After teeth had been brushed and a story read, after prayers had been said and goodnight kisses given, I would blow softly into Anna’s ears: once to blow out bad dreams, and then again to blow in good dreams.
I got up in the early hours this morning thinking about that sweet and simple ritual when the girls were little. I wasn’t troubled by dreams, but by memories. Tomorrow, March 17th, it will be 15 years since Brandon Hurst went to a restaurant after work with his coworkers. Then they shared rides to a tavern in downtown Springfield, Illinois. Brandon left his car at the restaurant. The story would have had a different outcome if he had taken his car. But then it would have been someone else’s child in danger. No one would have been injured if he had taken a cab. Or if he had chosen not to drink.
But he found someone to take him back to his car and let him get in, though he vomited in the parking lot from the alcohol he had imbibed. From the restaurant, it was a short distance to the freeway that my daughter and her friends were traveling. They were coming from college in Minnesota and heading to New Orleans to volunteer in a grade school during spring break. They would have spent the night at Sally’s home, rather than driving straight through. They were switching drivers every two hours. They were traveling the speed limit. They were all wearing their seatbelts. But when Brandon left the restaurant parking lot and turned toward the freeway, he either drove up the wrong side of the divided road or, when he reached the freeway, drove over the median in order to go down the off-ramp and head up the freeway on the wrong side. He did not hear the drivers honking at him, desperately trying to get his attention as he zoomed up the freeway. Driving upwards of 80, he sideswiped a guardrail where the freeway curved northward. Had he been able to process what was happening, he could have driven across the grass to reach the correct side of the freeway; there was no median divider.
I can’t continue the story. Hopelessness halts me. You can see the tragedy that looms. I saw the crime scene. I saw the crime scene photos. Three children were killed. One critically injured, another seriously. They were college sophomores. Anna was 19.
Brandon broke his ankles.
The Episcopal Bishop testified at his sentencing hearing that the purpose of prison was to prompt repentance and protect society, so there was no point in sending Brandon to prison because he was really, really sorry and would never do it again. I was ashamed for him, for such pitiful thinking. I was ashamed for the church. I wrote him every year for a while, but he never acknowledged my letters.
My bank – of all things, my bank! – is holding a St. Patrick’s Day party. They have invited me each of the two times I have been there recently. The first time I smiled and took the flyer. The second time I explained why I would not be in attendance.
There is no public transportation to my bank. I doubt people would take a taxi to a bank function. So whoever comes will drink and drive home. Even the most responsible partier will have impaired judgment and reaction times.
I understand why we are freaked by the Zika Virus. I understand why we will marshal great resources to conquer that disease. I also understand why we will do little as a society to stop drinking and driving – but I don’t understand.
Anyway. I wish it would have worked at 5:00 a.m. this morning to have someone gently blow in my ears so I could sleep.