After our swim in the hotel pool, I went out to get the kids lunch. After they ate they got all snuggled into their beds to watch a movie. I thought we would be in the hotel for a week, it has turned into three. Fortunately, the washer and dryer are still hooked up at the house, so I head there to do some laundry. A few hours later, I realized I was starving. The only food left in the refrigerator is rotten(note to self: unload on garbage night) so I head to Taco Bell. It is closed. How can that be? The temperature is well below zero and I feel the wind picking up speed, but golly this is Cleveland. So I head across the street to McDonalds, not my favorite choice. I had just yelled in my order when my cell phone goes off. Right outside my car window is this sign...
...so I am hesitant to answer. But I see that it is TJ and he usually doesn't call me unless he has a specific reason as he is not one for idle chit-chat. So I flip open the phone. Before I can get out hello, I hear "Mooooooom," in a blood curdling scream. Then heavy breathing, followed by a few gasps and then, "I've......I've...... just been......hit......by a semi." My body starts to shake uncontrollably. I start yelling into the phone, "TJ, where are you buddy? TJ stick with me. TJ, breath." I'm now in front of the pick up window. The woman is trying to hand me my food and I am just screaming, "TJ, TJ, TJ." Finally I take my food, hand her a $20 and drive forward, not waiting for my change. I remember saying to myself, focus Joyce, focus. "TJ, TJ where are you? TJ talk to me....Please say something."
Then all of a sudden a sweet, soft, soothing, almost melodic voice comes on the phone. She says to me, "My name is Diane. I am a paramedic and I just came upon the scene. There has been a horrible accident. We are on I-71 at mile marker 165. The car is totalled but I just want you to know your son is going to be all right. They will be taking him to the hospital in Mansfield. I'll give you the phone number." I quickly reach in my purse for a pen. Of course I can't find one, so I grab my lipstick and write on a McDonalds napkin. I repeat the number back to her. She then says, "OK, I see the ambulance coming, I have to go now." With that, my phone went silent, yet I was calm now. Totally calm.
I prepare a plan in my mind of what I need to do. First, go back to the house and close up. Next, go to the hotel to get some clothes, my toothbrush and a book to read. I better trade for the van once I get to the hotel. I realize the weather is getting horrid and the van does better with slick roads. I call John at the hotel and tell him what I know, which is really not much I discover as I am trying to relay the story. But Diane told me it would be all right and I believe her.
As I start to turn into our street, it hits me that TJ has been with his girlfriend in Wooster for the weekend. I remember she had an art show and her dorm was having a dance. I know too well that the I-71 freeway is traveled by a lot of college kids on weekends. It runs between Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati with access to most public and private schools. I want to call her. But I don't want to scare her. I ponder back and forth until I decide that it would be better coming from me than for someone to pass by the accident and see TJ's car and call her. I at least know he is alive because Diane told me so.
When Julie answers the phone I ask her if she has heard from TJ. I'm thinking maybe she knows more than I do. She tells me she has not spoken with him since he left a few hours ago. Once again my hands start to tremble and my body is shaking. I take a deep gulp to try to keep my voice from quivering, "Julie, are you in your room?" "Yes," she replies. "Honey, I need you to sit down." "Mrs. Ely, what's wrong?" "Julie, TJ has been in an accident." "NO," she screams out. I tell her what little I know. She wants to go to the hospital, which I know is many, many miles from her college. I plead with her to stay where she is as the roads are horrible. I would be devasted if something happened to her too, she is like a daughter to us. I promise to call her as soon as I know more.
After speaking with Julie, I decide to call the number Diane has given me for the hospital. "This number is not in service." I dial again. Same thing. It turns out to be a non-working number....