Past Experiences: December 17th 2003
I had been calling him when he didn’t come home, and I had called him and talked to him about one of my brothers that very evening. I couldn’t sleep that night, and I was in the house all by myself as I’ve often been. I’ve been struggling with insomnia all my life, and I never rest easily when I feel like somebody I care about isn’t putting themselves in a good position. The hours passed like any other night, but then the dreaded phone call of inevitability rang at 2:47AM.
“How’s my dad? What happened to him?” I spoke without even knowing who I would be speaking with.
“This is the Chaplain of Penrose Hospital, is your dad Chris Taylor?”
“Yes, what’s happened to my dad?” I replied already fearing the worst possible news.
“Your dad has been in a very serious car accident, and he needs you by his side.”
“What happened? How bad is he? Is he going to live?”
“I don’t have any information on his condition or what happened. You need to come see him and be by his side.” I hated the chaplain for vaguely delivering news of my father’s possible demise. I don’t exactly recall how the rest of that conversation ended, but I knew I started thinking of how I’d cope with the family. I’d hope that my dad had some sort of nest egg or anything that could be divvied up among my 7 siblings and myself.
I was calm, but alone. I’d always been alone in my life. This didn’t feel real, even though I completely knew the gravity of the entire situation. My thoughts vacillated between wanting to figure out what to do if he were dead, and how much I hated that chaplain for not having any information to give. I decided after a few minutes that I probably should call my mom up in Idaho, since I had the inner desire to be comforted and told what I was supposed to do.
She knew immediately that something serious had happened, and immediately asked if I were okay. I cracked more than I thought I was going to, but I feel like I just said the same three things over and over again, “Dad’s been in a bad car accident, the chaplain at the hospital couldn’t tell me what happened, and I’m not sure what to do.” I talked to her for a few moments, and told her that it was probably a drunken accident. She said she was going to make some phone calls and find out what happened and where he was.
The next fifteen minutes had no natural cadence to normally perceived time. I knew he had been drinking a lot, but I never had the courage to directly confront him. Usually, he’d just get a motel room for the night, but there had been signs in the past: nights when he stumbled home and went to his lone bedroom upstairs; the strange message about a traffic violation on the voice message machine weeks back, which I found out later that he had been driving the wrong direction on the freeway. I didn’t make much of that message, but I had been concerned about him coming home and being alright. I just wanted to spend time with him while I was living with him, but he was always consumed in work, out drinking, or doing something with the silly Mormon church.
When my mom finally called back, she told me that he had lost his legs and was at Penrose hospital. I had regained my composure and told her that I’d call a cab to take me to Penrose hospital down in Colorado Springs from the house in Monument. I’ve never had enough desire to get my own driver’s license, for a multitude of reasons, and perhaps this accident solidified some of my beliefs against driving. I don’t remember exactly how long the cab took to get to the house, but his Mormon bishop had called and said he was going down to the hospital and asked if I needed a ride. The wisdom of church leadership when told that I had already called a cab was that with cabbies they’ll want their fare one way or the other and that I’d just meet him there. Forget the haste of family with situations like this.
The terrain on the cab ride to the hospital was the familiar mountains overlooking the Air Force academy, except the world was covered in 8 inches of snow. The highway was mostly clear, except on the shoulders. The cabbie had wanted to have some form of conversation, but I didn’t really want to express my inner emotions and gave vague responses. I then said I’d prefer to just listen to the music. He turned up the volume of the radio, which was probably some cheesy 70s rock. When we pulled up, I gave him my bank card and it ran through. I hopped out and ran towards the entrance with him chasing after me to sign the $37 fare. I don’t even know if I left a tip.
I think some church member greeted me quite quickly, and we immediately went to see him before he was supposed to go into surgery. His face had changed into something I could barely recognize; a haggardness had set in. He was struggling with the hospital staff, asking them not to take his legs. He kept trying to take his neck brace off, complaining that he couldn’t breath. The nurses kept telling him that he needed to relax and quit struggling.
I grabbed his hand and tried to reassure by telling that I was here for him. All he asked me was. “Where’s Topher? Where’s Derick?” like it didn’t matter that I was even there, and I tried to argue with his belligerence that I was there for him and he needed to relax for the hospital staff. I wanted nothing more than to comfort him, but all he asked for were two of my brothers who couldn’t be there.
There was some reason for delay having to do with getting consent to do a surgery to clean up his legs. He had crashed the car he was driving into a guard rail, which pierced cleanly through his left leg but had mangled his right leg. I remember seeing his blood through his bandaged stumps, and him not quite understanding that he’d never be able to get his feet back. That bishop had said that he wanted to give him a blessing before going into surgery, but my dad wanted nothing of it. He just kept saying, “I’m fucked up. I’m not worthy. I don’t care. I just want my legs. They are going to take my legs.” The blessing did nothing to calm him, and he was carted off into surgery.
Topher had arrived an hour or so after he had gone into surgery, since he had been living up in the ski towns of Colorado. I just felt numb at that point, but it was comforting to have somebody who could actually understand something of what I had been going through that night. Danny arrived a bit later after the sun rose, and we went to get a cup of coffee.
Later that morning, we were joking about him getting tank legs and getting dirty looks from the Mormons in his ward. I’ll never understand why they gave me those looks when I was the one who had been most directly affected that evening by my father’s accident. I had needed levity and laughter because I felt so insecure knowing on some level that I could have confronted him more directly earlier that winter. There were clear signs, but all I ended up discussing with him typically was basketball. There’s always been a buffered reality between my father and myself, and perhaps that’ll eventually change. I really don’t know. I just know that it felt like nothing for me to have been in that room with him asking for my brothers.
We are not powerless to change the actions of those around us, and perhaps if I had known what I knew today I could have cultivated a real relationship with him and helped him address his demons. I’ll never really know if I could have changed anything, and perhaps there was a ticking bomb that could have gone off at a different time in a much more severe way. He ultimately used this event to go back and find out about some of his demons in his past, but there’s still an aloofness when it comes to having a real relationship with him outside of the terms he’s comfortable with. I’m sure I’m stubborn in many of the same ways, but I hope I’ll learn lessons from this that will strengthen my ability to get where I want in this world. I need to have a greater amount of courage and confidence in my life. And I need to remember that there’s never a good reason to drink so much that you black out of reality, left to deal with the ticking time bomb of consequences.