Tonight I had to explain to my two-year-old son why he will never see his grandmother, Mama J, ever again. I kept it simple. I told him I was sad because I miss Mama J, and that she had to go to heaven. I told him that heaven is a happy place, with singing and dancing and angels, and most importantly, God. But I also told him heaven is a place where we can’t visit. So if he sees me sad, it’s because we can’t visit Mama J and I miss her very much.
He rested his head on my shoulder and listened to my words as I rocked him. “Mama J loves you and Eva so much. She’s so proud of you. You’ll always be her little buddy.”
My mom had a passion for life and a magnetic personality that everyone loved. She pushed her jokes off on whoever would listen. She also perpetually embarrassed the hell out of me. Just a few weeks ago, when Eva, my three-month-old princess, and I arrived in Myrtle Beach, she picked us up at the airport holding a gigantic sign that read, “Jennifer and Eva are here! Hip, hip hurray!!” While she was waiting for me, she pointed at a limousine driver holding a small sign with a name printed on it and laughed at him. She smiled at him and mocked, “My sign is bigger than your sign.” Neener neener. Of course her sign was bigger than his. Her sign was bigger than the Spirit Air emblem on the side of the airplane. This was my mom. She was awesome. She was happy. And she was embarrassing as hell. But I wouldn’t have had her any other way.
I talked to her every day, several times a day. There were times that I would answer the phone and she would gleefully sing, “So kiss me and smile for me, tell me that you’ll wait for me, hold me like you’ll never let me go… because I’m leaving on a jet plane, don’t know when I’ll be back again…” This was her theme song before every visit. I’d roll my eyes and smile and ask her if she finished packing yet, and she would say, “I can’t wait to see Danny and Eva.” Then she would pause and say, “Oh yeah, and you, too.” Those babies were the twinkle in her eye. The truth is, I’m pretty sure she liked them more than me. But I’m cool with that. I like them better than me, too.
The last time I heard her sing that song, I was the one leaving on a jet plane about a month ago, to come visit with Eva. We just hung out like a couple of friends, gossiping and making funny faces at Eva, talking about everything and nothing at all. She talked me into taking a helicopter ride while she waited on the ground with Eva. I didn’t know what the big deal was -- I mean, I had just flown down in an airplane. How different could it be?? She said it was a gift for my 30th birthday and insisted on paying extra so I would be the only passenger. This way, she said, I’d be able to get “the whole experience.” After I landed, my mom asked me how my flight was. And for the first time ever, I told her she was right.
She then took me to Patrick’s Mobile Home Park, where Myrtle Manor was filmed, and to Ocean Boulevard to browse the shops. We shared secrets, we laughed about how we were hustled by the store employees to buy an obnoxious Barbie belt, and we just hung out like two friends. When I left her at the airport, I gave her one last hug goodbye and told her that I loved her and would see her again soon.
Two Wednesdays ago, she called me while I was napping. I usually don’t answer my phone when I’m napping, but this time, instead of hitting the red button, I chose the green one instead. “Hey, I’m taking a nap with Eva. Can I call you back?” She told me, “Sure, that’s fine.” I then fell into a deep sleep.
I woke up two hours later, and in the rush to prepare dinner, I forgot to call her back. At about 8 p.m. my phone rang. This time it was my grandfather. He was incoherent and I told him I didn’t understand what he was saying. He stopped sobbing and spoke slowly and clearly. His words sank into a pit of vomit in my stomach. “Your mother is gone, she’s dead. Your mother is dead. ” She was on her way to Walmart with her boyfriend to pick up some pork chops and potatoes for dinner. An alleged drunk driver coming from the opposite direction crossed the center line and collided into her front driver’s side. My mom was killed instantly.
Damn it, if I would have known that would be the very last time I would ever hear her voice, I would’ve told her that I loved her and that she was my best friend in the whole world. I would have told her that I hope I could be just like her one day. I would have packed her up in my suitcase with me the day I flew home instead of flying home without her. More than anything in the world, I wish I had taken the time to call her back the other day, because that is one moment I will never get back.
She was the grandmother of my babies. She was my mom and my best friend. And now my kids will never know her. She wanted so badly to see Danny and Eva start school, to watch them grow and to be a part of their lives. That was stolen from her. And instead of a loving mom to cry and hold on to, I’m left cradling a cold, metal urn with her name and a couple of dates etched into the side.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 9,878 people died in alcohol-related auto accidents in 2011. That's about 27 families a day who receive similar phone calls that they will never hear their son laugh, their daughter cry, or an 'I love you' from their mom or dad - ever again. And that's 27 people a day who will leave a barbecue, a bar or a friend's house, and believe that they're fine to drive home - and will kill a child, a mother, a father, someone with a family and a life. Someone who doesn't deserve to die this way.
It's my hope that by sharing my story, someone, somewhere, will say, “Hey, I just read this horrible story. We’ve been drinking. Let’s call a cab tonight.” I pray that no one ever again has to live the horror of answering that phone call. Just call a cab, a friend, anyone. Please, don’t become a statistic.
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