Samantha never spoke on the phone when she drove. Ever. I guess that was the first indicator that something was wrong, though Charles just wouldn’t hear me out on the particular subject. He thought it was easier to write it off with a simple hand gesture and, “It doesn’t matter what caused the accident – it just matters that she’s going to make it through.” I warned him that something was wrong, but he just never listened. His failure to communicate always ended in issues when it came to us. But, please, let me back out here and write it out for you so you, too, can understand what went wrong with Samantha…
Our little girl was different from other children. Yeah, every parent can say that, I know, but to actually mean it? To know that they will never fit in with the rest but be completely beyond them in intelligence, classic beauty, and patience?
Well, that was our Samantha and we knew we had something special. Charles and I spent twelve years of our lives together before we decided that a child was in our best interest, even with all the pushing from family that we would have a ‘beautiful child’ and ‘we wouldn’t regret it.’ They were right in both ways, which we would have never known until we fused DNA and found out for ourselves. And thus, we bring Samantha into the picture.
The early days of Samantha’s life are somewhat irrelevant aside from the fact that she brought us the utmost of peace. She gave us a reason to work toward our goals and shoot for the sky when it came to our professions and what we did outside of work as a family. We bought the house of our dreams to raise our little girl in; we worked together like a union to never be broken.
As Samantha aged, she turned into something we could be proud of right in front of our very eyes. She worked above and beyond the rest of her class, taking home grades simply unheard of in comparison with what her father and I achieved when we were her age. Family simply found themselves asking her, “Where did you get those smarts?” Typically, we would have been offended, but this is what we strove for as parents. We wanted her to be everything and more.
When peer pressure dissolved the lives of her best friends, Samantha did everything in her nature to move on. It was ninth grade when she found out her best friend Felicitee was using cocaine at parties and, aside from the fact that it was the hardest decision she ever had to make in her life, she took responsibility and told her best friend that she couldn’t be around her anymore. It was tenth grade when she got her first boyfriend and brought him home for supper with us. When he didn’t so much as thank us for the food we had made for him, we overlooked it as a kid being a kid.
When Samantha turned seventeen, she didn’t ask us for her first cell phone, which was something most children growing up with her had since they were fourteen years old (even though it was clear that their parents were the ones paying for their technology time.) No, Samantha took initiative, went out, and worked long hours at a local pizza shop while simultaneously attending school and after-school activities as well. Did her father and I think that a cell phone was a bad idea? Not at all.
Samantha was strong, independent, and responsible above all. We knew her time would be spent on the important things, and we were right. Even when she obtained her cell phone and made her monthly bill payments, she never allowed it to get in the way of family time. We never had to tell her, “No texting at the supper table” or “I think you’ve had enough hours on that phone today. Why don’t we spend some time together?” We barely ever saw her cell phone. She continued to throw the pigskin with her father after he got home from work and do dishes at night without us asking. Samantha was always wonderful like that.
You can imagine our surprise when we received the phone call saying that our daughter was going to be brought home to us in a body cast. Reason being? The very cell phone she had bought all by herself. But, please, let me back up again and fill you in on the details surrounding the worst day of our lives.
We got the phone call at 4 in the afternoon on a Saturday. It came up as a number we didn’t recognize on my cell phone, and I answered despite the fact that I typically didn’t take calls from numbers I didn’t recognize. Charles was sitting beside me on the couch with a magazine to his face and the drone of the television continued on playing some cooking show in the background. “Hello?” I asked warily, and immediately a soft-spoken voice answered.
“Hello, Mrs. Freeland… we’re so sorry to be calling you this late about such an important issue but we’re afraid there has been an accident.” My heart instantly fell out of my chest and immediately, Samantha came to mind. You see, Samantha was all sorts of wrapped up in her new college freshman life. She was making some amazing friends, telling us all sorts of stories when she came home on the weekend to relax. Though she was only an hour away from home, this was an entirely new experience for her and something that she always wanted to do with her life. I tried to sputter a reply, but the voice continued on.
The lady introduced herself as somebody who worked at a hospital that was a halfway point between our home and Samantha’s university. Apparently, Samantha had gotten into an accident two days prior to us receiving the phone call. We typically didn’t hear from our daughter for days at a time if she was wrapped up in important lessons and meetings, so this didn’t take us by surprise. Samantha had reportedly been talking on the phone when the accident occurred, dropped the phone on the floor of the car, and reached down to pick it up while simultaneously slamming headfirst into another car.
