Calling the Man Whose Daughter Died in the Crash I Caused

In the below excerpt from Crashing: I Love You. Forgive Me, I’d just left the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center after learning of my girlfriend Laura’s death. Laura was the designated driver for the birthday party she threw for me the night before, and I was shocked when the police told me I was driving the car she died in. The onset of near-hysterical grief was like a lion pouncing on me from the grass. As I picked up the phone to call Laura’s dad, I knew he’d never forgive me, but then something unimaginable happened.

The car stopping in the driveway wakes me, and I drag myself into the house.

“Maybe you should take a shower,” my dad suggests. “I’ll grab you some clothes.”

I turn the water as hot as I can stand it. Glass and blood fall from my scalp as I desperately scrub, trying to wash away the horror. I put my head against the wall and cry, the tears mixing with the near-scalding water, blood, and glass running down my face.

The lion having sprung on me in the hospital and subdued its prey, it toys with me now. I alternate between hysterical grief and calm reflection. I spiral downward in hopelessness and anguish, and at the moment that I’m on the verge of collapse, the lion lets me go so I can catch my breath and enjoy the fleeting sensation of escape. I know I should be losing it. I remember that just a minute ago I was losing it. And yet, for just that moment, I am removed from the pain. I know what has happened, and I consider it with academic detachment. Laura is dead. The police think I killed her. It’s not an ideal situation.

I step out of the shower as the hot water runs out. They cut my clothes off in the hospital, so I left in a hospital gown. Now I put on one of my dad’s shirts and a pair of his pants. I take as long as I can to dress and brush my teeth, removing the residual chunks of vomit from the car ride home. I have to call Laura’s parents, and I’m putting it off as long as I can. I wish I could just never speak to them again, pretend they never existed, but I know that isn’t an option. I’ve been part of their family for three years. David, Laura’s dad, knows I’ve been planning to ask his permission to propose. 

They are my family, but according to the police, I’ve just destroyed their family. I can’t imagine that I’d been driving, but it seems unlikely the police would be confused about that. It seems like an important detail for them to get right. On the other hand, I know from my criminal law classes that mistakes happen.

I pick up the phone, unsure of whether Laura’s parents know what has happened and terrified they already hate me, that they’ll forbid me from attending her funeral, and that they wish I was dead too. If I were them, I’d hate me just for living, whether or not I was driving.

Are you supposed to make small talk at the beginning of a “sorry your daughter is dead because of me” call?

David answers on the first ring. 

“David, I’m so sorry. I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how this happened. I am so sorry.”

I ask if I can come to Laura’s funeral but say I understand if they don’t want me there. I don’t expect any compassion. I don’t expect anything but anger.

David interrupts me. “Mark, we were so worried we lost you too. Thank God you’re alright.”

The state troopers had come to his house in Florida to notify him of Laura’s death, but they wouldn’t tell him what happened to me. 

“We know how happy you made Laura, how much the two of you loved each other,” David says. “Laura wouldn’t want us to be angry at each other, Mark. We’re going to need each other.”

I don’t know what to say. I don’t deserve to be treated like this. I deserve to be dead. Their little girl is dead, and it was my job to keep her safe. The police say she’s dead because of me. And her family is worried about me. I’m so grateful and astonished. And I also want to scream: “HATE ME! Please, hate me!” 

I hate me.