December 2, 2008
By Calla Porter, Stockbridge, GA

Walking along the beach, Lydia ran her fingers through her hair and contemplated her options. The constant flow of the ocean was somewhat soothing, but not enough to console her. A mixture of tears and ocean mist dampened her clothes and skin. Her hair, blown by the strong gusts of wind, was a chaotic mess, but she had too much on her mind to notice.

She tried to look at the ocean and calm herself, but this did nothing to help her; the vastness of the ocean merely served to precipitate how overwhelming the situation was. There didn’t seem to be any options, but she still felt the need to make a decision. This one thought was a constant stream through her mind—everything else paled in comparison.

After a lifetime of certainty, her life had drastically changed. Her life had quite literally been perfect for the past forty-two years. She really had no complaints; she was only weeks away from her twentieth anniversary with the love of her life, Paul, and she had two wonderful children that she loved more than anything. She had forty-two years of incredible memories, and she counted herself very lucky.

And now, after unequivocal happiness, she had been overcome by a great sadness. Fleeing their city home in Maryland without a true destination in mind, she found herself on the beach staring into a blinding sun. The route was second nature to her; though she’d only been there a few times, and she seemed surprised to be there when she arrived. She reviewed the whole conversation in her mind and tried to make sense of it. Even after the hours spent thinking during the monotonous drive, she still didn’t really believe this was happening.

Her doctor had reassured her several times that she would be all right. On her last visit, he had told her that it was all gone; there was no more cancer in her body and she could expect to lead a normal, healthy life. And now, after all the worry, followed by hope, she had a meager two years left to live, maybe only one.

When her suspicion was no longer ignorable and the pain did not subside, she felt the need to see her doctor again. Not wanting to worry her husband or children, she kept the pain and worries a secret. It had been two years since her trusted doctor had reassured her that every trace of cancer had been erased. She had believed him, like a good patient, and now she was left with thoughts of anger, doubt, and, most of all, a very deep sorrow.

In two years, or less, she would be forced to accomplish everything she wanted. With death staring her in the face, there was only one thing to do—make the best of the time she had. There were so many hopes and dreams, ones she thought she would always have time for later. There seemed to be an infinite amount of things to think about, and her dashed hopes and dreams were of least importance. She was unsure whether to tell her family or to keep it a secret. She was unsure whether to keep her job and be diligent or to quit her job and enjoy her last years to the fullest.

While it may seem heartless not to tell your family, her heart screamed panic at the thought of that conversation. After having a quintessential family with two kids and a cheerful dog, she simply could not imagine their faces and the tears that were sure to come. It was a thought that she couldn’t get rid of quick enough; nothing made her angrier or sadder than seeing her loved ones cry. It seemed unimaginable, this catastrophe. Suddenly a wave of unanswerable questions crashed upon her. Saying goodbye was unthinkable at this point, and she ignored the impending certainty that she must do so. Telling them all the pain she had hid from them and detailing the specific destructions in her body that would ultimately lead to her tombstone was an unbearable idea.

The finality of death consumed her and shoved all other thoughts out of her mind. Knowing her children and husband would be devastated, she could think of nothing but finding a different way out. She thought and thought until the sun began to set. Although the horizon showed a beautiful display of color, she couldn’t help but wonder how many sunsets she would be able to see before her time was over. This thought led to more questions about things she might have already done for the last time.

She made up her mind and began the long ride home. Each tear that welled up in her eye and drifted down her face reassured her that she was making the right decision; she did not want to see her own pain reflected in the faces of her children and husband. With a decision, one she had not intended on making, she was comforted and her tears subsided. The whole ride home was spent reassuring herself that this truly was the right—and only—thing to do.

She went home and successfully pretended nothing was wrong; she was as cheerful as possible. The next morning, she decided to surprise her husband with pancakes for breakfast. She went to the kitchen found her recipe, and started cooking. Her husband, awakened by the racket she was creating, went to the kitchen to see what was going on. Her pancakes hadn’t turned out right; they were too runny and now were starting to burn. At the sight of the ruined pancakes, she was disgruntled; at the sight of her husband, she was overwhelmingly sad. She played it off as a childish blunder and assured him everything was all right. At that moment, she knew just how much she would miss her family.

That night, she asked Audrey and Andrew to come home. They had a long ride home from their respective colleges, but they made the trip in time for dinner—she made their favorite dinner, and this time there were no problems. They ate and talked and then watched old movies. At midnight, they went and got ice-cream in their pajamas. This is something that Lydia and Paul had done when the children were just toddlers, and it stirred an overwhelming sense of regret in Lydia. However, she could not think of a better way to spend her last night with her family.

The next morning, she said goodbye to her husband as he left for work and Audrey and Andrew as they left for class. It was the last time she would hug them, the last time she would see their smiling faces. Lydia was extremely careful not to shed a single tear or to even show a hint of sadness the entire time, but as soon as they left she broke down. She could not understand why this had happened to her. As her last act of defying the path set before her—one of bitterness and anger—she threw clothes into a bag, but not enough to draw attention to her absence. She did not want anyone to know that her sudden retreat was planned.

