Sideways and hanging in the air with only my seat belt holding me tight, blood was dripping from my nose and I had no idea what was going on around me. All I knew was that this Christmas, stuck in the middle of Utah, was going to change all those in the future for myself and my family. Sadly, great-grandma in St. George was not going to get a visit from me, my mom, Karen, Craig, Cameron, and Ross, my older brothers, and Jessica my older sister. My dad, Gary, was not on the trip with us because work became busy.
The year 2004 brought a permanent change into the minds and physical lives of all those I hold dear. I was seven years old, and it was like any other family trip we’ve done. We had gone on many trips to see extended family and friends throughout the state. Occasionally we would cross the border into the deserted wasteland of Nevada and into the luscious and adventure-filled California. We lived in the small and friendly town of Pleasant Grove, Utah where we were close to my dad’s side of the family and of course the friends that I made at school and church.
However, the love of those close to us was put to the test when they received the alerting phone calls and saw the short but devastating video clip on the local news. We went through the usual routine of getting ready for a long drive including packing bags, getting snacks, picking out movies, and of course last minute checking for all the necessary items. If you talk to anyone who knows my family, they will tell you that we are known for being and leaving late, which is something that bothered me as I was an impatient little child.
Leaving an hour later than our expected departure was exactly what we did – never the best way to start a four plus hour drive. Eventually, we were on the road in our large white Explorer van. The first few hours usually consisted of relaxing from the stressful morning and getting situated to be comfortable for the rest of the trip. For me, looking out the windows and gazing at the snow covered peaks of Mount Timpanogos was my favorite thing to do.
I would actually do anything to get my mind off being stuck in a large, but still crammed van with people who I saw everyday and couldn’t seem to get away from. I can remember that I would look out the window and imagine a different world, a life that I would make up for myself and have whatever rules I wanted so I wouldn’t have to be put in time-out at the end of our hallway and wait for mom to come and give me the “what I did wrong” talk. But for now it wasn’t that bad, we had food and movies and we were each close enough in age to get along.
Ross, who is three years older than me and closest in age, was never big on road trips as he would always find himself falling asleep, but then being woken up moments later by a slight bump in the road that would cause him to jump and gasp for all the air that was readily available to him. Personally, I thought his reactions were funny, but I also wondered why he had such a response to small bumps; and this time he seemed to jump even higher and breathe even deeper than any of our past trips. After what seemed like forever, we finally started a movie.
Being the young child that I was, other than looking out the window, movies were the only thing that could get me through these long car rides. As we continued down the freeway, all I had to look at was the dry desert ground with brown bushes and the occasional patch of snow. The movie we started was one of our favorites, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, although my dad was not exactly a fan of it, but we thought, “He isn’t here so he won’t mind. ” When the recognizable opening credit music came on, I knew that the trip was going to be easier to get through – or so I thought.
A significant amount of time had passed by and we were just at the part when King Arthur was fighting the Black Knight when I noticed my sister, sitting in the seat next to me and behind the driver’s seat, take off her seatbelt to calm her hamster she had brought with her. I had many experiences with hamsters including one that bit my finger. For that reason, I wasn’t very fond of the small rodent. Somehow, this little animal knew something was wrong; and just as quick as the memory of that bite on my finger brought pain and anguish, the world around me started to roll.
Craig had been driving for a few hours now, and he was starting to get sleepy. However, being the young and oblivious little boy that I was, all I could focus on was the movie and not the fact that my brother had dozed off. I’m not sure how long it lasted, but when the loud and terrible sound of the tires rolling on the treads of the highway woke Craig up, he turned sharply to his left. Thankfully, he checked his blind spots and noticed a small white sedan in the lane that we were now drifting into. Instinctively, he turned back to avoid hitting the car, but overcorrected and the momentum took us flying.
One thing I remember is that, for me at least, the whole situation was strangely quiet and peaceful. I don’t recall coming to a stop; however, I do remember that the blood dripping from my nose was not getting onto the interior of the van because a roll of paper towels had rolled to the trickling point. I found this peculiar, but as my mom unbuckled me from my seat and pulled me out, what I saw next immediately got my mind off of that insignificant object. Craig took me and laid me on the ground next to Ross, so I knew that at least both of them were alright.
Time still seemed to move slower than usual, and when I looked over at the van, I was amazed to see just one man lift it back upright. Some people came and laid blankets on Ross and me. When I saw my mom, I think it was the first time I was ever scared of her. During the chaos, she somehow got cut above her eyebrows which caused blood to run down her entire face. When I saw this image, I couldn’t help but be afraid. As she came and spoke to me, I knew that I didn’t need to be worried anymore. Sadly, as she walked away, she tripped over my legs and immediately the pain I had not felt before came rushing into my body.
What I didn’t know at the time was that I was in shock; consequently, the impact from my mom brought me back to the real world, and I realized that something was very wrong with my right leg. While I was screaming louder than I ever had before, I noticed that Craig was by the van and was giving Cam CPR because he wasn’t breathing. What I didn’t know was that the lower portion of Cameron’s body remained in the van, but his upper half was outside the window and crushed under the van. I never thought how fragile the windows of a car could be until I saw my brother dangling out of them.
I wasn’t sure where Jessica was, but a team of EMTS proceeded to put Ross and me onto stretchers and load us into an ambulance. The process of being put onto the stretcher was another extremely painful event as my knees slightly touched when I was rolled on. The worst part was that one of the team members told me, “This is going to hurt a lot. ” From there, we drove to the Fillmore hospital and received more treatment before making the long trip back up to northern Utah to Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake City.
The night I arrived in SLC, I was immediately put into surgery for my injury, and before I knew it I was counting down from 100 and was out cold around 97. When I woke up, I saw my mom in a chair next to me so I was happy that she did not receive any serious injuries. As she spoke to me however, I was informed that Jessica and Cameron were in critical condition and we were not sure if my sister was going to make it. The two week period that I stayed in the hospital consisted of watching TV in my room, learning to use crutches and a wheel chair, and the frequent experience of waking up in the middle of the night with unbearable pain.
I was very stubborn about taking my medicine, but when friends and family came to visit, they gave me motivation to man up and take it. What I was really concerned about was Jessica and Cam’s conditions. Cam recovered greatly after his multiple surgeries, and has scars to brag about. Jessica’s situation was still uncertain. She had been through many surgeries and intense physical therapy because she suffered a major brain injury which caused her to forget how to do things including walking and talking. Therapy helped her be able to accomplish simple tasks again.
Eventually, I had my cast removed and was left with a scar on each side of my knee, signifying my part in this experience. As time went on, we all returned to our home in Pleasant Grove and tried our best to get back to living our normal lives. I had quite a story to tell when I returned to school in a wheelchair. Over the next few years, my relationships with each of my siblings and my parents greatly improved and I can gladly say that they are all my best friends. Before the accident, I was a little stubborn child and now I am an older stubborn child, but also a child who understands the importance of strong windows.