It was a really weird, last-minute-holiday-shopping type of day. I was buying Christmas and Kyle’s Birthday presents. With the Winter Solstice staring me in the face, it was dark early and I must admit that I let the darkness creep inside too. I was hungry, needed some sugar or caffeine and wanted to get back to Park City.
I waited and waited to make a lefthand turn out of the 33rd South Salt Lake City Red Balloon, and the holiday traffic was not letting up. Tired of waiting, I took a right instead and found myself trying to navigate a different route back to the highway.
It was really no coincidence that as I drove West down 33rd South, then made a righthand turn at 2000 East and saw La Puente Restaurant sitting there on the Northwest Corner, that I started thinking about Kyle’s pre-school friend/cousin, Sam Williams. La Puente was the last place I saw Michelle, Sam, Ben & Ana. Kyle & Sam are the same age and Ben & Ana were roughly the same ages Kyle and Eli are now. Back in 2007 it was the Williams Family and their tragedy that nearly brought me back to blogging. I have wanted to write about this, but it never felt right until now.
It all began when Kyle was in pre-school. He came home one day, excitedly handed me an eight and a half by eleven lined sheet of paper with the name Sam and a phone number written so big the letters filled the entire sheet. “Mom. Mom. You know Sam?”
“Yes. I know Sam.”
“Sam says we are related and that we are cousins. Here is his phone number. We need to get together.”
Sure enough and as crazy as it may sound, Sam and Kyle are most definitely related and yes, they are second cousins, depending on which side you are coming from. A few days after Kyle brought home the phone number I saw Michelle, Sam’s mom, at Pre-School pick-up and as she stood outside with the sun glistening on her face she said, “Beth, did Kyle tell you the news?”
“I believe he did.” I replied as we both laughed.
“It is true. We are related. Beth, your mother-in-law, DeAnne, is my first cousin. Last weekend I was at Aunt Jean’s in Saint George . . .”
“I know Aunt Jean.” I excitedly interrupted and blurted out.
Michelle continued, “Well, I was at Aunt Jean’s and I asked her why she had a picture of Kyle’s parents on her piano. She told me, ‘well, that’s Davy, you know, DeAnne’s son.’ Then she told me how we are all connected, how Dave’s mom lived with my parents a long time ago and that she knew you and Dave. It is such a small world.”
“So small that sometime you find out that you are related, right?”
“Right. Sam thought it was really great and could not wait to tell Kyle.”
With this new piece of information Kyle’s friend, Sam instantly went from pre-school buddy to Kyle’s family.
As time and life goes, the pre-school year ended and I was not great about staying in touch. And then one evening, as we often did with them back then, our friends Kat & Alan asked if we wanted to go out to eat. Because we were burned out of Rubio’s and Cafe Rio, they suggested La Puente and we were on our way. Once seated, Michelle and and I almost immediately noticed each other. She and her kids were sitting close by. Once Kyle realized a fellow family member was sitting so close he burst out of his seat to greet them. Then Eli, Kyle, Sam, Ana, Ben & Zeke (Kat & Alan’s son) made their way over to the “Arcade” (the entryway of the restaurant that has a few video games and gum ball machines. Kyle and Sam quickly retold their story, proving once again even to Ana & Ben, that yes, we are related. “Sam told us about you. We are cousins, right?” Ana said making sure we all understood that she and Ben knew that we were family. The kids had a blast. We literally had to drag them out of the restaurant with apologies that it had been so long and promises that we would see each other soon.
Shortly after that, we moved to Park City. And if you know anything about Utah, once you move to the other side of Parley’s Summit, you might as well live in Antarctica. It is strange how a half hour drive over a high mountain pass transports you into another world.
. . . Several months later found Dave, the boys and me in Hawaii for the very first time. We were there for nearly a month. Our trip magically began in Oahu and ended brilliantly in Kauai. By the end of our trip I was convinced that we would somehow find a way to move to this island paradise. The sunshine and ocean waves were the Natural Xanax I needed to conquer my seasonal Winter Blues.
