Within seven minutes of the crash, the scene was a blur of flashing lights on emergency vehicles, and rescue workers moving about the SUV and surrounding area.
For nearly an hour, Dee Dee sat on the inside of one of the police cars while the rescue workers tended to her family. The stranger who'd stopped and tried to comfort her was sitting beside her, trying to will her to take a sip of her coffee. She just sat there - - silently, terrified, worried, helpless.
Another twenty minutes passed, and Dee Dee saw an officer approaching the car. She quickly jumped out to meet him. "My husband and baby! Are they alive?"
"Mrs. Turnan. We've recovered your husband's…"
"No! Don't say it!" That word - 'recovered'. It was enough…it was actually too much for Dee Dee. "Don't you dare tell me he's..." She covered her face with her hands; shaking her head in disbelief.
The officer continued as gently as possible. "I'm sorry to tell you that your husband didn't survive."
"No! No! He can't be…" She stared at the officer as if to question his statement. "Not my husband…my…oh…Alex!" She broke down in shuddering sobs. Once again the stranger was there to support her as her body shivered with emotion. The unknown man looked to the officer for answers about the baby, but before he could ask, Dee Dee looked up. "AJ." She whispered his name in fear. "What about my baby?" She slowly and fearfully turned to the officer. "Where's my son?"
"They're still trying to get to him. The car was crushed so badly…" The officer lowered his head. "It doesn't look good. I'm so sorry."
"No!" Dee Dee screamed. "You save my baby!" She moved to the officer and looked him straight in the eyes. "Do you hear me? Save him!"
"We're doing our best, but…"
Dee Dee's companion waved the officer off with a stern look. They may have been doing their best, but he knew Dee Dee didn't need or want to hear a repeat of what had already been said to her.
Needing the support, Dee Dee fell back into the arms of the consoling stranger. "They have to save my baby. Please, God. Please." She sobbed into the man's chest. "Don't let him die. Please."
The officer wanted to ask Dee Dee if he should call someone for her, but in her state of mind, he decided to let her try and find some comfort with her friend.
Dee Dee continued to sob in the arms of the man she didn't know, and she clung to him for quite some time. The only thing that loosened her grip was when she saw the coroner's van. More of the reality began to set in, but the worst of it was when she saw the large black body bag being wheeled toward the van.
"Alex!" She started toward the stretcher, but the stranger held her tightly. A few moments later, three members of the rescue team were racing toward the ambulance with little AJ on a stretcher. He was clearly unconscious; his little battered body secured by arm and leg splints, and a neck brace. The stranger pulled Dee Dee away and tried to block her view by standing in front of her and gently placing her head against his shoulder, but she fought hard enough to lift her head to see. "That's my baby!" She yelled. "That's my baby…my little boy! AJ! I have to be with him! AJ, mommy loves you! You'll be okay, baby! Mommy's coming!" When an attendant told her she couldn't ride with the baby due to all the equipment, she turned to run toward her own car.
"Wait! You're in no condition to drive." Her companion said. "Let me take you to the hospital."
"But I…he…" Dee Dee's voice and body were trembling with fear and anxiety as she realized he was right, and she gave in to the suggestion. During the drive, she continued to sob over losing her husband and at the idea of possibly losing her son. "Why is this happening?" She said just above a whisper. "This can't be real. It can't be."
Unsure of the right words to say, her companion remained silent and began to pray for the well-being of little AJ and for the strength that Dee Dee would need to get her through the tragedy.
Once they arrived at the hospital, they were told to sit and wait as the surgeons tended to AJ. The stranger brought Dee Dee a cup of coffee from a vending machine, and this time he managed to get her to take a few sips. Her hands were trembling so badly, he thought he'd have to hold the cup for her while she sipped, but she managed.
Twice within two hours, a nurse came to give them updates on the surgery. The nurse didn't have any reassuring news, only that they were still working on repairing severe injuries to baby AJ.
Dee Dee shook her head in disbelief. "What am I supposed to do? Alex is…" Her voice trailed off for a moment. "Now I might I lose my little baby boy." She quickly scolded herself for thinking such a thing. "Oh, God. I didn't mean to say that." She gasped. "I won't lose him. I won't lose him, too. I can't…I just can't." She wrapped her arms around herself as tightly as possible. "I won't want to live. There's no way I could go on. I just…" Her breath was cut short by a shiver across her body.
"The doctor's are working very hard to try to save your baby." Her companion knew she needed some sort of a distraction. "We should call people. You make out a list, and I'll call them for you."
