I am pleased to present this guest blog by Todd. His story touches my heart. He offers a compelling description of how he transformed trauma and despair to strength, love, and compassion. Please join me in thanking him for his contribution. If you want to communicate with Todd, please send an email to [email protected] and write “For Todd” in the subject line.
One seemingly normal warm sunny spring day I was driving home from work, and without going into the details, I ran over a six-year-old boy with my car. I was 17 years old at the time and the boy lived next door to my parents’ house and was my friend’s little brother.
From that split second on for a few years I’d describe myself as numb, in shock. Besides the shock of the accident, I had to endure the police, a lawsuit, my name in the newspapers, and ridicule and cruelty including physical attacks from members of the boy’s family and the community. I was within a month of graduating high school, and once I went back to school I was verbally abused and ridiculed in every way you can think of.
My dad was at first furious at me that I did something wrong and caused him problems. He calmed down once he heard from witnesses what had happened, determined it wasn’t my fault, and said that we had insurance so I didn’t need to worry about it. He then never mentioned it again. My mother tried to get me therapy but at the time it didn’t work for me, because I simply said to the line of therapists, “Did you ever run someone over?” When they said no, I said bye. I had close to zero support. However, coincidentally my uncle who lived nearby had also run someone over a couple of years before. So my uncle was there for me as he understood.
In my accident, the little boy lived, against all odds and against all doctors’ predictions, after being given last rights on four different occasions. He did, however, spend almost two months in a coma, had over 30 broken bones, was on a ventilator, and had a feeding tube among all the other tubes, etc. He had several surgeries, including two brain surgeries. He spent six months in the hospital and four more years after that in physical and speech therapy. I visited him every single day in the hospital for those first six months, and afterwards when I could. He gradually learned to walk and talk again. But his brain never fully recovered – his brain is frozen in time, stuck at six years old.
That was 40 years ago. He is now 46 years old, and lives in a facility with other people with traumatic brain injuries and other disabilities. The last time I saw him was about seven years ago. The first thing he said to me was, “Hey do you remember when you ran me over with your car?” I’m now 58 years old and on one hand it seems like it happened a lifetime ago, and on the other it seems like it happened just yesterday.
I can’t claim to know exactly how it feels to be in some sort of an accident or other scenario that resulted in someone dying, but I think I can imagine that feeling as I came pretty close. And I live with the guilt of knowing the little boy I ran over was robbed of a “normal” life.
In the first few years after the accident, I just went day to day, sometimes hour to hour. I was briefly suicidal but decided against that as I couldn’t bear the thought of how my family would feel. After a while I just had a routine, go to school or work, visit the boy, go to sleep, repeat. I somehow went to college and graduated, with multiple court depositions thrown in there. I was known in the area as “that guy.” That guy who ran that kid over.
When I look back, I don’t really know how I did it, how I made it, I just did. I think it changed me, but I can’t be sure as I was only 17 at the time, so who would I have been otherwise? I don’t know. I do know I’m a very strong person, sometimes too strong. I had to be, to make it, physically and mentally, just to endure. I also have a great deal of empathy for people as everyone has their own problems to deal with. And most normal problems in life like a broken-down car or something like that are just minor annoyances to me as I have perspective as in – well nothing is as bad as what I went through at 17 years old. So I have the feeling I can get through anything, I can do anything.
About ten years after the accident, my future wife and I decided to move across the country. The accident and being “that guy” were part of but not the entire reason. So I started a new life, tried to escape the past, but of course you don’t fully escape. In my case I believe I made the right decision. It was a fresh start, and I’ve known people here for over 30 years who have no idea what I went through. I’ve told some and not told others. And I’m no longer “that guy.”
At some point in my marriage with two young children my wife and I started going to marriage counseling for unrelated reasons. But during the counseling my accident kept coming up over and over again. Eventually my wife stopped going and I went alone to the counselor who was a clinical psychologist, and all we ever talked about was my accident. I have to say it helped me immensely. It was about 20 years after the accident. Just talking to someone and getting it all out helped a lot. After a while I claimed myself “cured!”
Of course you’re never fully “cured.” But through the last 40 years of first being numb, then beating myself up with guilt and being consumed by that one split second of my life, I gradually changed and became happy. I went from thinking about that little boy every day, to thinking about him once a week, to once in a while. Certain things will trigger that memory like hearing his name, seeing kids playing in the street, people driving their cars fast and recklessly down residential streets, etc.
Life is long and full of amazing incredible things to do and see. As time went on I realized there is no need to dwell on one moment of a long long life filled with many many moments. Yes, I remember, and will never forget, and of course I feel badly about it, but I no longer walk around in a guilt-ridden daze. Life is random, shit happens. We both were in the wrong place at the wrong time. If one life is ruined, what is the point of ruining another life?
To me what got me through those early years was music, simply music. It was my escape. And over the years I discovered nature. Nature is my “church” as I’m not a religious person. My wife and children, hiking, biking, fishing, skiing, camping, playing guitar, and going to see live concerts, those things bring me happiness. It’s a long road, but day by day, step by step it slowly, gradually gets better. Yes, it happened, but a lot of things happen in life, good and bad. I try to focus on the good.
If you are going through something similar, please talk to someone, get help from a professional. It helped me immensely. If you think you can’t afford it, I simply say you can’t afford not to. There are also many cheaper options nowadays on the internet for counseling, etc. And consider attending the monthly accidentalimpacts.org monthly Zoom meetings. It helps considerably just to simply know you are not alone. I hope my story helps in some way and if you have any questions or comments let me know.