Crying and unable to breathe, she found her way to the car and threw her bags in the back. She got on the interstate and headed toward the mall; she would need clothes to finish out her last days in the most stylish fashion. Was this her last visit to the mall? Was this the last car she would ever drive? As she shopped, she was flooded by memories of Audrey and Andrew as babies, of her wedding, of numerous birthdays, of Christmases with Paul’s family. It was all too much, and she pushed it all aside. The only thing that mattered right now was picking the perfect outfits for her escape from reality.

She made her way to the car with her bags. It seemed so insignificant; no one that mattered to her would see her in these clothes, and she still felt the need to look good, if for no other reason than to guaranteeing herself that she could. She began driving, but she could barely see the road through her tears when she began wondering what Audrey would think of her selections. She wiped her eyes and got onto the interstate. She had a vague notion of where she wanted to be—somewhere comforting. Lydia decided to stay at her former favorite vacation site. It was a small island off the coast of North Carolina. As a child, her parents had taken her there many times. Although there was no real beach to speak of, it was a small, peaceful town in which she and her parents frequently sought refuge. The familiar sights and sounds calmed her immensely. She quickly found a hotel and booked a room.

Lydia spent the next day getting her room arranged and moving her things in, seeing as she planned to live be for quite a while, or at least until she felt it was time to leave. She had told her self several times that she would not let herself get attached to anything from this point forward. Ties and second thoughts were something she couldn’t afford at this point. She’d decided to move on with things, and that was that. If she could leave her family, she was certain she could handle anything else. Never in her life did she think she would be able to part with the most precious gift in the world, a loving, caring family. But so she had, and she was trying desperately not to regret it. Pictures were a reminder that she could not bear, but that didn’t keep their faces from haunting her every dream. Every young girl seemed to be Audrey and every young boy Andrew. Every couple holding hands made her heart wrench with agony at the thought of Paul’s hand in hers.

Knowing she would never last this way, she shook thoughts of her former life off and tried to perceive her knew life as an entirely clean slate; she had no memories, no reputation, no expectations. She was free to be whomever and whatever she wished. She ate dinner alone at a small diner and tried to figure out who and what she wanted to be. Try as she might, she could not seem to persuade herself. The only thing she wanted to be was a wife and mother. All she wanted was to be alive. It was only her second day away from home, and she could not stand the loneliness and detachment. She paid the waitress and returned to the empty room, which reflected how empty and alone she felt.

The next morning, she decided that this was not how she wanted to spend her remaining days. She had to go home. She needed to be home and to feel the love that was sure to engulf her. It would only take about six hours to get back and then she could hug them all. She could look at their faces and know that it would not be for the last. She could go on with her life. She could breathe freely without reminding herself to do so. The emptiness in her heart and the ache in the pit of her stomach might subside, after all. If her family could love her, her disease would be bearable. Envisioning her family and the relief when she walked through the door propelled her to drive faster.

As it began to rain, her spirits were not dampened. The only thought running through her head was that she would be with her family again and everything was going to be all right. Maybe they wouldn’t be mad. Maybe they would just be glad she came home. Telling them about her illness still wasn’t a welcoming thought, but she only cared that she would be with her family again. The rain came down harder and harder. Lydia smiled bigger and bigger. Remembering all the good times and knowing that there were more to come overwhelmed her with joy.

As the rain come down harder, she was inundated by regret and the realization of how dumb she had been. The air became humid with the heat of the air and the rain. As huge drops pelted her windshield and tears streamed down her face, it was literally impossible to see. With so many thoughts swimming through her head, she found it insignificant in comparison; there was hardly any traffic and she knew the road before her was straight. Lydia did not let off the gas and did not stop to worry. She was single minded in her hope of getting home.
To her surprise, someone else was just as preoccupied; Stan Carver was making his way home, or to some version of it, from a local bar. While his so-called home did not evoke the same feelings of belonging and love, he longed to be there all the same. A soft pillow and a can of beer was all he needed to cure the looming hangover that was sure to come. With a bottle of whiskey in his hand, the torrent of rain did little to dampen his spirits.
Unfortunately, in the rural areas of North Carolina, medians were not used—they were simply not needed. Lydia and Stan, both heedless of other traffic and only wishing to get home as soon as possible, did not notice each other’s headlights. Neither felt a sense of doom or a fear of any kind. Without any warning whatsoever, the two collided at precisely 2:53 AM. Lydia’s small sedan flipped twice before landing on the side of the road, while Stan’s SUV simply skidded to a halt. Panicking, he immediately jumped out of his vehicle and ran towards Lydia’s car. Never having been in an accident before, he was clueless about what to do. He knew he was fine, but yet he was frantic.
As he sprinted toward her car, his heart raced and created an audible rhythm above the pounding of the rain. He braced himself and opened the door to her car. She was a limp figure splayed across the driver and passenger seats. There was no visible blood, but he didn’t think a shattered windshield boded well for the parts of her party that he couldn’t quite see. Luckily, he had a cell phone; he immediately called 911. Although he had been completely drunk ten minutes prior, an escape from death had the effect of sobering him fairly quickly. The emergency unit would be here shortly, and he knew that he could get in serious trouble for hitting a woman, and being drunk while doing so. However, he could not bear the thought of leaving this poor woman by herself on the side of the road. Stan had never been a caring or generous man, but seeing Lydia in such a fashion evoked emotions from him that he didn’t know he had. For once, he felt true sympathy.

