I got the phone call while I was at work. My boss called me in from the garage to take the call. It was my wife, he said, and an emergency.
“William…,” she whispered into the phone. I could hear trembling in her voice. She whispered my name a few times more, something she used to do when we were teenagers.
“Melissa? Is everything okay?” I asked softly into the phone between her purrings. The line grew silent momentarily.
“William, the hospital just called me and said Lauren is there.”
It was my line now that grew silent.
“I’ll be there in a minute,” I promised and hung up. “I need to go see my daughter. She’s in the hospital,” I explained quickly to my boss. He waved at the door.
I don’t completely remember much of the drive home, I think I was having one of those out-of-body experiences. I just remember telling myself over and over again that Lauren was okay, it was no big deal. She just needed her parents to sign her out so she could go home. It would all be okay.
My wife was already standing in the driveway when I pulled onto our road. I didn’t even put the car in park; she just climbed in and off we went. She was fidgety, that much I remember. She kept turning the radio on and off repeatedly, so much so that it would’ve annoyed me under normal circumstances. I started vocalizing my It will all be okay thoughts. Partially to reassure Melissa, partially because thinking it was no longer convincing me.
It still amazes me how beautiful the day was. In all the movies and stories, it would have been raining, storming actually. With thunder that gave you chills and lightning lighting up the sky every few minutes. But there wasn’t a cloud in the sky that didn’t look perfect, and it was the prettiest shade of blue in the crayola box.
We pulled into the hospital parking lot and I parked as close to the door as I could. When I got out, Melissa just stayed put. I walked around the car and opened her door, took off her seatbelt, and guided her out of the car by her hand. She was shaking as if there was a violent earthquake exploding inside of her. We walked on.
The first floor of the hospital looked less than comfortable, it was actually pretty scary, but the receptionist was nice and very helpful. She made a phone call to notify the doctor of our arrival. We were directed to the third floor.
I don’t remember walking up any stairs or taking an elevator. I only remember a young nurse with the blackest hair I’d ever seen, so black it looked blue, walking up to us with the deepest look of sympathy in her eyes.
“Where’s my daughter?” I asked. The nurse couldn’t have been more than twenty-five.
“She’s in there,” she began, but there was unmistakable hesitation in her voice. She cleared her throat and asked us to sit.
“The accident was really bad, you have to understand, there were three cars involved…”
“What are you saying?” my wife half said, half whispered. “Is she okay?”
“She was thrown from the passenger side window, the chances of survival something like that are low enough as it is, but all the cars were traveling at great speeds, and she wasn’t wearing a seatbelt…”
“Is our daughter okay or not?” I demanded, blocking out her attempts to tell us without saying it.
“I’m so terribly sorry…we’re so sorry. No, she didn’t make it…” the nurse finally said, a genuine look of sympathy on her face. I registered this somewhere in the back of my mind. I can still see her face when she said it.
I can also still hear my wife’s scream. I have nightmares about it sometimes still, her screaming on the third floor of that hospital, crumpling to the ground, alternating spasms of sobbing and screaming hysterically.
I don’t remember how I reacted, really I don’t. There was crying involved, that much I know, but aside from that when I try to remember all I see is Melissa writhing on the ground vocalizing her agony.
We learned soon enough that the accident was caused because one of the drivers were drunk. It wasn’t the one in Lauren’s car, but hers was the first one hit. The worst is that the murderer of my child didn’t get a single scratch on them, and was never found.
I don’t know how long Melissa screamed in that hospital that day, but it hasn’t stopped. We’re still screaming on the inside each day we wake up and our Lauren isn’t there. We scream internally as we walk past her bedroom, untouched since the last day she had been there. We scream when we see a girl her age, or with her color hair. We’ll be screaming up until we join her in paradise.