I start to panic, as she must have, as I become acutely aware that her Jeep is speeding dangerously close to the car in front of her, then watch in horror as it bounces off the car’s right rear bumper, skids off the highway, careens, for what must seem like miles but, in fact, is only 150 yards, down a rain-slicked strip of grass as she heads 50 miles an hour into a tree.
I can feel her terror, she is all alone and she is terrified. Is she praying? Knowing Ruby, no way! Is she pondering death, missing me, calling for me, wishing I was there to save her, lord, I hope not, I hope so. Again for a second time in her short life, I was not there for my daughter in her darkest hour. She is on her own, she is again fighting for her life and I am not there. The promise I made to her, made to myself when she was born, to protect her, die for her, kill for her, has not been kept. It haunts me, as well it should.
A small quiet part of me will spend the rest of my life replaying October 5, 1995, but in the retelling, mercifully, it is me not Ruby in that car. She is miles away, cradled in the security of our home, safe from harm. I am the one on the Saw Mill River Parkway driving north. It is raining and stormy, the tree looms ahead, my car goes out of control and it is me, not Ruby, who drives into that tree, who stops breathing, who suffers a traumatic brain injury, who needs months and then years of rehabilitation. In the retelling, it is never Ruby who suffers so. In the retelling, I take her pain away, take it on as my own, as it should be, as it should have been. I will spend the rest of my days trying to forgive myself.