The EMT’s arrived and asked Mr. Carver to allow them space to work. He complied, and they began dissembling the car to remove Lydia without causing any further injuries. Stan watched as they removed her body and placed it on a stretcher. He’d never seen a person so lifeless. The EMT’s began their standard procedure—blood pressure, temperature, heartbeat. They discussed the patient’s status while Stan watched at a distance. The rain continued to pound down, but no one seemed to notice. Lydia remained on the stretcher in the ambulance.
The police officers came to Stan and began questioning him about the accident. He related to them the story about the weather and the fog; it was impossible to see and the accident was entirely unforeseen. He was truly unsure about whose fault it was and how exactly it had happened. With little evidence to go on, the police officers were unsure what to do. A man could not be accused simply because he was uninjured, but something had to be done.
The EMT’s hurried over to speak with Stan; it seemed there was urgent news. Apparently, Lydia Driscol had been killed by the automobile accident. She had been flipped twice inside the vehicle, and surviving was nearly unthinkable; however, it was their job to resuscitate her if at all possible. Although a proper autopsy had not been given, the source seemed fairly evident. Lydia had suffered severe trauma, as well as undeniable internal injuries. Overcome by the reality of the situation, Stan began crying. It had been years since he had done so, probably since he was a child. He muttered a nearly inaudible apology to the EMT’s, maybe even to Lydia. Where did he go from here? He had just killed a woman and knew the repercussions were unthinkable.
For the first time in a long time, he began thinking about someone else instead of himself. He didn’t care about the tickets he might get or the jail time he might serve. He simply thought about Lydia Driscol and what she would be unable to experience because of his drunkenness. He knew it was a bad habit, but he had never been able to stop. Stan always told himself that he would quit when things got better for him. That had never happened, and for twelve years he hadn’t been sober. He spent his days at work and spent his nights with anyone who didn’t mind his drunken behavior.
Drunk was a title that Stan had learned to accept, but murderer was a title that he had never even considered as one that would apply to him. The thought was intolerable and he tried desperately to rationalize the situation. Surely the fact that it was an accident cleared him of the title and any consequent guilt.
A hand on his shoulder interrupted these thoughts. It was an officer, and he was checking to make sure Stan was okay. Perhaps he had suffered injuries as well. Stan reassured the officer that he was okay and asked if there was anything he could do. The officer told him no; the only thing that needed to be done was informing her family. Stan’s eyes brightened at these words; this would be his saving grace.
He asked the officer if he could be entrusted to inform the family, and the officer thought it would only be fitting. The officer, who had retrieved the woman’s wallet to attain her information, gave Stan her address. The officer and EMT’s checked once again to make sure he was all right and suitable to drive. He replied in the affirmative and began his trip home.
The next morning, he made his way to the Driscol house with a terrible fear of the judgmental looks that were sure to come. Because it was the weekend, both Audrey and Andrew were home. Stan rang the doorbell and Paul soon came to the door. He seemed worried and somewhat frenzied. Stan introduced himself and Paul welcomed him in. When Stan told Paul that he had information about his wife, he seemed relieved.
Stan started his story by telling the complete truth; he had been drunk, and the weather had been less than opportune. He wasn’t sure what exactly had happened and truly didn’t know if he deserved the blame. While he wasn’t able to explain his wife’s sudden absence, he was able to give answers. Paul thanked him for coming and for telling the truth. He held no anger or judgment, only sadness at the loss of his beloved wife. Stan said that he would be around for anything that might be needed and he left his number. Paul found Audrey and Andrew and told them the news. They were hysterical, and yet relieved to finally know where their mother was after two days of constant worry. While no one knew what to say, they knew they would be okay. They hugged each other and each said a silent prayer for their beloved mother.
Paul and Stan became friends throughout their interactions—meetings with officers and lawyers about how to handle the unfortunate and precarious situation. For the first time in his life, Stan truly cared about someone and felt that he was truly cared about. Lydia Driscol had accomplished her goal; she had kept her secret from her family and sheltered them from the agony of her slow, imminent death. And Stan Carver had accomplished his goal; he had finally found home.

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