Our last day arrived much to quick. We had to check out of our condo hours before our flight departed. With our bags packed, I did the one thing I always do in the morning and that is read the online news, especially the local news. I saw the initial article: Pregnant Woman and Two Children Killed in an Accident. With no other information, I needed to check the news again because somehow in the back of my mind I knew it was Michelle. I know the area well. I know the underpass the family was driving under. I knew she was pregnant. All the facts were adding up.
We had to check out of our condo and I had to wait to find out. As my boys spent their last day in paradise I knew a family back home was hurting.
At the same time I was reading the news the behind-the-scenes communication was happening in the Dorny family (Dorny is my mother-in-law and Michelle’s maiden name) and I received an email from my Mother-in-law with a link to an article telling us the very sad news.
I remember the weirdest things from the funeral. Dave and I were very tan. I was wearing a new Apple Green shirt I bought at Banana Republic. The line was long and I was surprised to see so many non-related people I knew. As we came closer to the caskets, we saw pictures and trinkets. The closer I came to the three caskets, the smaller I felt. My throat was tight. We stopped by Ben and Ana dressed so beautifully. We stopped and I thought about my own boys. I thought about loss. I thought about how childish I am and how short life is. We moved along until I stopped at Michelle’s casket. Of course I am crying as I write this. I was a small space in her world and I was overcome. She lay there. It was obvious that she was pregnant. I stopped and I could not move. She is a mother and she was gone. I could not stop thinking of all the times we met at pre-school. I liked her before I knew we were related. She was cool, calm and kind. I see the sun shining on her face as we talked outside the preschool. I stop and catch my breath.
I wanted to pull her up. I wanted to walk her right out of that room and tell her, “You can’t go. Not yet. Life got busy and we drifted apart. We are family.” And then it was our turn to say hello. Thank goodness. Michelle’s mom grabbed my hand, welcomed and thanked me. How can she be thanking me? And as Dave stood by Michelle’s dad it was eerie. Dave is physically a younger version of her dad. They are tall, thin and broad shouldered. Thank goodness they look so much alike because within seconds we were ushered over to the rest of the family and yes, they all look like Dave. We talked with all the aunts and then it was time to go.
And this is how they died.
On a quiet Salt Lake City Street a drunk 17 year old boy was driving alone, driving on the same road I found myself on, 2000 East. Somewhere around the I-80 underpass this boy lost control of his car. The Williams Family had no time. In a flash their life was forever changed. Almost immediately, Sam’s dad watched the last breath leave his mom’s body and in that moment he decided to forgive and then he moved forward.
Let me tell you, Kyle, Eli and I visited Sam after the accident. We knew it was not easy, yet Chris took a breath, forgave and allowed his family to heal. I admit that on sunny days it is much easier to move forward. And on dark days, I still fight not to slip back. In my life I have been an idiot. Things that roll off will sometimes creep in. In those moments especially, I am aware that it is not always easy to heal or forgive. As I think about standing there wanting to desperately pull Michelle back into this world, I know I have to keep trying and keep healing. That is all we can do.
Then because I was not able to make a lefthand turn, I found myself turning right on 33rd South. I turned on 2000 East right by La Puente. A few moments later I found myself driving under the same highway underpass. I was so focused on finding my way back to the highway, I was not sure how I got there until I was there. And then I thought about Michelle and healing. Seriously, it was like she was sitting right there next to me. In a drive under a dark highway underpass, I knew it was time to share my space in this. It was time to remember how grateful I am that I met Michelle, how grateful I am that Kyle survived his ordeal, how grateful I am that I was able to have children and how grateful that somehow I am healing and the only way I heal is by forgiving and forgiving myself. Really! Life is way too short not to heal and let go.
Because I myself, am not sure where I stand with religion, I struggled with wether I should post the following video link. I guess you can take it or leave it. This being said, I want honor the Williams family and so I am posting it. Chris tells the story of his loss and healing like no one else can. I think it is pretty cool. The message of forgiveness is amazing!