Now, a few things started to fall into place as “shifty” as I listened to the voice drone on and on, begging for my daughter all the while and wondering what I could do. The first clue was the fact that the nurse said they would be delivering Samantha directly to us that afternoon. If she were in such bad condition, why would she be coming home so early to heal in an at-home setting where anything could go wrong and we would have no control over it? The second issue was that we weren’t allowed to pick up any medical records or learn about the accident or the other driver involved until weeks later, according to what we were told. And the third issue, albeit a far stretch at the time, was the fact that Samantha never used her phone while driving.
To avoid issues, she claimed she constantly put her cell phone on the back seat so it was out of reach and constantly out of temptation. Occasionally we would call her to tell her something important, only for Samantha to call us back an hour later and pipe up, “Sorry, I was on the road!” What important call would have caused her to answer the phone while on the road?
Charles and I patiently awaited the deliver of our 18-year-old pride and joy, wondering how life would be for the next couple of months. We never expected what we received.
When 7:30 p.m. rolled around, there was a knock at the door. I flew up off the couch like a bat out of Hell and headed toward the door, where I was greeted by a younger lady of maybe 34. She had a welcoming, sweet look on her face, almost a little too sweet when I think back about it. She motioned toward a white van with the hospital’s name printed on the side of it, and told us that our daughter was waiting for us. She told us that we would certainly be a bit overwhelmed at first, but that in time, everything would be back to how it was supposed to be. Opening that door to the van we would have never expected to see our Samantha, our pride and joy, inside a full plaster body cast.
“Oh, Samantha!” I shrieked as I dropped to my knees. “I can’t believe this is our Samantha!”
The nurse wheeled Samantha out of the vehicle and into the house on her metal hospital bed and sat her in the hallway before returning to us. Only one eye was an indicator that our daughter was alive and well staring back at us. Every piece of her beautiful skin was covered by cast. That bloodshot, red eye stared out at us with a fury of misunderstanding, as if she had no idea what was going on.
We were instructed to give her medicine for the next two days and, at the end of the second day, the in-home nurse would return to the house to check on her and see what progress she was making. They believed that an in-home setting would be the best recovery option available, as Samantha seemed to be improving and her condition would likely improve greatly over the next couple of weeks. They assured us that she was lucky to be alive. Staring at her in the hallway with her back to us, I didn’t know how lucky she could possibly be.
The first couple of hours proved to be utterly difficult when it came to taking care of an 18-year-old in a body cast. For years, Samantha had been the most independent girl we knew for her age and now she had to rely on us for everything. Under Samantha’s blanket, her groin area was somewhat uncovered, but for the first couple of hours she refused to use the bathroom. I asked her if she needed to use the bathroom, to which she grunted in return. I asked again, “Must you use the bathroom, Samantha? We have to work together here… if you have to, grunt once. If you don’t, grunt twice.”
“Are you sure about that? The nurse told us that you hadn’t used the bathroom in hours. You certainly must have to use the bathroom. Are you just saying that because you don’t want us to have to clean up after you? If you have to go to the bathroom, grunt twice.”
She grunted twice.
“Then please, just go to the bathroom. Samantha, you’re going to have to get used to us taking care of you.”
The first night, we heard Samantha weeping as best as she could from down the hallway. She seemed to love staring at the shadows her light cast on the wall as it moved and displayed pictures of horses, her favorite animal since she was a little girl. She seemed mentally sound, aside from the fact that she was unable to communicate with us to the best of her ability. She realized what a dark situation she would be in and what it meant to have to depend on your parents entirely just as if you were reverting back to the early days of childhood. I could tell it drained her entirely.
In the middle of the night, I awoke to a start from what I believed must have been a nightmare. I got my wits about myself and, just as I realized it must have just been a dream, I caught my husband frozen in what appeared to be shock next to me in bed. Just as I was about to ask what had woken him, I followed his line of sight to our doorway.
The bedroom door was open just a crack, maybe two inches at the most, but you could make out two inches of a hospital bed lit up by the dim light in the hallway. A small section of wheel was made available in the light as well, which confirmed his fears. Samantha’s bed was right outside the door and neither of us had put it there. Charles slowly turned to me and pointed, and I nodded to confirm that I saw it as well.
