On Monday, along with about 600 others, I received an email from our elementary school’s principal. Here is an excerpt (click the screen shot to enlarge)—
I read the email feeling terrible for the family and admittedly thankful I didn’t know them. It’s selfish, my motive, but also self-protective. Grieving is like suffering an acute depressive episode. I learned this a few years ago when my teenage nephew committed suicide. It takes everything out of you. It detaches you like a lost balloon. It fogs you up and weighs you down all at once.
The news haunted me anyway. Family of four. Minivan. I can relate to that. One minute you’re cruising happily along and the next, seemingly out of nowhere, you’re shattered. People post prayers to your facebook page. Life will never be the same. Everyone you talk to gets the chills just discussing it—the tragedy, the heartbreak, the it-can-happen-to-you randomness.
Yesterday after TRX class I found out that I do know the family after all. The mom, Seana (pronounced Shawna) was a boot camper at Performance Fitness where I work. When I was a client, we worked out side by side a couple times and she kicked ass. Seana is a lithe little thing, with flaxen hair and a toned runner’s physique. Sweet open face. Great smile. A good egg. Thirty-eight years old.
As of this writing, Seana’s in a coma with both lungs collapsed. She’s had surgery on a broken arm. The kids each broke their collarbones, and the little boy, his arm as well, which needed surgery.
I couldn’t get it out of my head, these kids, fatherless, hurt, scared, and their mom—who knows what will happen to her? Will these children be orphaned? Will Seana survive and if she does, will she recover enough to resume daily functioning or will she need assistance? What will happen to the kids? What are they thinking? What must they be going through?
The questions and fears circled in my brain like buzzards. Picking at each question like knife-edged beaks in a roadkill carcass.
I did the only thing I could. I googled.
First there was Seana’s facebook page, plastered with loving prayers, pictures and memories from those close to her. Family members took the time to thank everyone for their blessings and thoughts. It was heartening to read. They set up a CaringBridge page.
I felt compelled to learn as much as I could about the accident, as if knowing more would answer my questions and soothe me. Of course the opposite happened. That cat didn’t die from indifference after all.
A red Ford pickup truck heading north, was driving erratically, according to another driver, who “just knew something was going to happen.” The truck crossed the center-line into the south-bound lane and collided head-on with the minivan. Then the truck burst into flames.
I clicked through photographs taken at the scene. The pick-up truck, charred black and dripping with fire extinguisher foam. The crumpled minivan, its windshield peeled back like frozen pool water, its entire front end caved in as if punched in the face. Firefighters. Smoke. I even came across a picture of one of the Valentines—Jeremy or Seana—lying on a stretcher beside the van. Bare feet turned in a way that looked unconscious or worse. The world is a well-documented place these days. If you look hard enough, you can find almost anything to keep you up at night.
Maybe if Jeremy Valentine had been known for being a raging drunk or wife beater the news wouldn’t be quite as bad, but Valentine was lauded as an extraordinary member of the community, a wonderful father and husband. Thirty-nine years old.
Will she be okay? Will she be okay? This was my brain on auto-obsess. I tried to concentrate on other things—watching True Blood on Amazon Prime. Exercising. Designing workouts for boot campers and clients. But I kept drifting back. And as I did, my fingers found their way to the laptop keyboard.
Who was this Matthew Wagoner? I wondered now. Driving erratically. Texting? Drunk? Mental? He had two small boys in the car with him. All three injured, but alive.
He’s on facebook, I discovered. Matthew Gene Wagoner. Matt. I scrolled through his friends…
This was the reflection of Matt’s character. The weight of it. The anger and prejudice roiled inside me. It burst forth quick. I wanted to talk to someone about it but I didn’t want to burden anyone or receive any well-meaning advice that would sink me deeper. I wanted to alleviate the pressure. But instead I picked the scab and let the blood flow.
I found someone—a cousin—who posted about Matt and the accident…
They’re all going to be fine. Jeremy meanwhile is dead. Seana in a coma. But Matt Wagoner is just fine. Just a broken “ankel.”
It’s so easy to cast a villain. To assign blame. To look at this event as a story of good versus evil. But it’s more than a story. It’s a loss, a death, a shattering of our illusory feelings of safety.
And these too—
Here he is, world. You couldn’t invent a more perfect vessel to stuff full with rage and blame. If ever you needed or wanted a justification for your anger, this here’s a good one. This accident is rendered even more brutal and infuriating knowing that Matthew Wagoner, given his character, most likely didn’t experience a vehicle malfunction. He most likely didn’t suffer from cardiac arrest while driving. Most likely, he was, as he appears to be in his daily life, being spectacularly irresponsible.
So now I’m left with a different question after discovering the identity of the driver who caused Jeremy’s death, Seana’s coma, Luke and Molly’s broken bones and lacerations, along with the injuries sustained by Matt’s own children.
I’m left wondering if justice will be served. I want Matt to serve time. I want his community and dare I say culture to wake the fuck up. And don’t give me the horse shit about “jail time won’t bring Jeremy back.” I know that.
But imagine Matt returning to business as usual after killing an innocent man and tearing a loving, close-knit family apart. Going to keggers. Getting slaps on the back from friends who are sorry for what ‘Matt had to go through.’ Posting photographs on facebook of half-naked women and unintelligible rants about boobs and “bedroom boom” and shitty employers. Raising his sons to never be accountable for their actions or respectful of rules, laws and fellow citizens. It doesn’t make much sense, does it?
I know this journey is not yet complete. Justice or not, it’s my job to overcome my rage, to accept the discord while working toward peace. I don’t usually pray, but if I did I’d pray for Seana and her family, and I’d also pray for Matthew Gene Wagoner and his children, and all the people in his world. Because what is any tragedy ever ultimately for, if not to illuminate ourselves, transcend our limits and strengthen our bonds?