It’s crazy to think how just one harmless thought, feeling, or action has the incredible power to change the course of your life forever; perhaps even the lives of others.
I had been in contact with my real mom since I was a teen. But neither of us knew how to reach my dad or siblings. After many years of searching on the internet, I found out why he was so hard to track down. He had passed away on Labor Day in 1994. I would have been 12 years old. I was able to get contact information from the lady who was his wife at the time of his passing. Through her, I was finally able to connect with my two half sisters.
Tara lived across the state on a small ranch. She was married with two kids. I spoke with her on the phone once, and it was a very brief conversation. I could tell she was withdrawn and not interested in getting to know each other, which was fine. I’m not a real outgoing person anyways.
All I had to contact my other sister, Val, was an email address. So I sent her an email, but I never got a reply. I thought she just didn’t want to talk to me, which I found out later that wasn’t the case.
A couple years had passed when I received a facebook friend request from Val unexpectedly. It turns out she had been incarcerated the whole time, and just got out of prison. We talked quite a lot on facebook, just getting to know each other. She was actually living about 40 miles away, and she wanted to meet. Me being the socially awkward recluse I am, I was just fine with the facebook chats.
Well, the night before Halloween she finally talked me into it. I needed to go to the town she was living in anyways, to get the last piece of my sons Halloween costume ( a Marty McFly red vest). About 7pm that evening, we met up at a restaurant. I have to admit, it was pretty neat actually meeting someone who knew my dad. She told me that the day he died, he was riding his motorcycle and crashed head on into a vehicle that turned in front of him. Apparently, that was around the time when stealing road signs was cool. The stop sign at the intersection he died at was missing.
To make matters worse, insurance didn’t want to have to pay out any money to the family, so they went to court saying that he had committed suicide because Val was giving him a lot of trouble at the time. As a little girl going thru a grieving process, she had to testify in court against their allegations.
She said that it was true that she and her father were having difficulties at the time. He wanted to take her fishing and show her how to shoot a gun, but she would have no part in it because she was a girly girl. She felt like he was trying to turn her into a boy. But she also knew that he loved his family and life too much to commit suicide. The insurance company lost the case, but they left some painful scars.
Val also told me that night that her (our) sister Tara had cancer and was expected to pass away very soon. She just wanted to make it long enough to have one last Christmas with her kids. I understood then why Val wanted to meet me so badly. She was devastated at the thought of losing her only sister, and having me was a way to ease that pain a little. Lose one sister, but gain another.
After a couple hours of talking about anything and everything, I decided it was late and I should get home. We started our cars, and she sat with me in mine for a few minutes until it had warmed up a bit, and then we said our goodbyes.
I had no more than gotten on the interstate when she called me. She had dropped her house key in my car. I glanced at the passenger seat and, sure enough, there was a key. I drove to the nearest exit ramp to turn around and take the key back to her. She felt terrible about it, but I let her know it was not a big deal. I understood all to well about losing and forgetting things.
It was about 9pm when I was finally headed home. My brain was going a million miles an hour. I had just met my sister, learned that my other sister was dying, and found out how my dad had died. I was still trying to process all this new and difficult information when I saw a shadow take shape into large brown object in front of me.
“No fucking way…”
I only had a fraction of a second to squint my eyes and realize what the object was, but I didn’t have time to realize that I was going to hit it dead on.
There are only a handful of elk in the Black Hills. To see one anywhere was uncommon. To see one on the interstate was pretty rare. To hit one on the interstate, within a half mile of city limits, was unheard of.
It was unfortunate that my first encounter with such a beautiful animal was such a tragic one. Although at the time, my brain couldn’t process what it was seeing, now I see the image perfectly. A mature bull elk, stepping out of the shadow, taking one graceful step, and then another, almost in slow motion. He lifted his leg to take a third step, and slowly swung his massive head to look at me.
He never finished that third step.
The impact was incredible. Fast and powerful. Almost simultaneously I was hit hard in the face and chest, which slammed me back against my seat. Then the world stood still for a second as I finished processing what had happened, and what I had to do next. I felt what I thought were tears running down my face, making my eyes sting and burn. I tried to see where I was going so that I could pull off the road safely, but I couldn’t open my eyes. I was able to see taillights through my eyelashes, and so I focused on them, and followed them until they stopped. I shut my car off, hoping that all the coolant hadn’t leaked out of the likely destroyed radiator, causing the motor to overheat.
I started to hear people talking and doors opening. Without thinking, I opened my door to lean out and spit the blood out of my mouth. That’s when I heard a voice ask me if I was ok. I replied to his white and blue tennis shoes, since that was all I could see of him.
“I think so. Is the elk dead? I’d hate for it to suffer.”
He paused before he replied, and I could hear his clothes crinkle so I knew he was looking back at it to find out. Funny how quickly your other senses adapt when you lose one of them.
“Yes, he’s dead. You are really lucky to be alive.”
I wasn’t sure how to reply to that. I’ve never really been the type to worry about myself, and I guess this wasn’t any different. After having the peace of mind that the elk was not suffering, my worry then turned to my car.
“Is my car destroyed?”, I asked.
He half laughed at me, like he couldn’t believe I would be asking such a question given the circumstance. “Yeah”, he replied slowly. “It is completely totaled. You won’t ever drive it again.”
This was very upsetting. I loved my car. In the adrenaline daze, I started feeling around the car for damage. My hands found the steering wheel, and then the dash. At the time I couldn’t feel all the shards of glass embedding into my hand as I felt along the dash. My arm bumped into something, and as ran my hand over it I quickly learned what it was. My hand was resting on the outside portion of the windshield. It had broken and folded inside the car.
At this point details become hazy and pain and confusion set in. Paramedics had arrived and I tried to focus on being a good patient, so that they could do what they needed with me.
At approximately 9pm, October 30th, 2016 my life started.