I woke up, ate breakfast... I can't remember if Noah woke up first that day or not. I think he might have. I made him some breakfast, hung out on the couch and watched a little TV. Matt woke up shortly thereafter. I went to go get ready for work. Chloe was still sleeping. Once I got ready and picked out some clothes for Noah to wear, I got Chloe up, dressed her and went out to the living room to nurse her before leaving, as usual. Matt had changed the channel to TBS... pretty typical. Home Improvement was on. Matt got Noah dressed in the clothes I brought out to him. Once Chloe was finished eating, I packed up the car and Matt helped me get the kids to the door. Mornings were always hectic and rushed. I tried to be out the door by 8a.m. (seldom happened but I think I was close this time) with both kids every day so I had time to drop them off at daycare and have a chance of making it to work on time. Sometimes Matt and I kissed, sometimes we hollered "love you", sometimes both and sometimes nothing. On this particular day, it was nothing. Nothing but a "bye!"
Rewind about 15 minutes. Matt had just dressed Noah and he thought out loud, "Well, Daddy will just go to a few offices today," after I had suggest the night before that he stay home since he wasn't feeling well. So he implied that morning that he would still work but take it easy; go at a leisurely pace.
I dropped the kids off and continued on my way to work. I don't think I had called Matt for anything that morning... meaning the last time we talked was before I left the house. I'm sure I would have remembered if we talked on the phone after that. But not that day. Not until I was menu planning for the following week, at which point I texted him. The flyer for the store we always did our weekend family grocery trip at, Harris Teeter, came out on Wednesdays. I would usually try to plan meals around what was on sale. I texted him at 11:25a.m... later I would discover that was exactly 10 minutes before he died. I was meal planning while Matt was dying. And I had no idea.
"I'm menu planning for next week. Quiche? Fajitas? Pulled pork sandwiches? Let me know what you think of those."The last texts I ever sent him.
I didn't think much of the fact that we hadn't talked or texted all morning. Some days were busier for him than others. Sometimes he had lunches planned that would start around 11:00. Sometimes he would barely talk or text me all day; other times we would text quite frequently. It just depended on how far he had to drive that day or how long he had to wait in a doctor's office.
I can't even begin to describe how haunting it is to know that I was just going about my normal life while my husband was trapped in a car with severe injuries, unconscious, being transported to the emergency room, dying. And I was thinking about what I was going to have for lunch that day. While I left to go nurse Chloe on my lunch break, Matt was dead. And I didn't know. From 10:30a.m. to 3:30p.m., state troopers were trying to track me down to either a.) tell me my husband was in a car accident and nearly dead at the hospital or b.) tell me my husband had been involved in a fatal car accident. They didn't have a large window of opportunity for option a. So option b. it was.
While my friend and co-worker, April, brought her baby girl into the office for a visit that afternoon and I was smiling and playing with her, my husband was dead.
I was pumping... it was my afternoon pumping session which I did every day around 3:00. I believe it was just shy of 3:30 when my boss came around the corner of my cubicle and just said, "I need to talk to you." I said, "Okay." And he had a moment of hesitation before turning to my co-worker in closest proximity to me and he said, "And, Karla, you come, too." She said, "Okay."
I got myself all disconnected from my breast pump, which was slightly awkward in itself, set everything aside and we followed him downstairs to a conference room. I can tell you exactly what was going through my head.
At first, I thought we were in trouble. Then we got down the stairs and turned to go into the conference room. I saw two state troopers standing there and my office manager was also in the room. They turned their attention to me, not Karla. I greeted them with a "hi", thinking... and I'm serious... maybe I was a witness to something and they wanted to question me. A tiny percent of me thought that maybe I was in trouble with the law and didn't know it.
And then Trooper Coley said, "Ms. Hales?"
"I'm sorry to inform you that your husband was involved in a fatal car accident."
I don't know what provoked my response. I immediately said, "No he wasn't," almost before he could even finish what he was saying. And at that very moment of sheer denial... the reality hit me at almost the same exact time. He replied, "Yes, he was." It hit me like a million tons of bricks and I turned to Karla and just hugged her... she hugged me. We cried... I bawled. It was like an out-of-body experience. I can't even begin to describe what I was physically or emotionally feeling; what was going through my head. I mostly thought about Noah and Chloe. About Matt's family. About how I was stuck in North Carolina and everybody we really knew was in Michigan, where we're originally from. I thought what the hell was I going to do?
I hugged Karla and I never wanted to let go... because when I let go it would be real. I wanted to go back upstairs to my ignorant little world in my average little life and return to believing it was just another day. I would go home after work, after getting the kids, I would open the garage door and see Matt's car parked there; probably while cursing him for parking too close to my side.
But it was final.
So what now? I was able to form some questions. I think in the midst of my life crumbling to pieces right before me, the troopers were explaining what happened but I barely heard anything. All I heard was 264.
Where on 264? Where is he? What happened? And I don't even know what else. I could barely process anything anyway. Karla asked them if I could go see him. They told me they did not recommend I see him due to the extent of his injuries. I kept thinking of our kids and then I realized that I was going to have to be the one to call his parents... or at least one of them. I called my mom first. Actually, I couldn't even do that. Karla called her and talked to her, then I talked to her. Then, I decided I would call his dad. I literally sat there for at least 15 minutes discussing with the troopers and my co-workers how I was ever going to do this. I could barely even think straight to dial numbers. But I called my father in-law and told him. I hope nobody reading this ever has to call a father to tell him his son is dead.
I meant to add this earlier but I forgot so the following is a later edit I added:
I forgot to mention what one of my biggest concerns really was: Matt. One of my questions, and the one I most wanted answered was, "Was he unconscious?" Basically, I wanted to know whether or not he felt any pain and/or suffered. I wanted to be sure that he felt nothing. And I think the trooper could sense that that's what I really wanted to know. He said he was unconscious the whole time and he said, "I don't think he suffered at all."
Then what? I don't know... I called my dad and then I was done. I was trying to figure out what on Earth was I going to do down in North Carolina with my husband's body and our two kids. The whole reason we were down there in the first place was for Matt's job. I was clueless.
Another later-added detail:
Before the troopers left the office, one of them handed me Matt's wallet. It had a gritty texture; tiny pieces of shattered glass were stuck to it. I didn't open it until later at home. It smelled like coffee. I got that wallet for him for his 26th birthday.
Matt's family flew down the very next day. My parents drove down. Everyone was with me by Thursday night.
April drove me to the daycare to get the kids and then home where she stayed with me overnight Wednesday to help out and be my shoulder to cry on.
I slept from 2:00-4:00a.m.
It was the worst day of my entire life... and I think every day thereafter has been just slightly short of worse than the day before.
That was the day Matt was killed. And a part of me, was, too.