No one could ever be prepared for the phone call that sent us to the hospital and forever changed our lives. There were no details other than one of our children had died horribly and the other one was being cared for in the Emergency Department.
Even after we got there, my mind was a whirlwind of strange, disjointed thoughts. I’d left the cake in the oven. Would anyone take it out before it burned? Leo and Jilly were in a terrible accident. We were at the hospital waiting for information and to see our surviving child. I was still wearing my apron and it had flour stains on it. I hoped Keniesha would take the cake out of the oven and straighten up the kitchen.
We were taken by a nurse to a hallway where we were told that our child was in stable condition. What did that even mean?
There was talk of all kinds of things. She was trying to be kind. She was speaking slowly. But didn’t she know that I hadn’t heard a word of it?
Like sleepwalkers, we were led into a quiet room where our child was lying in a hospital bed.
All Liev and I could do was cling to one another. How had this happened? Who did this to my babies?
After a moment, a different nurse came in wearing navy scrubs. She went about her duties quietly and mentioned the doctor would come to speak with us soon.
I felt like I couldn’t breathe… like I’d repeatedly been punched in the gut.
Liev whispered in my ear. “We have to pull it together. We have to find out what’s going on and be there for him.”
I tried to speak, but I couldn’t find my voice. My throat had closed off. I just wanted to join my little Jilly.
But then, I looked at my son’s battered face and I knew that he would have the hardest time of all.
Oh God, how had this happened? And why? They were good kids… it shouldn’t have happened to them!
“Will he be okay?” Liev asked the nurse.
She gave us a small, reassuring smile. “He’s in good hands. We’re monitoring him very closely.”
My mind raced wildly, not really grasping anything being said. Visions of my younger twins invaded my thoughts as I realized we’d now missed their birthday.
Then I berated myself for even thinking about birthdays at a time like this. I felt like I’d lost my mind! What was happening to me? Focus!
Liev hugged me again. “Memphis… listen. We have to pull it together as best we can. We need to find out about Leo and then face what’s happened with Jilly.” He looked into my eyes. “Okay?”
I nodded numbly, not really hearing him, as the doctor came in.
“Mr. and Mrs. Capra, I’m Dr. Reeves.”
“How’s our boy?” Liev asked as he shook the doctor’s hand.
I stood by, wiping my sweaty palms on the apron I’d forgotten to take off. Like a broken record, my thoughts repeated… I’d been baking the birthday cake for Rachel and Daylynn when I heard the phone ring…
“He’s stable. He has a collapsed lung. A chest tube was inserted in the Emergency Department and we’re monitoring that.”
“I don’t understand. Can he breathe? What’s the chest tube for?” Liev asked.
The doctor explained, “When air leaks into the space between the lung and the chest wall, the air pushes on the outside of the lung and causes it to collapse. The chest tube is inserted between the ribs to remove that air and relieve the pressure, allowing the lung to re-expand.”
“Okay,” Liev said. Was he really understanding this? “We were told he might have some kind of fracture in his chest, too. We don’t know what any of this means.”
“There was concern that the sternum was fractured because of the blunt trauma to his chest. It isn’t, however. He is on cardiac monitoring in case there is a bruise to the heart, called a myocardial contusion. A big concern we have is the concussion. He wasn’t thrown from the vehicle, but his head hit with a lot of force.”
“When he wakes up, he’ll be very drowsy as we’re giving him analgesics to control the pain and because of the concussion. When you speak to him, try to remain calm. Don’t ask him a lot of questions. The less he does right now, the better.”
Myocardial contusion… concussion… my head was swimming.
“I just can’t wrap my brain around everything that’s happened,” Liev admitted.
Dr. Reeves’ expression softened. “I know we’re asking a lot from you right now and you’re in shock. Just try to keep your son as calm as possible and I will make sure he has the best care possible.”
Liev thanked the doctor and turned back toward me. “I need to check on the girls. I’ll give Keniesha an update. Do you want to stay here?”
I nodded dumbly.
The following is an excerpt from Liev Capra written in Memphis’ Journal:
I couldn’t stay in that room any longer. It was all I could do to keep from completely losing it. Memphis had clearly come unglued and I had no intention of following suit. I’m not one to yell or carry on with punching something when I’m angry, but I can say that this is the time in my life where I came the closest to doing just that.
