Many readers of this site have encountered Bonnie Bishop’s kindness and wisdom. At my request, she has shared her story with us. I deeply appreciate her openness and her caring. I know you will find this story important and moving.
By Bonnie Bishop
My name is Bonnie Bishop. About 18 years ago, I had an alcohol- related car crash, and my best friend died. Before the accident, my husband and I both worked. He was an over the road truck driver and I did home health care. My oldest son by a previous marriage had just graduated high school and our youngest son was only 6 years old.
Mona was my best friend. We grew up together and I loved her. She was like a sister. We shared everything. Our hopes, dreams, secrets, child bearing years, our love for music, cookouts, swimming and sometimes drinking beer.
July 27 1996, Mona, myself and two other friends went to visit friends and took some beer. It was way out in the country. When it was time to leave I felt fine to drive. I had a buzz on but I didn’t think I’d have any problem driving home. On an unexpected gravel filled curve, I lost control of the car. I threw myself across the seat when I saw the tree’s coming. Next thing I remember was one of the guys in the back seat yelling, “I smell gas. Better get out before it blows up or something.” I opened my door and stumbled around to Mona’s side and yanked the door open. She looked like she was sleeping, lying back in her seat but her face was a mask of blood. I thought she hit her face on the dash or something. The car didn’t appear to be in too bad a shape. We weren’t in the tree’s but instead had slid into a small embankment and hit on her side. A nearby neighbor called over and asked, “Do you need an ambulance?”
“Yes, she’s hurt real bad.” I hollered.
The ambulance was there within minutes. Two women, placed a board behind Mona’s neck and lifted her onto the ground and began CPR. I sat on the ground beside Mona and rubbed her hands and tried to wake her up. “Wake up Mona, please wake up. You’ve got to be okay.” I cried.
The State Trooper’s showed up and asked who was driving. “I was.” I replied grimly.
“I need you to step over here so I can ask you some questions,” he said and waved me over to the front of the State Trooper’s car. He placed me under arrest because he smelled alcohol on my breath and told me to get into the car. I’ll never forget as I sat watching from the back seat, as they covered my dear friend, Mona, with that white sheet. I didn’t even know how to wrap my brain around what had just happened. All that I could think is she’s going to heaven and I’m going to hell.
Down at the police station after a serious of sobriety tests, I blew a .16 on the Breathalyzer test. The officer gave me tickets for failure to stay right, speed unsafe for road conditions and a DWI then asked where I wanted to go. I stood there dumbly as the officer told my mother in law what had happened. I’ll never forget the lost and saddened look in her eyes as she hugged me and asked if I was okay. Once she regained her composure, she called my sister-in-law to come stay the night. I guess she was afraid I might try to kill myself or something. It was a long night for all of us.
The next day dawned sunny and beautiful. That was the only good thing about it. I knew that nothing would ever be the same again. My mother-in-law took me to the hospital to get my neck checked because it hurt so bad it felt like it was broke. After a series of x-rays, they said I had a very severe whiplash. A nurse handed me prescriptions for pain medicine and said she thought I should get some good counseling because they were worried about my frame of mind.
Next, my mother-in-law drove me to Mona’s family so I could apologize. I barely noticed all the cars that filled her mother’s driveway. It was all like a blur. Her whole family was there. Her Mom and Dad, her two kids a 17 year old girl and a 21 year old boy, a brother and a sister. I apologized to each and every one of them and was so very thankful for their forgiveness. If it weren’t for that, I don’t know that I could have gone on.
A couple days later, two good friends took me to Mona’s funeral. It was the hardest thing I ever did. I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew I had to go. People seemed genuinely sympathetic. They knew what good friends we had been all our lives. The place was packed. I’ll never forget her family’s gut wrenching cries for their loved one. Or when the Pastor’s voice rang out telling how Mona’s young life was so suddenly and abruptly taken from us.
Two weeks later charged with vehicular manslaughter:
Now I was horrified of going to prison along with my great sorrow.
Afraid people would hate me.
Afraid people would send me hate mail.
Afraid people would throw things at my house
Mona’s husband thought it would be a good idea for me to go to drug and alcohol counseling:
I was afraid but the people were kind and most admitted they had drank and drove.
They thanked me for telling my story.
Went to court 6 months later:
By the grace of God, and Mona’s family for not pushing it, my sentence was probation, community service, and a fine.
Since the accident:
I have been focusing on raising my family and trying to be happy.
I think about Mona every day–holidays, the anniversary date and her birthday are hard.
I worry about Mona’s children and her mother.
I learned the hard way not to drink and drive.
I searched desperately for someone who may be able to really know what I was going through because they don’t really have any counseling groups for people like me. AA helped in a lot of ways but if they haven’t gone through it, they really can’t know. I felt so alone. Then one day while I was searching on line for anything that could help me, I found Jeff Perrotte’s web-site and began to read and to my surprise, he’d had a tragic accident too and I knew he’d understand how I felt. I wrote to him in prison and he understood how I feel and early on encouraged me to tell my story to school students and a victims panel, or anywhere I could here in Tioga County, where I live. The County had been asking me to but I was too afraid because there are a lot of mean spirited people out there. Jeff told me that, we owe it to everyone to tell our stories because if it could help even one person it is worth it.
I was terrified to give my presentation, but with Jeff’s encouragement, I finally did and I’m so glad because it turned out to be the best thing I could have done. All the feedback I get is very good. I’ve been doing it for 6 years now. I hear the same thing from the leaders and teachers every time. “It was so quiet, you could have heard a pen drop.” They really believe the students are listening. I see students and adults crying all through the presentation. The students say, “You can hear it on TV or read it, but it doesn’t have the same effect as when you hear someone’s firsthand experience live.” I’ve had students tell me, I just changed their lives forever. They thank me and hug me and some tell me stories of their own.
Giving presentations has truly helped me to heal so much more than before I did them. People would say, ”I know you say you are okay and you look okay but there’s something in your eyes, can’t quite put my finger on it.” They don’t say that anymore.
Then I found this web-site, ‘Accidental Impacts” and a lot of amazing people and things to read. I especially like the story “Cities of Refuge.” I am so thankful for this site and for all the people who tell their story and give encouragement. Now I don’t feel so all alone.
I cannot tell you how ungodly hard it is to shoulder the responsibility for all the lives I shattered that day.
I miss my friend terribly and want so much to go visit her, but I can’t and it’s all my fault.
It was not worth losing Mona in one stupid day.