The Day After

June 15, 2014

So as I think about tomorrow being Father’s Day I am not mourning the loss of my own dad like most years in the past. Today I am ever so thankful to be able to hold the hand of my own daughter’s dad. Yes, it is raw with road rash and somewhat cooler than normal but it is still attached to his battered body. As I listen to him breathing steadily next to me I am still reflecting on the events of yesterday.

Looking forward to having our guests, MeLeah and Jim, I was busy washing sheets for their stay before the week-long southern ride they were all about to embark on the next morning. I realized after they left to meet my husband for a Welcome Home parade in Monroe, that my worst fears had just come true.

Noticing I had a missed call, I checked my voice mail and heard a somewhat garbled message from someone who sounded vaguely familiar. Something told me to call him back.

“Hi, this is Michele. Who is this? Couldn’t understand your message.”
“It’s Jimmy K.”
“Sorry. Who?”
“Jimmy K”, he says louder and slower this time.
“Oh, hey Jimmy. I thought you said you were Kevin somebody. What’s up?” I quip as I decide I can definitely load more sheets in the washer.
“Terry’s been in a wreck”, he says hurriedly.
Thinking I can fit some more pillow cases I ask again, “What? I can’t hear you well, Jim.”
Clearing his throat he says again, “Terry’s been in a wreck. Happened on Telegraph. On his way to escort that soldier coming home. He’s at Oakwood hospital. Wasn’t his fault….”

When someone tells you that the news of an event can make all the air leave your body, it is exactly like that. I have fallen from horses and had the wind ‘knocked’ out of me but this is something bigger-like I would never be able to draw breath again. It seemed like hours but it is merely seconds when you notice you can breathe again. Your mind goes blank like you are standing on a stage in front of hundreds of people and have forgot your next line. You have no sense of time or space. Your hands begin to shake uncontrollably and when you notice that, you come back to your senses. Things need to be done and you know they won’t get done standing in front of the half-filled washing machine.

As the wife of a rider, I know that this call can come in to me one day. It is my fear each time he starts that beautiful, throaty engine. I so love hearing that same sound coming down our long dirt driveway when I know he is returning home safely. Today would not be that day. The empty barn I so lovingly cleaned just one day earlier now lies empty. It is so surreal. I just expect that the Big Blue Girlfriend will be there and I am so sad she is not.

So on this eve of Father’s Day, I will rejoice in the life I have yet to live with the father of my beautiful child. I will hold that mangled body for as much time as I am allowed. I will love this man with everything I have even though I know he will ride again.

The Big Blue Girlfriend

I met with the Big Blue Girlfriend today. For the entire thirty minute ride to the garage, tears steadily streamed down my face stopping only for a short conversation with my principal regarding work stuff and, of course, questions about Terry’s recovery. I flipped the switch from diligent wife to responsible employee back to diligent wife in seconds. Of course, I had multiple offers for rides and company all of which I politely declined. This was something beyond personal, beyond private. I can only describe it as a spiritual necessity. And I had an overwhelming need to do this alone.

Once I knew where she was I felt an incessant drive to get to her. I needed to know how this mass of metal made it through this ordeal. Still not having the police report, I was grasping for answers so, perhaps, I could start putting the pieces together and figure out what had really happened.

She was standing, almost haughtily, in a gravel parking lot beyond a locked security gate. Hidden from view by shiny black canvas, I imagined the place she rested to be so much larger and isolated. In fact, the yard was nestled in a residential neighborhood just off the same highway where she went down. The smell of oil and grease penetrated the hot, sticky air. It was almost 90 degrees, yet, I had a distinct chill in me.

After a quick conversation with the owner of the company, I was told the gate was unlocked and where I would find my quarry. Carefully trudging through the gravel drive, I forced myself to breathe steadily. Taking deliberate steps, I slowly strode to our designated meeting place. Without pausing, I strode into the lot and was stunned at what I saw.

It was not the large pile of debris from the crash site next to her that astounded me. It was not the twisted and bent pieces of metal which were covered in mud that stopped me cold. Nor was it shredded pieces of fiberglass from the tour pack that drew my eye. It was what I found, neatly placed, on Terry’s seat.

Coyly smiling up at me in his Army fatigues, was a picture of Sargent Michael Ingram, Jr. His handsome face adorned the scuffed dog tag that had been hanging around Terry’s neck at the time of the accident. Again, time and space seemed not to exist at that moment. I sucked in my breath and held it for a moment. Here was my answer as to how Terry survived such a horrific crash. Mikie was there.

I was told that the debris field was over 250 feet wide. The bike bounced across the highway after the crash and slid into a ditch full of murky water next to the road. Terry slid and tumbled over 100 feet across the hot asphalt. His belongings, including $47 dollars that had been on the bike, were spread over the newly sown cornfield. Friends of my husband who rolled onto the scene say they did not know it was him lying on the pavement due to the amount of blood covering his face. By all rights, I should be a widow on this day yet I am not.

As I sifted through the mud covered belongings, I found the bright red shirt (it was Red Shirt Friday, after all) that had been cut from his unconscious body. I also came across his vest with some patches over 25 years old. Many of the wristbands from past rides still hung around the handlebars. The bright yellow duck that had a home on the left rear antenna was gently collected as well. With scissors in hand, I crawled under the bike to find both Guardian Angel bells still hanging with zip-ties beneath.

I stood in front ofThe Big Blue Girlfriend and gave her my thanks. Skimming my hand over the fairing, I rubbed her scuffs and bruises gently. I cried when I leaned over the place where the windshield once was and hugged her. I told her I loved her even though I never showed it. The entire time, I held Mikie in my dusty hand.

To all my friends who feared I was approaching this ordeal by myself, do not fear. I was far from alone. From the moment I walked into that junkyard, I was flanked by a brave young man who was taken from this world too soon and a broken but still beautiful bike that is unlikely to see pavement again…