After calling the girls and then explaining to Keniesha what I knew, I went to the cafeteria to get some coffee. Keniesha had agreed not to tell the girls about Jilly. That was something I felt Memphis and I should do. How were we supposed to tell them about Jilly? My mind kept screaming that she was okay. Down every hallway, around every corner I passed, I kept thinking I saw a glimpse of her. I must be losing my mind, was all I could think.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
Why was it taking this infernal machine so long to produce one damn cup of coffee? Impatiently, I shifted my weight from one foot to the other. As I watched the incessant dripping, my mind replayed all the times I’d helped Jilly with her homework. We often sat at the dining room table to work on her science projects and math problems. Her bright blue eyes lit up every time she figured something out that was new to her. She is so smart… was. Was so smart. She isn’t going to be a doctor now, is she? Gritting my teeth, I crushed the waiting cup in my fist. How could Jilly be gone? How? I’d seen her just a few hours ago. We’d talked about her glee at finally being able to take the test for University. She was so happy! Her future was so promising!
Like a flood, all of the things I was going to miss with my daughter bombarded me at once, leaving me shaking and angrier by the minute. Walking my beautiful girl down the aisle. Seeing the children she would have had. Watching from the sidelines as she became a doctor who helped people and saved lives.
And now she’s just gone like a puff of smoke? Why can’t I fix this? Why can’t I fix this?
Without thinking, my closed fist came down on the coffee machine. The slow and stupid coffee maker. I beat it to bits, not even caring there was a cop in the cafeteria with me. I’m sure I looked insane with a purple face and tears welling in my bloodshot eyes. I didn’t care. He could arrest me. He could throw me in jail. It didn’t matter!
Breathing in gasps, my energy spent, I turned to face the officer, sure I was going to be shackled and led away. Calmly, he handed me his cup of coffee and beckoned me to sit.
I hesitated, turning my back on him, thinking maybe I should head back to Leo’s room. But seeing Leo injured and lying there combined with the look on Memphis’ face was killing me. I just couldn’t face it again when I knew this was something I couldn’t fix.
The officer beckoned again and looked pretty persistent.
“Mr. Capra, I’m Deputy Fleming,” he said. “I think you should sit down before you fall down.”
I looked wildly around the room at the mess I made. Maybe he was right. Slowly, numbly, I did as he asked.
He said he’d been on the scene of the accident and filed the report. He went through the whole typical spiel about knowing this was a terrible time for me, but he needed to ask me a few questions. I’m a Private Investigator by trade. I’m familiar with the drill.
“First, I just want you to know how sorry I am for your loss. Is your son going to be all right?”
I nodded slightly, taking sips between words. The bitterness of the detestably bad sludge in my cup was helping me focus on the conversation at hand. “I think so. The doctor just spoke with us.”
At least I wanted to believe Leo would be okay.
“You should know that Dr. Reeves told me Leonardo’s toxicology screen was clear of any substances.”
I let out a sigh. At least there was that. “The other car… they both died?”
He nodded. “Yes, they were both thrown from their vehicle and died at the scene.”
“And they were juiced?”
Deputy Fleming’s expression was one of empathy as he nodded. “They were. Our witness was a jogger and he saw the entire thing. He said the other car was at fault.”
“Mr. Capra, how long have your children been driving?”
I clenched one fist at my side, my other hand continued to grip the cup. My nail biting into the tender flesh on my palm further kept me focused without giving in to the tears I wanted to cry. “Only for a few months. They were just supposed to go to the comic book store and arcade and then come back home by dinner time. We have another set of twins…. younger twins and it’s their birthday today. Leo and Jilly were supposed to be home in time for the party.”
And that’s when it really hit me and crushed my soul. Jilly was gone. Forever. And Leo was upstairs hooked up to machines and tubes. And there was nothing I could do about it.
The Deputy took some general information about the kids… full names… birth date… that kind of thing. I answered each of his questions and my own voice surprised me. It sounded empty and detached. As he asked his questions, I heard myself responding automatically.
He stood up awkwardly. “Again, I’m sorry for your loss. Thank you for talking to me.”