He awoke more fully and climbed out of bed as slowly as possible, not to make a noise. He continued to tiptoe across the bedroom floor in a few second’s moments that seemed like a lifetime to me. And just as he made it to the door, he creaked it toward us as we both seemingly held our breath. The door flew open in entirety and the light from the hallway took our eyes by surprise. But when I was able to focus, my shock immediately met my husband’s. There was no hospital bed in sight.
Charles and I both headed down the hallway, our feet pounding like two burglars searching the house for any money and valuables. When we arrived at Samantha’s door, it was just as we had left it – halfway open as to allow a bit of light into the room as she liked it. Samantha was lying there in her hospital bed, that terrible bloodshot eye staring back at us. We never found out if we had woken her up by pounding down the hallway or if she just never slept anymore. We didn’t ask her. We simply shared a look at one another, wrote it off as stupidly as possible, and headed back to bed… never to speak a word of it again.
The next day, the previous night stuck in my mind, I continued on with my daily life. I had taken off of work so I could care for our daughter to the best of my abilities but wasn’t sure where we were going to go from there. This day-to-day lifestyle wasn’t going to work out so I would have to look into employing somebody to care for her while work hours took hold. I was doing the dishes when, all of a sudden, a rank smell entered my nostrils as it floated on by. The smell was awful yet alluring, calling me forward to its presence. It was coming from the hallway, more so back the hallway headed straight for Samantha’s bedroom.
“Samantha?” I asked in a low voice as I headed back the hallway, slinging the kitchen towel over my shoulder. “Samantha, are you okay back there? I’m on my way.” My feet shuffled in front of me, just realizing something was very wrong but knowing I would get no rest until I got to the bottom of it. It was then that I heard the banging. The clashing of hospital bed against the floor in an unnatural way that would have been impossible to my bed-ridden daughter. I floored it into gear and ran back the hallway full-force until I heard the front door to the house open and my husband calling my name.
“Honey, I think something is wrong with Samantha!” I cried out, and he ran to meet me by my side, suitcase hitting the floor as he came to help aid his ailing daughter.
“What smells like sulfur?” he asked, panicked.
We flung open the door to our daughter’s bedroom to see…. Samantha laying there, not a care in the world, eyes finally closed. The moment we began walking into the room, her eyes shot open to meet ours. She let out a grunt and snapped them shut again to blink away the dust of sleep.
“Are you okay, Samantha? One grunt for yes, and two for no.” My husband leaned over and listened to her sole grunt. He leaned over and checked her bedpan, only to see that she hadn’t used the bathroom in hours. The sulfur smell was dissipating quickly and seemed to come from nowhere at all.
Later that day, my husband and I were discussing options and what we would bring up to the in-home nurse the next day. We had specific questions concerning what would happen to our daughter if we took the leap to return to work while she was in her ‘condition’ and finding the overall best caretaker for her every need while she recovered. It was a leap we had to make and a very important question dwelling in our minds. Suddenly, my husband’s voice turned to a hush whisper, something Samantha wouldn’t be able to hear.
“Do you think something seems odd about our daughter?”
“Charles, what are you talking about?” I fed into the question, even knowing that it made sense. I knew something was wrong as well. Something didn’t seem right about our daughter, who we knew so well before the accident.
“Well, I’ve thought about it,” my husband continued, concern lining his voice. “It just seems… odd, to say the least, that she was in an accident using her cell phone. You don’t find that odd?”
“I was thinking the same thing, in fact.”
Charles nodded, taking in the atmosphere around him. Peace and quiet as Samantha slept. Her television wasn’t even on and the house remained silent around us. “There’s just some concerns but maybe everything will be better when she’s on the right road to recovery. I guess it’s just a matter of… working with her.”
“You may be right,” I gandered, still a bit unsure. “Maybe I should speak to her about the fact that we both need to return to work and invest our time into getting back on track. Just alert her to the fact that we’ll have an in-home nurse here with her and that she has nothing to be concerned about.”
“You go right ahead and do that,” Charles said sweetly, “And I’ll go start the laundry.”
