Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Date Night

On a Saturday a few weeks ago, Pia and I finally got out for a date. We went to a Vietnamese market and each picked out something new to try. It was fun to see so many squid flavored candies. I settled on crab crackers and Pia got salted mango slices (which came in a fluid that made it look like they would be pickled, not salted (mine was good, hers was not).

We had a nice time, but really, Pia and I could go run errands on dates and it would be fine. Everything feels like a date when we don't have the kids. 

We took the freeway home and as we were nearing our exit I saw a person walking on the shoulder of the freeway. We were in the furthest right lane and as we approached, he started to walk into our lane. Pia swerved out of the way as he entered the first lane and as we passed him I told Pia to stop. I turned around to see him continue slowly into the freeway. Pia pulled off to the should and slowed, while I screamed to stop faster, but she was so confused by the situation and it was hard to react. With the car still moving slowly, I opened my door and started running back to the boy who had now made it to the second lane.

It was dark and traffic was heavy for the late hour, so, like Pia and I, the drivers were seeing the boy too late to stop; they only had time to honk and swerve. He was holding his hands to his ears with arms raised perpendicular to his body and I recognized that he must have had some sort of mental impairment.

I continued to run as fast as I could, yelling "Hey!" the entire time, but I was still about 20 feet away when I heard a horrible sound. A small truck had hit him as he entered the third lane. He was thrown about 5 feet in front of me, back in the first lane. Traffic had still not stopped at this time, so I stood over him and flailed my body wildly, screaming at the top of my lungs to try to get people to stop. My biggest fear was that this poor boy would be hit again as he lay unconscious in the middle of a lane in the freeway. 

To my horror and disgust, three or four cars simply changed lanes and passed us. I continued to scream like a crazy person and pace around the boy until a car eventually stopped 15 feet from where he lay broken. Now that at least one lane of traffic was stopped I turned my attention to the boy. He was young. I found out later that he was a nine year old autistic boy named Au-June Banks Taylor (pronounced ah-june nay).

Au-June was bleeding from his ears, nose and mouth, but otherwise didn't appear to have any trauma. I tried to check his pulse, but in between my hysteria, lack of medical training, and the desire to put absolutely no pressure on what may be a broken neck, I couldn't feel anything. I did not have my phone on me, but by this time a couple of cars had stopped and the people were calling 911. I continued to stand over him, frustrated by my desire to help and my total inability to do so.

It seemed like an eternity until the police got there and even longer until the paramedics. In reality, the police were probably there within 2 minutes and the paramedics a minute after that, but every second that I looked at Au-June felt like an hour. Every second that passed felt like one second that he wasn't getting the care that would save his life.

In the short period of time in between when the helpless police got there and the helpful paramedics, the police went to work finding the person who had hit the boy. I was so focused on the boy that I didn't even see what kind of car hit him, but some of the other people that had pulled over by that time did. We initially thought it was a hit and run, but it turns out the man that had hit him had pulled over about 100 feet in front of where Pia had pulled over, which subsequently seemed appropriate, because he had to get over three lanes of traffic to stop. Other police officers were tasked with closing the freeway and rounding up witnesses while asking all other bystanders to leave.

Au-June lay still, obviously not breathing as the paramedics rushed to aid him. They cut off his clothing and started CPR. Seeing him in the street as 10 or so paramedics worked together smoothly, made him seem so young and small. 
The paramedics were able to resuscitate Au June, but just his breathing; he remained unconscious. I was asked to fill out a witness report as Au-June was loaded into the ambulance and sped away to the hospital. I filled out my report as more details poured in from smart phones of the remaining witnesses. Au June had been reported missing an hour or so earlier when he wandered away from his home about 4 miles away. 
The driver of the car that had struck Au-June was filling out his report near me and was visibly shaken. For as much as this event has affected me, I cannot imagine how that driver (even though he was in no way at fault) is dealing with his horribly unfortunate and tragic role.

I handed in my report and walked back to the car in a daze.

We headed home and immediately turned on the television and looked up every local news source we could find online. I called my mom on the way home and let her know what had happened and to finally let myself cry. My mom called me before we could find any news story and told me that my sister in law had found a story and that Au-June had died. News is slow on the weekends, so it took a few hours for stories to start posting online and on the television. 

Over the next several days I read everything I could find about the accident. 
I was amazed by the blatant inaccuracies in the stories published. One story said that there were several drivers that had stopped and that they were all yelling at the boy to come back to the shoulder, another claimed that the driver that had struck him stayed with Au June until he was put in the ambulance. Pia and I were the only car stopped at the time he was hit and subsequently, I was the only one out of their car yelling, but I was still running toward him. Had I been closer, I would have run into the freeway, not stayed on the side and yelled for him to come like a puppy.

This brings us back to when we pulled over after we swerved to miss Au-June. Pia still feels a deep guilt for not stopping the car as fast as she could, but that night she dreamed that she did stop faster and I ran into the freeway and was hit. I know that that dream was a gift from God and that it's absolutely true. (How many people can say that a dream of their spouse getting hit by a car is a gift from God?) 
The driver didn't come out of his car until the police got him, well after Au-June had been taken by the ambulance. There were other inaccuracies as well. It seems like one writer or reporter didn't get their facts right, then other news organizations just passed along those inaccuracies as opposed to actually asking and doing interviews to find out what happened.

I tried desperately to find funeral information over the next couple of days, but there was none to be found. I eventually went to the apartment complex where the parents live, which was mentioned on one of the local broadcasts and left a message with the apartment's office for the family to call me. I wanted funeral information and also wanted to give the family the opportunity to know what really happened. Au-June's mother called a couple of days later. I was able to tell her what really happened and she gave me the information for his funeral. We hung up, both relatively comforted by the conversation.

About 10 days after the accident, I attended Au-June's funeral. Suffice it to say, the funeral of a 9 year old autistic boy is not clowns and confetti. I did not introduce myself to the parents as they were inconsolable at the service and I did not feel it appropriate to interrupt their grief. 

I know it's only been about a month, but there is not a day that goes by that I don't think about Au-June and feel a tightening of my stomach for his family. I definitely feel grief over what has happened, but then part of me thinks that I have no right to feel grief and that his family is the only group that has any right to condolences. I can't begin to imagine how hard it must be and all my sympathy goes to his parents and siblings. I am so sorry for your loss.