In January, my husband and I were sitting at a red light on our way to get groceries. A completely drunken asshole in a dump truck came along at high speed and smashed into us, hitting the driver’s side. Adam was driving. He was killed instantly, crushed. I was pinned in and unconscious, barely alive. A fire station was across the street and they came over immediately, used their equipment to get me out and carted me off to an ER in the suburb, from where I was flown into the city’s level 1 trauma center.
The dump truck driver was mildly hurt; he was given first aid on the scene then carted off to jail.
I remember getting hit and struggling to breathe and fading in and out as the fire crew worked to get me out of the mangled Jeep. I remember pain as I was taken into the first ER, then noise and cold as I was put into the helicopter. There was more noise and cold when we landed on the roof of the trauma center, then bits and pieces of light and conversation and pain that always made me pass out.
A neurosurgeon was called in for my back and rib cage injuries. There were worries about my heart, so a cardiologist was there. Given my medical profile of years of problems, I was a challenge. They decided to bring in a thoracic surgeon first, to alleviate internal bleeding and bloodflow problems and to evaluate the heart. I needed resuscitation three times on the table. They kept me in an induced coma for the second surgery, the neuro procedures which shored up my rib cage and spine. There was hope I could walk again, but no guarantees. A third surgery happened for head and facial injuries.
Two weeks later, I woke up in the ICU. It was dark, there were tubes, the usual medical devices doing various noisy things and some panic. A doctor was nearby taking notes. Finally he noticed that my head was moving and he saw that I was awake.
Some evaluations followed. They told me they were going to remove the ventilator to see how I was breathing. If that was successful, then they could remove the entubation apparatus.
I’ve used chapstick since I was a small kid, always outside playing in the New Mexico sunshine. My lips now felt like they were on fire. Staff gathered around, but all I wanted was some lip balm relief. Instructions followed and I did what they wanted as much as I could. Breathe in, breathe out. Follow my penlight with your eyes.
The entubation was removed and my throat was as sore as my lips. I asked for chapstick and ice in a raspy, husky voice that didn’t sound like my own. And then I asked for Adam.
Friends were brought in along with the balm and ice. I got settled a bit more and a bit more awake. How is Adam?
Finally, a doctor broke the news. I already knew from my friend’s faces. He was gone, I was flattened, and I was also screwed. With him gone, so was our money, main income, the car and his health insurance that covered me. I could not afford our mortgage or food and listening to the doctor tell me what had happened to me and then what they had had to do to save me was pretty terrifying, but what was worse was knowing that I was just royally screwed. I would lose the house, be kicked out of the hospital, have nowhere to go and no way to get there and no ability to earn any money, which could not come fast enough to save the situation.
“Why didn’t you let me die?” was my next question. There was a mumbled answer. My friends stood and cried and both said not to worry, they would take care of me and get me back on my feet. At that particular moment, the neurosurgeons weren’t even sure if I could stand or walk, let alone “get back on my feet” and get a job.
If I could have reached the cart with the pills, I would have ended it right then and there. Suicide watch had already started, so they were all pretty careful with me.
Three more followup surgeries followed. Four weeks in ICU, two weeks in post-surgical recovery regular rooms. Then kicked out. Adam’s insurance and our car insurance agreed to cover all this up to a cutoff point of $1 million. Sounds generous, but it was because they were already in negotiations with the dump truck company’s insurer. It would ultimately not cost our insurer’s a dime; in fact, they made money.
I was left to get in touch with a personal injury lawyer and managed to find one that had sued the dump truck company several times. A wealth of information was in their files, including that the drunk driver had multiple accidents, two with injuries, and other claims of property and vehicle damage over the previous five years. He was best buds with the company owners. They were quite wealthy and covered the losses and mayhem he caused.
My suit was filed as soon as I was awake in ICU. The state and Feds had already launched investigations. The city was filing vehicular manslaughter and other charges. My husband’s murder was big local news for awhile. Then the Feds raided the truck company offices. Tons of violations: everything from improperly licensed drivers and improperly certified trucks to filing false income taxes and false business taxes and false OSHA and Labor department forms and so on and so on.
Their insurer was immediately ready to talk settlement with me and my insurers. Given the mounting evidence of criminal operations that they had been insuring, their exposure was huge. My insurers got undisclosed settlement amounts in the millions. I signed on the dotted line and took a little over $30 million, which was compensatory, so not taxable. My attorney took home a $10 million check, which the truck company’s insurer had to pay; it didn’t come out of my $30m. And I still had three operations and four more weeks of hospitalization to go.
Around 20 days later, the money was in a bank account and I was starting the painful and slow process of rehab. I moved into a small apartment across the street from the hospital for the first month.
Our four dogs were taken care of at first by our friends, then the wonderful people of the rescue group we had adopted the dogs from came together and took them in temporarily.
