THE WORST HAPPENED... OH MY GOD
BY GLORIA FAYE BROWN BATES
I was in my artroom when the phone rang. I answered it, and heard Tommy's wife ask me "are you by yourself?" I said that I was, sensing something was wrong, I quickly asked was it.
She told me that it was, but, she didn't want to tell me. I reminded her that I was a strong person, and if it was about Tommy, I needed to know.
Tommy wasn't alright, but, he wasn't hurt physically. I began going into shock, how many times in my life have I been like this? I recognized the numbness, the sick sensation in my stomach. I closed my eyes and asked her to tell me what was wrong.
I knew Tommy was working, and was on the road going out west. He hadn't yet called me on this day. She told me to please go sit down and she'd tell me.
What she told me made me begin crying. My son, my son. There were hundreds of miles between us, something bad has happened to affect his life in the most awful of ways.
She told me that a man was killed, though it wasn't Tommy's fault, he was in bad shape emotionally. There were people with him trying to calm him, reassure him it wasn't his fault. What they couldn't do was to take away the horrific images burned in his mind, and what had just happened. It would affect him the 'rest of his life'.
She said she was going to him, but, he said to stay put until he knew what to do. I wanted to go to him immediately. I was sick as if it were me... I felt my son's grief and pain. She said she'd call back later, that she knew he'd be calling me.
"Mama, I've killed a man".... I had to sit down when I heard my son's voice crying softly to me. I couldn't reach out to touch him, nor comfort him when he needed me. "Mama, I killed a man".
"Tommy, what happened?" I asked him. Tommy began crying as he told me what happened.
He was on I-40 West in Tennessee, getting ready to cross the Hernando de Soto bridge. I knew exactly where he was at, I could visualize the bridge in my mind. It was a long bridge with fast moving traffic on it, 3 lanes of traffic and no.... breakdown lane if a car had mechanical problems. Skip and I had traveled over that bridge many times in the past.
I became aware of Tommy softly crying and saying "mama, I tried to get over, I tried to get over and a car cut me off and I didn't want to hit it, there was a family in it." Tommy went on to relate to me that he saw a car stopped up in the distance ahead of him in the middle lane (the same lane he was in)... he began trying to get over in the left lane, the right lane wasn't open enough for him to get over in it.
The car didn't let him come over, instead it drove up beside him. Tommy could see what was going to happen, and did his best to 'squeeze' between the car that was stopped ahead of him, and the car beside him.
The door opened ... a man stepped out of the car! Tommy began crying more intensely, but, softly. He never talked much over a whisper.. he was so affected by what had happened.
The man stepped out .. and Tommy tried to squeeze between him and the car beside him. "Mama, I saw an explosion of red in my right sideview mirror!" He broke down and cried, and kept on crying. Oh, how I was hurting for my son, my child. The worse thing had just happened to him, I couldn't help him.
I talked to him quietly, hoping to help him regain control. It worked but, he'd begin crying again. "Mama, I stopped the truck and I got out, no one stopped, mama... no one stopped".
No one stopped during the time it took the state troopers and rescue to get there. Tommy was alone in the middle of Interstate 40 West on the Hernando de Soto bridge with ....... what he saw. He was down on his knees.
Tommy sobbed, he didn't hear me, I cried with him. I felt like it was me who was there and had done it... I felt the pain from my son that greatly. I can't describe it any better than that... it felt like I had hit the man.. I was 'feeling' Tommy's grief and pain.
Tommy got out of the truck .. what he saw made him go down on his knees. My son was a tall, muscular man... I know many people saw this gentle, big guy on his knees... no one stopped to help him, nor comfort him.
"Mama, I kept thinking what, what? What is that? What is that in the road?" Tommy told me that body parts were in the road, the man's torso was beside him, he could see the man's heart.
"Mama, the blood, mama, there was so much red". I heard a man speaking in a kind voice to Tommy. Tommy told me the trooper wanted to talk to him, he had to hang up.
I sat there in shock, I cried until I couldn't cry anymore. My baby, my son.. this was going to kill him. He would never get over this. Tommy was a big, gentle guy who loved everybody, he wouldn't hurt others though, he'd fight for the underdog. He wasn't perfect, but, he was a good person. He had a soft heart.
Through the weeks following, the trucking company he worked for.. made him leave his family, and North Carolina to come to Indiana to stay at their motel to see their doctors. My son wasn't allowed to stay home to be comforted, and surrounded by his family. They had a law in that state that made it legal to make him come there to be treated.
For weeks, Tommy stayed ..constantly calling all of us. He had to cope with all that happened... by himself. He had to stay there so, he could keep his job.
Tommy went back to driving after several weeks, telling them he was going to be alright. Tommy was never alright after that. He could never be around red things again. I remember him calling one day....
"Mama, I saw a red painter's rag laying in the road, the wind was blowing it, making it move". Tommy couldn't bear to see it, he broke down. He called me to talk to me. This was only once in numerous times Tommy did this, until....
