Yeah, this is long. No lj-cut though. If you don't want to read about the important stuff in my life, feel free to remove me from your friends list.
Gram and Gramps gave me a ride to my parent's place, which is where the family Christmas was going to be held in 2001. They live in Lynden, north of Bellingham just a bit, and the last bastion of blue laws and anti-dancing ordinances in Washington. My mom wanted to move out of the city of Shoreline, the crime-infested murder and robbery capitol of Washington. Or so it seemed to her. So when they retired, my parents moved to Lynden.Gram and Gramps pretty much use there cell phone for one thing. They call up to my place when they arrive, so they don't have to get out of the car to get me. They are starting to get up there in years. Although they are pretty active, they aren't the most mobile anymore. So I don't mind going out to the car instead of waiting for them to come up. After they picked me up, we headed to my cousin Laura's. She lives in the U-District. And after that, we got onto the freeway for what was mostly an uneventful ride.
Nearing Bellingham though, there was a horrible back up on the freeway. For probably 45 minutes we crawled along the freeway at a pace of 5 miles an hour. I remember being pissed at a couple of cars who decided to cut left of the cones in the road to bypass the line. When they tried to merge in, cars wouldn't let them. And another car moved left to block them from using the other lane. I applauded.
At the Samish way exit, all traffic was diverted off the freeway. I could see the flashing lights just past the exit. Only police cruisers and tow trucks. No ambulances. Then we got to drive along Samish way for a while, before re-entering the freeway in Bellingham. Only a couple more exits, and we exited the freeway for good, to head up the Guide Meridian to Lynden and my parent's house on Wiser Lake Road. Unfortunately, they don't actually live on the lake itself, nor can you see if from their property. Still, it's a nice view of the Cascades and behind their house is only fields and pastures.
Parked in their driveway was a car I didn't recognize. I figured we weren't the first to arrive, but which extended cousin, aunt, or uncle owned this car? Or was it a member of their church?
I walked up to the door. I always knock. Although with friends and family I will walk in after knocking without waiting for them to come open it. But I always knock to warn them. My dad (step-father), rushed to the door.
Two steps in, he barked,
Matt died. He flipped his truck.
What??! I exclaimed, thinking this was some kind of joke. My dad is known for not knowing what is appropriate and not in stories and joke-telling.
And then out of the kitchen stepped the owner of the car, the police chaplain. It was true. I collapsed onto the couch. We had just missed the official notification police cruiser by minutes.
They only knew to come there, because Matt had a cell phone with
Mom as an entry in the numbers. Otherwise, he would have been another California driver and they wouldn't have figured out his connection to us for another day or two.
I liked the police chaplain.
Most of the rest of the day is a blur. I remember when various people arrived, but not the order. I vaguely remember eating.
Joe handled it about as well as I did, collapsing into the arms of his fiance, Sarah.
My dad was very brusque in passing the news to people as they arrived.
My mom was light-hearted and smiling.
Matt won't make it here today, she told my cousin Sarah Field.
Why not? Sarah asked. And my mother responded,
Oh… he was in a car accident. Then she walked off. Sarah turned to me and asked,
Well, can we leave his card here for him or should we just mail it to California? I think she was confused by my crying. I had to tell her Matt had died.
After that, every time I heard a car drive up, I intercepted whoever arrived to tell them the news. Although the only people I remember actually telling were my aunt and uncle Bill and Carol, and Carol's mom Edie. I intercepted them coming in through the garage. They wanted to know if they should just go home. We had decided to keep on with Christmas dinner, rather than try to stop people from coming. Because of the distance, we figured most people would already have left. And it might be easier to have them be around family.
The pastor from my mom's parish arrived, as well as several other church members. I didn't like them as much as the police chaplain. The chaplain had lost a child earlier in the year. The pastor was just a bit too caring for how much he knew me. He kept trying to hug me. So did the other members of my mom's church. I didn't know them. They meant well. I think the chaplain though had more experience, including his own, and sensed what kind of contact I needed.
At some point, I remembered that Janie and Jack Sloane were Matt's god-parents. So I asked my mom if anyone had called them yet. No one had, and so my mom got on the phone and did.
I was angry at one point that my mom was trying to plan Matt's funeral in Washington. I thought it would be more appropriate if it was held at his own church, Adventure Christian in California. It was through this church that Matt turned his life around.
All told, there were probably 40 or 50 relatives there that day. Pretty much everyone on three sides of the family (mom's, dad's, and step-dad's) that live in Washington were there. Every time someone arrived, I broke down again.
I spent the night at a motel in Lynden, along with Gail and Doug (my aunt and uncle), and my grandparents. I called Laura Townsend from there. Her first words after telling her were,
I can be up there in a couple of hours. I told her it wasn't necessary. Over all her brashness and bluster, I will remember that as her defining moment. She would drop everything to make sure I was all right.
I still have to write about the next day. Seeing the truck. Talking to the state patrol. Visiting the accident site I could only glimpse from the exit.