And then he was gone and I was left with this crappy cup of coffee and a broken family.
“Can I stay here tonight?” I asked a different nurse when she came in.
“Of course. I’ll bring in another chair for you. I’m sorry we don’t have anything more accommodating.”
“It’s okay,” I choked out.
Suddenly, I was in tears. “Why did I let them take the truck? Why didn’t I just tell them to stay home?”
The nurse comforted me as best she could, but I was beyond hope.
“Mrs. Capra, you couldn’t have known this would happen,” she tried to soothe.
“Well, I should have! I should have been way more cautious!”
“Do you have a religious preference? I can have one of our clergy come up and pray with you or just stay with you.”
I thought of calling Reverend Prucher, but he was so far away. I didn’t want a stranger sitting with me, fussing over me. I wanted to be alone with my boy.
“No. No thank you.”
Sitting next to Leo, I took his hand. I spoke to him and brushed the bangs out of his injured face. I told him everything would be okay and that I loved him. He looked so young and frail, I wiped stray tears from my face and watched him for any sign that he might awaken. Silently, I willed him to open his eyes so that I would know he was all right, yet at the same time fearful that he might awaken. Because then I would have to tell him the awful truth that would cause him so much pain.
What I wanted to tell him was that Jilly was still here, and that she’d always be with him because they had a bond that couldn’t be broken by anything. But I couldn’t make myself utter those words.
I didn’t want to face Jilly’s absence with any kind of finality but as I gripped Leo’s hand and whispered reassurances to him, my thoughts lingered on my memory of the time just recently when Jilly and I were in the coffee shop. She was jabbering about some lifeguard with more animation than I could ever muster even at her young age. My thoughts lingered on her at the beach. She and Leo were there all the time. Her jet black hair shone in the sun and her smile lit up everyone and everything around her. The first thing you noticed about her face was the blue of her eyes. She was absolutely exquisite… so expressive yet innocent…
My precious girl who was no more.
Clutching my heart, I let out a gut wrenching sob. I would have sold my soul to have her back, unharmed.
Remembering Liev’s words about holding it together and determined not to break down in front of my son, even if he was sleeping, I bit my lip until it bled and turned my attention back to him.
After what seemed like many long hours, but couldn’t have been, Liev joined me once again. Why had he left me for so long? Didn’t he know we needed him?
Whether it was fair or not, I felt anger bubbling in me. My mind reasoned that it wasn’t fair to take it out on Liev. It wasn’t his fault. He hadn’t done this terrible thing to us.
I tried with all of my might to contain the rage I felt. Liev was the last person I should be angry with. If anything, I should be angry with the drunks that decided it was okay to drive. Or angry at myself for letting the kids take the truck in the first place.
We didn’t say anything to each other. Liev sat near me, next to our son. It just didn’t seem like the right time for arguments or even for encouragement. I absently wondered whether Liev had sensed my mute accusations, anger and despair. Whether I imagined it or not, I could feel this all from him.
We each had one of Leo’s hands and we were silent.
Hours passed and we finally stood up to stretch, speaking quietly.
“I want to kill those drunks,” I hissed as hot tears hit my reddened cheeks.
“They died at the scene,” Liev said in a strange monotone.
This sent me over the edge. “How dare they! They got off too easy! I wish I could –”
But I didn’t get to finish my sentence. Leo was stirring.
“Mom?” he called, barely above a whisper, as he opened his eyes partway.
I moved to his side. “I’m right here, son. Dad is here, too.”
“What’s going on?” He blinked and then closed his green eyes again.
I bowed my head, trying to make sense out of what I wanted to say.
It was Liev who spoke. “Hey, kid. There was an accident. But you’re going to be okay. The doctor wants you to rest. But we’re not leaving you, okay? It’s okay to go back to sleep.”
As if the confusion had partially departed, Leo tried to get up but couldn’t. We rushed to his side and tried to get him to stay still.
“Where’s Jillybean?” he feebly asked.
Liev and I glanced at each other. We hadn’t expected him to be this alert. Not yet. Dr. Reeves had told us not to let him get upset.
Before we could muster ourselves to answer, Leo shakily put his arm across his face and shuddered.
“Oh, Jillybean,” he moaned. “I can feel that she’s gone.”