April 1st, 2010.... Tommy had been at the terminal in Greensboro, he was on his way home. He'd had an emotional breakdown... they let him drive all the way home on the truck, alone. Tommy's emotional state of mind was in a bad way.
Tommy went through things that I won't talk about when he did come home that added to the turmoil in his mind. It seemed he lived in pure hell from the time that man was killed, until..............
Soon... the anniversary date that the man was killed on, was coming up. Tommy couldn't cope, he never coped with the death of that man. The doctors said he was suffering from survivor's guilt. He couldn't bear that any action of his, though it wasn't his fault, caused the death of a person.
Tommy came home and he called me everyday. His wife was in nursing classes to be an RN, and when she was gone to school, he'd call and sit, and not talk alot. I held that phone many times ... he didn't need to say anything, I didn't need to say anything... he just wanted that connection with me, his mama.
I think Tommy somehow knew something bad was going to happen... I think subconsciously 'he knew'.
I sit here, feeling sickness in my very soul because I've visited the past to a very painful time. Yes, that's a tear that rolled down my cheek... it does hurt so bad, it really hurts so bad.
I can't in words describe the grief and pain Tommy suffered... I could see, sense, and feel it as his mother. I'm feeling it right at this very moment. I know there are many things I haven't remembered because pain,shock, grief has a way of numbing one's mind, one's memory.
I do know that a month or so, before Tommy was home in April... he introduced me to Farmville, the Zynga game, and I went on Facebook... Tommy wanted me to. He did get interested in that game and he spent alot of time on it when he came home... while he'd sit with his cellphone in his hand ...with his connection to his mama... me. No words at all had to be spoken. It seemed to calm him.
Tommy knew his mother loved him with her heart. I think he 'knew' something was going to happen... it was his way to give me something to hold on to... when it did. I don't know this... I am looking back and I feel maybe that's 'why' we both had that special 'mother and son' connection.... 'just before'. Really... at this moment ...it's hard to think about it all for the pain.
May 19, 2010... the day came ... it was May 19, 2009 when the man stepped out in front of the tractor-trailer Tommy was driving. It was the day that destroyed Tommy's emotional frame of mind... he never got over it. Tommy was never the same anymore.
The strange thing is ... later when we saw pictures of that car sitting on the bridge.... only the door was gone. One always says 'if"....... we kept thinking only 'if' that man had stayed in his car... 'if' he just didn't step out ...... the man's dog stayed in the car, the dog nor the car was hurt... only the door from when the man stepped out of the car.
The man was on his way just over the state line to his elderly parents' home to mow their grass. We never learned 'why' his car was stopped in the center lane on the Hernando de Soto bridge.
May 28, 2010... Tommy came to our home that Friday to pressure wash our home. Skip came home early that day, it was unusual for him to come home early in the day. This was our last day, evening with Tommy.
Remember... I told you how he was smiling and saying he really loved those sandwiches I made? We were sitting at the picnic table... he said those were the best sandwiches he'd ever eaten in his life. Remember?
His smile was like the sunshine, his eyes were full of laughter... isn't it amazing we got to see the 'old' Tommy just for that evening, that day? Isn't it amazing ... we got to spend time with him at all that day? I look back and I .... thank God with my very heart.
May 29, 2010.... Tommy went to play and share his first time with his little three year old son, Taban, at the beach. He was looking forward to it. Tommy did get to run, and play with Taban as he sent me photos from his cellphone of Taban. As Tommy was videoing Taban, his fingers let go of his cellphone............
Tommy walked into heaven at Myrtle Beach having done what he wanted most to do.... the first thing to make him feel excitement since the man died... he got to play with his little son at the beach.
"Hello"... I said. "Why do you have my son's cellphone?" I recognized the signs again... I was going into shock.
"Ma-am, I have a man collapsed here on the sand, he isn't breathing!" I began slipping into the dark world of grief, pain...
Do you know something strange? I found photos Tommy gave me that was taken on May 29, 2009... they are of Tommy and little Taban at a big lake... both of them were squatting down with their backs to the camera... looking out over the lake.
Another photo of Tommy and Taban... father and son walking up the dirt lane at the lake... with their backs to the camera...... at the same big body of water, father and son spending special time together.
One year later on the exact date... May 29, 2010... father and son at an even larger body of water, the ocean...... spending special moments together.... until one was called home.
I don't know that a mother ever gets over the grief of losing her child. I know I haven't. I am thankful to be out of the dark world... I fought very hard to climb out of it.. the whole time it pulled me back.
I'm here in the sunshine now. The pain still hurts but, it's easier to cope with grief in the sunshine. I can see my path now, it's not dark anymore. I think I may be fortunate to have come out of the dark, I didn't know that I would.
Everything's going to be alright now. I think Tommy might be smiling at me this moment. I'm sitting here with his navy blue jacket on, I wear it sometimes. It feels like a hug. I always felt special when my son hugged me, and said "I love you, mama".