Almost Too Late

March 24, 2008
By Ann-Christin von Haugwitz, Fort Thomas, KY

He opened his eyes. It was just a dream – again. It was always the same dream. He reached to the other side of the bed. It was empty. He closed his eyes again. He did not want to see the emptiness in the bed. He had dreamed of her again, of his loved wife. That she was still alive. They were walking together along the beach on a warm summer day. He felt like he could even feel the sun shining on his face. But the beautiful view of the ocean was changing into a terrible aspect of crashed cars and the blue and red lights of the ambulances and fire trucks. Every night he dreamed of the same horrible night. It was five months ago now. Would it ever stop? He looked as his alarm clock. He had woken up half an hour earlier than he should. It was still dark outside but he was not tired anymore. When he looked at his alarm clock, his eyes wandered to a picture. He saw a happy family. He felt a stab in his heart like when a knife was piercing through. A man, a woman, and a little girl between them were laughing in the camera - his daughter Emily. She was the only thing that he had left. But for some reason he did not feel that way. He felt like he lost everything the day his wife died. He loved his daughter but since his wife was dead his relationship with Emily began to decline. He could not even look at her because every look at Emily reminded him at his wife. They looked so similar and it hurt so much. Emily has always been more with her mother and since she was dead he did not know how he should handle his daughter. Everything was so difficult without his wife and he never had a really good hand for children, even his own. He took the picture in his hands. With his fingers he touched his wife’s face. A tear was trickling down his cheek. “Why did you leave me? I miss you so much.” He was staring at her beautiful face for a few seconds. Than he took a deep breath, wiped the tear away, and put the picture back. Trying not to wake up Emily, he made his way through the hallway to the bathroom. When he looked into the mirror he did not recognize himself. He saw an old man with tired eyes and some grey hair, even though he was just 34 years old. He had lost a lot of weight since the day five months ago. He turned around so that he had not to see himself. When he entered the shower and the hot water was running down his body, he felt a little bit more alive. But as soon as he closed his eyes, the pictures came back. He had to lean against the wall of the shower trying not to fall by the memories of this night.
It was the night of the 5th of September last year. He had left his office ten minutes ago and was on his way home, crossing the big bridge. It was almost dark and he was a little bit late because in the last second the phone rang and a very important customer had had some question so he had to take the call. He hurried up because he did not want to let his family wait with dinner. When he was halfway across the bridge, he saw many red and blue sirens. When he came closer, he saw some totally destroyed cars, so it must have been a terrible accident. When he took a closer look at one of the cars, his heart stopped beating for a second. Panic overcame him. That was the car of his wife. He knew it was the black BMW. He jumped out of his car and sprinted towards the car of his wife. Many hands tried to hold him back but he did not care. He shouted his wife’s name, again and again but before he could reach the car, a man stopped him and tried to push him back. But he just screamed again: “That’s my wife’s car! Where is my wife…and my daughter?”
“Listen, Sir! Over there in the ambulance is a little girl, maybe nine years old. She’s fine, probably just a few injuries.” He made a pause, “But we don’t know about the woman that was in the car.”
“What does that mean? What’s wrong with her?” he asked and panic overran him again. But he was already leading to the ambulance where his daughter should be. When Emily saw her father she jumped up and ran towards him. She had a bandage around her left arm and many abrasions in her face. She did not seem to be injured so badly, so his wife must be OK, too, he thought. But when Emily reached her father, tears were running down her face and she seemed terribly confused. “Daddy…Mummy…she is…” Obviously Emily was unable to speak. He closed her in his arms, to calm her down. But then she pointed over across to the other side of the bridge. He saw a bunch of people kneeling around something that was lying on the ground. With just thinking that it could be his wife, he started to run. He did not look where he was going and pushed several people out of his way. He noticed Emily trying to run after her him but she was held back by a man. When he reached the crowd of people he could see his wife lying on the ground. She was pale and her eyes were closed. “No!!!!” he screamed and tried to get through all the people but a man was stepping in his way. And again he tried to explain, now with tears running down his face like his daughter, that it was his wife lying there on the ground.
“I’m so sorry,” said the man in front of him. “We did everything we could for your wife. But it is too late. Her injuries are too bad.” He could see the soreness in the man’s eyes and tried to realize what he just said to him. He stood there, watching people putting a blanket over his wife’s beautiful body and felt a terrible emptiness coming over him.

