Today is the second anniversary...

Today is the second anniversary...

...of the accident.  Two years ago, my girlfriend and I went to GirlBar in West Hollywood.  On November 11, 2006, at approximately 3:00am on Saturday morning, we hit a tree head on, at an estimated 60 mph. There were no skid marks at the scene.  The police believed she fell asleep at the wheel.

I had a very hard time dealing with not only the accident itself, but also the aftermath. My sister, I think, is the one who suggested that I write everything down, get it out of my head so that I could begin to let it go.  Here is an excerpt from that journal describing the accident:

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I woke up, with a stillness so heavy it hurt my head. With an uncharacteristic lack of thought flowing through my brain, I operated completely on autopilot.  Without consciously thinking it, I knew I had passed out in the car, time had passed, and now the car was no longer moving.  Reaching to grab my cell phone from the console, I gave pause when it wasn't there to be grabbed. Instead, my fingers, touching over objects like a spider, grazed across my Bluetooth wireless headset.  Without conscious thought, my hand brought the Bluetooth to my head, and looped it over my ear to put in place.  Again, my spidery fingers grazed, seeking the cell phone.  Pure darkness was all around me, and my head throbbed with the pressure of the stillness. I could hear the blood flowing though me, sounding like fuzzy static. Giving up the search for the missing phone, my fingers stopped searching.  I felt something solid resting against my left heel.  Thinking it was my cell phone, I reached down, blindly, picked it up.  I brought it closer to my face so that I could see it.  I was shocked to see that it wasn't my phone, it was the rearview mirror in my hand, and the multi-colored wires were running from the severed end that had once connected it to the windshield.  The static in my head grew louder, my thinking was so slow, every thought was a revelation to be explored in wonder that I could even form the thoughts in my head.  The meaning behind the thought was an afterthought, less important than the actual words that ran through my head. The silence was deafening. I realized the situation wasn't okay, it was bad. It was very bad. In slow motion, my eyes moved from the rearview mirror in my hand up, up to look out the windshield, up to see where I was, praying to see the familiar cream-colored garage door of my house, with it's badly chipped paint and loose handle.  Instead, my eyes drew to the grey fabric in front of me that had exploded from the dashboard of my Highlander.  Before I could even form the conscious thought that my airbag had deployed, I marveled that it was completely deflated, and even mused at how it had inflated at the impact with its whiff of chemicals that can quickly wreak havoc with a person with asthma, then deflated, laying limply against the dash. My eyes continued their path upward, I saw the empty spot on the windshield where the mirror had once been fastened. The fuzzy static could no longer hide the sense of panic that began welling inside of me. With animal instinct taking over, my only thought was to get out of the car.  I had to get out, right that minute.  I reached for the door handle, and turned slightly; the pull against my hip reminded me that my seatbelt was still securely fastened.  I reached to push the red button to release the belt, and I realized I wasn't alone in the car. Chris was still belted in the driver's seat, her belt was holding her upright, but she was leaning, leaning towards me, slumped over as I had never seen her. She was sleeping, why was she sleeping in the car? Why didn't she get out of the car and go into the house and go to bed? "Chris, we have to get out of the car," I said to her, with a hand on her arm that didn't feel warm, it felt cool. It was cold in the car, we must have been here for awhile.  "Chris," I said, louder this time, shaking her arm.  Her body moved with my shaking, her head wobbled, but she didn't stir, her breathing didn't get louder, she did not respond to me at all.  The panic overtook me, I came unglued. I shook her HARD by the shoulder, screaming her name, over and over and over.  "CHRIS!!! CHRIS!!! WE HAVE TO GET OUT!!!! CHRIS!!!" My screaming degenerated into wild sobbing, I slapped her face, panicking, I couldn't do this alone, I didn't know what to do, I didn't know where I was, I didn't know why Chris wouldn't wake up. Hysterically sobbing, I opened my door, and stumbled out of the car, away from the car, behind the car.  Headlights were illuminating the back of the Highlander, someone else was here.  "Help me," I tried to moan.  "Oh my god, you are alive!" she said, too loudly.  "Are you okay? I've called 911, they are on their way."  "I don't know, I don't know if I'm ok. My girlfriend is in the car. I think she might be dead. I don't know." I stumbled towards the girl.

