was lying alone on the asphalt, crumpled and motionless.
“There’s somebody there!” I honestly do not know which of us said it first, but in an instant our mutual sense of carefulness exploded into action. My husband tore his car through the glass, around the wreck, and off of the road. We scrambled out of his car and ran as fast as we could the fifty feet or so back to the wreck. As we ran, another pickup was approaching. Luckily that driver saw the confusion and slowed in plenty of time. I screamed at him to train his headlights on the wreck where my husband had already crouched to check the man for signs of life. I could have sworn maybe two other people were in the truck still and yelled at him to check (there were none, what I saw were shirts hanging from a hook). He was already yelling at me firmly to not come any closer!
That told me everything.
Already on the phone with 911, my husband motioned for me to go find flashlights. Then he crouched again near the man, who I could barely see from the opposite side of the wreck. He was wearing a smooth white cotton t-shirt, tucked into his belted Wranglers. His face was obscured, for which I was thankful, and he was completely still. He barely seemed real in one sense and then in another he could have been any of our Oklahoma neighbors or family members.
As I ran back to our car for the house keys and then through the gate and up the long gravel driveway, I felt this overwhelming sadness that the man, whoever he was, had been lying alone in the rain like that. No jacket. Just exposed and vulnerable, not defending himself in any way against the dreariness of the weather or the violence of the wreck. That a grown man, someone who loves and is loved, just driving in the dark a few minutes ago, could be so utterly alone and helpless. It was breaking my heart.
It was very dark, but I remember the front field animals were running in large, excited circles. The crash must have just happened, and it must have been very loud. We later surmised it was a rollover.
Once in the house I grabbed flashlights then ran at full speed back down the driveway and toward the scene.
The second driver who had just arrived was still reluctant to walk very near, which was fine. He took a flashlight from me and started searching the brush. My husband was staying with the man, holding his hand and searching for breath or a pulse. There was none. But he stayed and spoke to him, just in case. He also kept me away.
As we all waited for the emergency crews to arrive, a small car drove up on the scene too fast. Filled with four giggling young women, probably out just having some Saturday night fun like we were doing ten minutes ago, they barely stopped in time, screeching on the slick wet road to a panicked halt with just feet to spare.
The small car’s laughter hushed in the instant that its passengers must have seen the truck and then the glass and then the man’s terribly still body. I could feel dread all around us in the damp. First my husband spoke to them, then the other young man did (they seemed to know each other). The car slowly made its turn-around and drove away. Respectfully, I thought. They left in a very different mood than they had arrived just seconds earlier.
For several minutes I stood at a distance, waiting to see how I could help and agonizing over the scene, wondering who this man could be, wanting to be with my husband and help him but trusting his protectiveness. He always steps up to the hardest jobs. That’s just his nature.
Soon we heard the distant wail of fire trucks and police cars. No one spoke; we just waited and watched. When they arrived, a crew of men helped search the surrounding areas, helped confirm no one else was in the wreck, and relieved my husband of his post at the man’s side. He stayed there to give what information he could and provide names and phone numbers, etc. I was urged to go back to the house, which I did. I called my Mom on the way. When she answered, all the breath I had been holding in spilled out in ridiculous little girl sobs.
The man’s anonymity and alone-ness were torturing me, and she offered all of her softness and strength, promised to pray for him and for his family. The grief for this stranger was intense.
Eventually I saw my husband’s headlights curve slowly onto the property. He parked in his shop and walked through the rain back to the house. We gripped and held each other tightly for a few seconds but then he released me to go wash his hands and face. I couldn’t stop my mind from wondering about the identity of this man, wondering who would be getting a phone call that night. The relief of having my own husband safe at home was strong enough to make my stomach shudder.
My husband made a phone call to his own dad, so that in case the local news reported a fatality wreck on our road everyone would know we’re safe. We spent a little time trying to wind down and go to bed, but the flashing red lights remained outside for several hours. Neither of us slept much that night.
The next day we would begin to learn more about the man who lost his life in front of our home.