After over 10 weeks, I finally went home. I could stand unsteadily and walk with the equipment at the rehab place, but I couldn’t drive or anything else. I planned Adam’s memorial service, which was held after his cremation and when I was just barely able to stand the surreal and terrible ceremonial. I was in pain, physically and emotionally, and the service was a blur of images and crying and confusion. I went back to the apartment and slept for two straight days.
As the money sat in the account, I could pay bills. The house was paid off. I began to try to decided which car I should eventually buy. Other financial decisions had to be made. We put a chunk in an account to pay for medical expenses. The truck company’s insurer too on the cost of paying any health expenses, including surgeries and hospitalizations, related to the murder wreck. The claims were paid, thank god, but I never knew if they would hold up their end of the bargain.
I also had to testify at preliminary hearings and trials of the driver/murderer, the company owners and others. The drunken maniac got 25 years and had to serve 10 years of that before parole consideration could be given. The husband/wife owners got 10 years each. They were an incredible piece of work, both of them; complete idiots and assholes, chaotic hot messes who had lurched from drama to drama throughout their lives, inexplicably managing to amass millions along the way. The state and Feds cleaned them out and slammed their asses to the wall. On top of their 10 years for the murder and related charges, they were given additional sentences stemming from the IRS, OSHA and other agency charges. They were barred from ever owning a truck or trucking company ever again. They would not be able to drive again for years. The murderer himself could not drive for five years if he were to be released on parole. I made it my mission to pressure parole board and state officials to keep the assholes in prison for as long as I could.
Out of the hospital, rehab three times a week, I’m a millionaire who has lost the love of his life. There are four hounds to be fed and attended. Getting groceries was almost a major operation. There were doctor’s appointments and three post-hospitalization surgeries. And there was anxiety and depression and screaming and crying constantly. I ultimately lost over 50 pounds, which I needed to do, but it was a very brutal diet. Rehab got me in shape. I worked out some more just to not have to think. It was the lowest point of my life, my pit of bottomless despair.
With the coming of spring, I began to live a little more and think a little more and drive a little more and talk a little more in therapy and be basically functional. I still thought it would perhaps be better to check out and be done with it all. But as each day passed, the consensus with friends was that I had been given the gift of surviving, of continuing to live, and that I should live the life I had been given. Many people had worked hard to bring me back from the brink. Suicide would have been an insult to their work. To the support of my friends. To survive and also live and have a future was made my mission, even if I wasn’t very into the idea. I lived, I breathed. I functioned. The elephant sitting on my chest which was the oppressiveness and anxiety and panic and stress from losing Adam and have to survive began to fade slowly.
By the summer, I was not sure what I wanted. I now had the money to go wherever I wanted. For months, I had been extremely reluctant to leave the house, the first house he and I had bought together, the first place where the deed was in both our names: “Adam Foster and Sean Jacobs, a married couple,” the deed read. I couldn’t stand the thought of selling it, but the thought of always being there was beginning to get a bit oppressive too. There were reminders of him everywhere. His unmade bed. His urn containing his ashes. His clothes. His shoes. His journals from a lifetime of obsessively writing down everything that had ever happened to him; journals that would sometimes anger me in the future when I would sit and read them, particularly the ones on his laptop where he wrote out some of his frustrations with me, with us. Nothing too horrible, just a bit unfair. Nothing that revealed anything like an affair or something, that wasn’t Adam. Just mostly little stuff. But sometimes those little things that bothered him would sting me and make me defensive in my own mind. I sometimes argued with him out loud or in my head. When I would argue with his journal out loud, the dogs would get kind of pissed that I was interrupting their naps, or keeping them up in the middle of the night. Still, it wasn’t enough to lift the Queen Victoria-level mourning of my husband’s sudden loss. It helped to get pissed at him, but not enough.
So slowly, in spite of what I wanted, I functioned more and more. I planned. I made decisions without him. I bought clothes and a replacement Jeep when I could drive again. I got dental work done to repair some damage and decay and got some facial and skin work on my torso to repair some damage there.
My new slim self, still not really wanting to eat much, my new clothes, my slightly better face, neck and torso added up to a new me. If people didn’t know what was going on, they would have thought I had hit a middle age crisis and had gone a new expensive car and facelift bender. It was necessary. I needed a car, ours was smooshed together. The facial and skin surgeries were necessary to keep reducing the size of scars and keep them supple. And the weight loss, unexpected as it was, was also necessary because I now had a future to live, however reluctantly.
I was a new man, basically, even if I was even more a bitter, jaded and hostile queen than before. By summer, with folks behind bars and most of the medical stuff behind me, I started to finally look at what that future might look like. I couldn’t see staying where I was; I refused to sell our house, but I wanted to move away from the City of Incredibly Bad, Dangerous Drivers.