He opened his eyes. He had not realized that he had stood for a long time under the shower. But even if the water was warm, he was freezing. Powerlessly he grabbed the shampoo bottle.
When he came into the kitchen, Emily was already there, eating cereal. She must have gotten up while he was showering. “Good morning,” he said. He never knew if he should give her a kiss or not, so he did nothing.
“Morning,” answered Emily in a whisper. Since the day her mother died, she did not speak much anymore. She was getting more and more quiet. He did not know what to do with her. He knew it was important for her to talk about what happened in that night but how should he do that? He could not talk about it, it hurt too much. He made toast for himself and sat down on the other site of the table. They were eating in silence, like usual. His thoughts drifted away again to the night when he lost his wife. He could not remember the days after the accident. They were totally empty. Emily and he were living at his mother’s house for two weeks after the accident and his mother told him later that he was totally confused during the days after the night of the accident, not able to do anything. But after two weeks his mother started to talk at him that he had to take care of his daughter. It would take a long time for both of them to live a normal life again that would never be the same like before but the faster they would get back in their old life the better it was.
But it was hard for him to keep going, and often he found himself sitting in the kitchen, drinking beer after beer. That was the time when the relationship with his daughter began to decline. He could not look at her anymore and sometimes he caught himself by blaming his daughter for the accident because it was her school play from that they were coming back when the two cars crashed into each other. He knew he was totally wrong with that and he was ashamed of even thinking about it but he could not help it.
Emily was pulling him out of his thoughts. She was getting up, putting her dishes in the dishwasher, and she left the kitchen to get ready for school. He looked after her. Would they ever get along again like they did before? He had no answer for this question. He sighed and got up, too, to put his dishes in the dishwasher. He had eaten just a bite of his toast because he was not hungry. The view for the day made him feel worse. Before the accident, he had loved his work but now the long day in the office with all the sad looks from his colleagues hurt and after the day he was always exhausted. With another sigh, he closed the door of the dishwasher and went into his room to get ready for work.
He met Emily in the hallway; she was just opening the door to leave. “Good bye, Emily,” he said but the door was already shut. He put his coat on and stepped outside. The sky was grey and looked like it would rain today. It fit exactly to his mood. He locked the door: He had a long day in front of him.

It was 2:30 when the phone in his office rang. He prepared himself for another long, boring talk with another customer. But it was not one of his customers. It was the hospital. A woman told him his daughter had had an accident. She got hit by a car on the way to her grandmother’s house after school where she spent the afternoons. The woman gave him the room number and hang up. The phone still in his hands, he leaned back in his chair. He could not think clearly. What did he just hear? And then he saw some pictures on the opposite wall of his room; pictures that his daughter had drawn him many years ago. They were not really pictures, just something that a little girl had drawn. But Emily had always been proud when she gave him her pictures for his birthdays. And slowly he realized what the woman on the phone had told him. The phone dropped to the floor. Not also his daughter. And without taking his coat he ran out of his office to his car.
When he entered the room he saw his daughter lying on a bed. She was surrounded by machines and a breathing mask was lying over her face. She seemed so lost in this big, white room. Slowly he walked to her bed. He wanted to say something but he did not know what. Would she even hear him? The door opened and a nurse in a white lab coat and with a friendly face walked in and checked the machines. Before she walked out again, she turned around and said: “Talk to her. She might hear you.” He nodded. His throat felt terribly dry and suddenly there were tears. They were just coming, running down his face. His daughter, the only thing he had left in his life; the only thing that mattered to him. And maybe he would lose her, too. He grabbed her hand that was lying next to her body, white and cold. And when he looked at her calm face, for the first time, he did not see his wife. He saw his daughter that needed him. They both had just each other left.
“Emily,” he whispered.
She opened her eyes and her look wandered to him. “Daddy,” she tried to say.
He laid his forefinger over his lips. He felt Emily squeezing his hand. “I’m here,” he said. “And I will stay here as long as you want me to. I love you, Emily, and I’m so sorry for everything.” Emily smiled and closed her eyes again. But he sat there and watched her sleeping; holding her hand that was sometimes moving in her dreams.
While he was watching her, he noticed how much he had neglected her. He had to do something when he did not want to lose his own daughter. At that moment he decided he would just work half of the day to be there for her when she would come home from school. He would try to be a father that she deserved.

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