As I made my way back the hall to Samantha’s room, I noticed the hallway took on a form of onyx-black that it had never seemed to before. Maybe I didn’t realize these things before, the things that stood out so perfectly now that our world had taken a dip downward. An accident that left our little girl in shambles and worked to destroy such a big part of our lives at that time.
When I entered Samantha’s room, there were two things I noticed immediately. The first thing was that she was already looking at the door as if she had expected me, her eyebrows furrowed with concern. The second thing was that she didn’t have the warm, friendly aura that I expected from Samantha. I got a sudden chill and entered the room anyway, making sure to keep the door cracked all the way open. I walked up to her hospital bed and gave her a ‘hello’ with a nod, to which she returned by blinking.
“Samantha, I have to talk to you about some things to which you don’t have to respond – I just want you to understand. These injuries are going to take a lot of transitioning for us all as you make your recoveries and”-
“Samantha?” I asked, leaning in to my daughter as tears began forming in the corners of my eyes. “Did you just try to say something?”
“Gnihtemos gnihtemos yas ot yrt tsuj uoy did?”
“That’s right!” I shrieked. “Did! I said Did! Charles, come in here!”
But as soon as I turned back to my daughter, her eyes were closed. She was fast asleep. Charles entered the room only seconds later, a frazzled expression on his face.
“Samantha was just talking! She repeated a word that I said. She said ‘Did!’ I swear she said it!”
“Honey, I think Samantha is sleeping,” he mumbled, tapping his hand against the cast over her shoulder. “She needs her rest… why don’t you just talk to her in the morning?”
“I swear to God, Charles, she repeated me. She was grunting… what just sounded to me like random, jumbled letters… and then she repeated me! I swear!”
My husband took his hand from our daughter and placed it on my shoulder. “You should get some sleep tonight, too, Honey. I’m going to finish the laundry.” And with that, he turned around and exited the room as quickly as he arrived. Before I left the room myself, I turned around to take one last look at my daughter. I swear she opened her eyes and winked at me.
I imagined my daughter gurgling away in her jumbled speech even in my dreams that night. Looking back, I remember how distraught I felt even staying in the same house with her and how wrong everything felt. It didn’t feel like I was sharing a home with my family anymore. It felt like there was a stranger among us, somebody changed by the hand they were dealt. Everything about her felt “off” and I might have possibly been the only one to see it at the time. Charles retained so much hope for her. Maybe in the end, I was the one who was crazy.
I woke up thinking about this and watching the rise and fall of my husband’s chest when, at 6 a.m. in the morning, there was a knock at the door. It was a familiar knock that I just couldn’t place with my mind all over the place. Charles awoke with a start and turned to meet my surprised gaze. Visitors at 6 in the morning? Unheard of for us. What was going on?
That’s why you can imagine my surprise and how I stood, frozen solid like a statute, at 6 in the morning, as my husband pulled back the front door and Samantha was staring back at us from the porch. She had tears streaking down her face and her phone trembling in her hand. That quickly, the floor let out from under me and I crashed in a heap, wailing that my daughter was home. My mind was an instant flurry of thoughts clustered altogether at once, overwhelming me and keeping me from running at once to my dear Samantha and inviting her in for the biggest hug of her life.
Samantha sobbed her delicate cry, “I tried calling you guys twenty times over the past two days and you never answered! I had no choice but to stay and finish up my finals but I was so worried about you! Then I was driving home from college today and I got to thinking terrible thoughts about how something may have happened to both of you and that I may be too late… you know how much I worry about you, mom and dad.”
Charles attempted to sputter but, as he turned to me, I knew he was thinking the very same thing. He immediately grabbed his phone and called the hospital that Samantha had supposedly stayed at. Meanwhile, I was halfway back the hallway, darting toward our daughter’s room.
I flung open the door and walked right up to the hospital bed. Just as I peered down at our daughter’s body cast, I realized it was empty. Further inspection showed me that it was torn open from behind. Whatever was inside there, had torn right through the metal backing of the hospital bed, which was now laying in pieces scattered all across Samantha’s floor. The body cast was empty… the bed was destroyed.
“Mom?” Samantha asked, coming into her bedroom. “Mom, what’s going on? What is this?”
Charles entered the room right behind our daughter. “Honey… the hospital’s phone is disconnected. It appears they were never a hospital at all.”