I was born and raised in New Mexico. We moved away when I was 10, and I had spent the next 46 years trying to scheme my way back home. With the settlement money, I knew I could build a very nice house near Santa Fe or Albuquerque. I couldn’t work, so it could be anywhere, as long as it was a reasonable drive to doctor’s offices or hospitals. I began to plan the return.
Friends took care of the hounds for me in August for a few days and I flew to Albuquerque. I spent the time exploring and looking at land that would be good to have my house on. I tried to narrow down my house plan choices. I looked at houses to buy so I would have a place to live while my new one was being built.
I also looked at architectural firms in the are which could handle construction management and maybe even a plan from scratch. I narrowed it down to three. And at the first firm, two of the principals were great and agreed to take my preferred plan off the shelf from an online company and adapt it to my needs and help with my land choice and also provide landscape and interior architectural work. The last two, they said, could be amply handled by their partner, whose name was Bryan Spenser.
I was neither expecting nor trying to meet anyone and make anything happen. I was just trying to get a house built and settle down and heal in my home state, my spiritual home for all of my life. New Mexico was already working well for me. I closed on a temprorary house, and it sat ready for some renovations before I would move in. I had a move date and a way to get the four hounds to New Mexico; I rented an RV that accepted doggy passengers for a ridiculous amount of money and got ready to leave in September. My best friend and I would drive the RV and dogs along I-40 west to the new home in about three or four days.
But first, there was Bryan.
After talking for about an hour with the principal architect of the exterior and the construction manager, they brought in the interior architect, who would lead the team responsible for anything inside the house, all 5,585 square feet of it.
The door opened and the two partners introduced us. As soon as he walked in the door, I was stopped in my tracks. Our eyes met and locked and a strange sensation hit me. I could barely think. He. Was. Beautiful. Not beautiful like a male model or celebrity or movie star, not like a gay porn star. Just a beautiful, sweet, smiling man, who was beautiful because he was, to put it simply, my type: blond and hairy, slightly shorter than me. I immediately wondered how old he was (he turned out to be 13 years younger than me, 43) and if he might be into derelict daddies. (More about my body dysmorphia issues later.)
I stood up to shake his hand, our eyes still locked. I realized we both had sort of lopsided, silly grins on our faces and I had no idea why. Then, I swear to God, our hands met and with some static probably from the carpet, we shocked each other. Our first touch was literally an electric shock. What happened over the next year was even more shocking.
We were both startled and hesitated to let go, but we managed to be smooth enough to get out, “Nice to meet you!” and sit down. My mind whirled. His was similarly unsettled and confused.
It was about 3 p.m. on a Friday by this point. The others left the room and Bryan and I discovered that we both like to talk. A lot. We talked for two-and-a-half hours until we realized the staff was leaving and we were sitting in the conference room alone, making notes and sketches.
I blurted out that I really enjoyed talking to him. (“Smooth mood, idiot, he’s gonna think you’re trying to hit on him,” I thought.) And then came salvation: he said he really enjoyed it too and if I didn’t have any plans, we could just continue over dinner; he knew of a few places since I was new in town (“What the hell? Did that just come out of my mouth? Oh God! He’s going to think I’m hitting on him! I could just die!” he thought.)
We were watching each others’ eyes to see if there was a hint of rejection; no, just slight embarrassment. I said that I would actually love that (“Don’t say ‘love,’ idiot!” I thought.) He asked if I liked New Mexican and also said there was a very nice quiet bar we could also hit after dinner. (“Oh, shit, just take out your dick and wave it at him!!!” he thought.)
I said that since I was born and raised, I had been fed New Mexican pretty much all my life and it sounded great. And so did the bar. (“Oh yeah, turn him off with your sarcasm. And what bar? Is it a gay bar?” I thought.) He said oh d’uh, of course you know New Mexican food, sorry, you must think I’m an idiot. And we don’t have to go to the bar if you don’t want to. It’s just got soft music so we can talk more. (“Wait, that’s a queer-friendly space. He’ll probably beat my ass up!” he thought.)
(“Is he even gay?!” we both thought at the same time.
He had been given the bare details about what I was doing, but we first started talking about why I was coming back to New Mexico. Loss of husband nine months ago, settlement money, need to get away from a place of tragedy, desire to be back in my spiritual home, etc., etc., etc.
I saw how his eyebrows lifted and a little smile played at the corner of one side of his lips. He then licked them a little and got serious and said condolences and all that. (“So he IS gay! And is in need of comfort in his mourning period! Oh, Daddy! Let me be your comforter!” he thought.)
I thanked him and then trailed off as I watched him reach inside his open shirt collar and took out a necklace with rainbow triangles on it.
[This is a fictional work in progress. Y’all know this is probably gonna become kinda porno. More to come soon!]