***********************************

I looked up and saw the fire engine, the lights were rotating, there was no sound from the sirens.  Idly, I wondered why they didn't use their sirens. Slowly, I looked beyond the fire engine, and saw more red fire trucks, two ambulances, and several police cars.  Where had these vehicles come from, how did they arrive so suddenly and so quietly?   Standing alone in the middle of such a scene, I had no idea what I was supposed to do.  I wished someone would come to me, tell me everything was going to be okay. I had a deep sense of fear that Chris was dead.  I wondered what life would be like without her.  I wondered why I didn't feel sad. I felt deep shame at myself for not being more upset that she was dead. I told myself I didn't deserve her, I didn't even have the decency to have my first reaction be shock and horror, instead, it was apathy. I wandered in circles, clutching my arms about myself, trying desperately to comfort myself.

***********************************


Medically speaking, Chris was in critical condition, and her battle was just beginning. She was in ICU for 7 days; 4 of which she was in a coma.  She was diagnosed with a severe traumatic brain injury.  When she was in the coma, we prayed she would wake up. When she did wake up, we were shocked that the Chris that we knew and loved didn't seem to be in this person anymore. She barely recognized us; she had no spontaneous speech, it was as if her mind was wiped clean.

As you already know, things between Chris's family and I did not go well.  They resented, I think, that I survived the accident with little injury, and Chris was a fraction of the person she was before. They began to become snippy with me, then it moved into full blown hostility.  By the 6th week of her hospital stay, her family had me removed from the visitor's list, and the hospital was under orders to contact the cops if I attempted any contact with her.

That was when the games began.  It was as if they found a new game to devote their energies to, a way of taking action and getting results.  They came to the house Chris and I owned together; they brought a caravan of friends, as well as sheriff escorts. The girls Chris and I went to the club with the night of the accident were there as well; they helped go through the house, pack things up, haul them off. I felt so betrayed, watching another lesbian couple act in favor of the family to separate us, split out lives completely in half. The family took everything they could load up in their vehicles; including my hairbrushes, even the damn shower curtain off the wall. They took one of our dogs, and wouldn't even let me say goodbye to him.  They beat me to the bank; they drained the account, closed it down. They shut off my cell phones, they cancelled my gym membership.  It was a surprise doing anything; I never knew what would be cancelled next. I was amazed at the apparent cruelty they showed. I had never known people could be so malicious. They came back at Christmas, this time with a UHaul.

When I thought it was finally over, they served me with a lawsuit. They claimed I held Chris a virtual prisoner, forcing her to pay the bills while I sat around, spent her money carelessly, and forbad her to spend any of it.  Did you know you could sue for such a ludicris reason?

I nearly gave up that winter, I had no more fight in me. I was so tired of being hounded, attacked. I felt like I had no rights, that I was a non-person. I felt so desolate, so alone, so violated. My sister, thank god, came down to give me a giant kick in the ass. She made me cry, then she made me get up and fight, and gave me the wherewithall to do so.  I don't know that I would have made it out of that mess without her.

In May of 2007, I moved out of the house that I owned with Chris, and I moved into a crappy, tiny cockroach-infested rental unit in Pacoima with the three greyhounds.  I rehomed my three cats, which nearly killed me. I had had Moo since I got out of the Army, 12 years before. I cried for the three months before I even gave them up. I was so angry to be put in that position, and to have to make that decision on my own.

The worst part was that I had no idea how Chris was. I had no idea if she recovered, if she was her old self again, if she was like a shadow of herself. I had no idea, and it haunted me. I kept reliving the accident, sitting with her while she was in a coma, parts of her recovery process. I could not move beyond this.

6 months after the accident, Chris contacted me. She was very angry with me, she felt things were my fault. We tried to work through things, we tried to at least remain friends.  The last time I talked to her was June of this year.

I think that I will always carry this with me. I will always feel a deep sense of pain, of loss, when I think about the accident. It hits me at unlikely moments... a nearly crippling sense of pain.  I still cry about it, although time is begining to lengthen the time between periods of upset. I am moving beyond this now, though; I no longer dream of confronting her family with anger and tears and frustration. I no longer hate them for what they did. They did what they felt was right, and they will live with the repercussions of their actions as much as I will.  I wish more than anything that I did not have to have gone through any of that, but what has happened has happened, and no amount of wishing can undo it.  I have changed quite a bit since the accident; I don't seem to have the anger or the fight that I once did; I'm much more tolerant, more accepting, easier going than before.  I like who I am now. That is something good that has come of all of this. I like who I am.

If you have made it this far, thank you for reading, thank you for letting me get this off my chest.  I will share with you what I learned: Hug your loved ones, live the life you want to live, and don't take it for granted.  And lastly, know that we are all stronger than we think we are, and when we aren't, we have big sisters to come kick our ass and make us get up and fight. : )   I love you, Shelby.

Shannon

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