Dee Dee looked around and toward the voice. She momentarily studied the finely chiseled features, the naturally dark cocoa tanned complexion and the dark wavy hair. She realized that this kind stranger had been looking out for her, but she didn't even know his name. She heaved a heavy sigh. "I'm so sorry. I haven't taken time to ask what your name is."
"It's Mark Atkins. And it's okay that you hadn't asked before now."
"I'm Dee Dee Turnan."
"Yes, I know. I heard you telling one of the officers."
Dee Dee placed a gentle hand on top of Mark's. "I'm also grateful to have you here with me."
"I'm glad to do it." He smiled. "Now, is there anyone you'd like for me to call?"
Dee Dee's heart quivered at the idea of telling everyone about the accident. "Yes, my mother, Anna Kimball and my friend, Rick. Oh, and Alex's aunt and uncle. He was an only child and…his parents are…they died when he was young." She sniffled. "I just can't talk to any of them right now."
"Give me their numbers and I'll call them for you."
With a shaky hand, Dee Dee jotted down the names and numbers.
Mark first called Mrs. Kimball, Dee Dee's mother. When she heard the news, she broke down in a torrent of tears. "This must be breaking Dee Dee apart. My poor baby." She heaved a ragged sigh. "Please tell her I'm on my way and that I love her and AJ."
"I will." Mark replied and went to the next name and number.
"Hello. Is this Rick Hunter?"
"Yeah. I'm Hunter." Rick answered sleepily and turned on the lamp.
"My name is Mark Atkins, and I'm placing this call for Dee Dee Turnan. There's been a horrible car accident."
"What?" Rick's heart skipped a beat as he bolted upright in bed. "Is she okay…her family? What happened?"
"She's fine…physically. She wasn't in the car with them…her husband and son, I mean."
"If she's not calling me herself, it must be really serious. How are AJ and Alex doing?"
"I'm sorry to tell you that Alex died on the scene."
"Oh, no. What about the baby?"
"He's in surgery…very critical."
With his heart racing, Rick immediately pulled himself from bed. "Is Dee Dee around? I'd like to talk to her."
"She's sitting a few feet away, but she said she wasn't up to talking to anyone. That's why I'm calling."
Rick felt his heart wrench at the thought of Dee Dee's suffering. "I understand. Would you please tell her that I'll be on the next flight over? And, Mr. Atkins, please tell her that I love her and AJ."
"Yes, I'll be happy to let her know." After Mark told Rick which hospital they were in, and had given him his own home and cell phone numbers in case he needed him later, the two hung up. Mark quickly called Alex's aunt and uncle and then returned to Dee Dee's side. "Everyone sends their love to you and AJ. They'll be here on the next available flights. Is there anything else I can do for you?" He asked with concern.
"No, not now." Dee Dee turned to face Mark and put a gentle, but shaky hand on his forearm. "I can't thank you enough for being here with me."
"And I'll stay for as long as you need me to." Mark offered a gentle smile. "I'm going to find a pillow and a blanket for you. You should lie down and try to settle your nerves."
"Thank you." Dee Dee answered wearily. "I won't be doing any sleeping, but I do think I need to try and calm myself down. I feel like I'm about to crawl out of my skin."
"I'll be right back." A few minutes later, Mark returned with the items, along with a cinnamon roll and a cup of decaffeinated coffee for the both of them. He didn't tell her that it was decaf, because she probably would have preferred something to keep her alert. He knew her nerves would never settle if she was keyed up on caffeine. The sugar in the roll would be enough. Dee Dee only took one bite of her snack and her stomach let her know that it wasn't up for anything more than coffee. After they finished up, Mark made himself as comfortable as possible in his chair, while Dee Dee was given the option of the only empty recliner. With a little coaxing from her new friend, she settled back into the chair. Mark saw her shiver and though he wasn't sure if she was cold or if it was nerves, he pulled the blanket up and over her shoulders.
Another two hours passed and during that time, Dee Dee had been in and out of her seat at least a half dozen times. She and Mark took turns going to the nurse's station with questions, each getting more and more frustrated at not getting answers.
"Why haven't they said anything?" Dee Dee asked Mark as she sat down once again. "What's happening with my baby?"
"I'm sorry I don't have an answer for you." Mark sighed with disappointment. "I could ask someone again."
Before he stood to walk to the nurse's station, the nurse from surgery entered. "Mrs. Turnan, the doctor will be out to talk with you in a few moments."
"Why can't you tell me something?" Dee Dee stood up. "Just please tell me how my baby is. Is he going to be okay?"
"I can't give you any information. I'm sorry. Dr. Benson will be with you shortly." The nurse excused herself and walked back toward the O.R.
Dee Dee sank back down into the recliner as her eyes stung with more tears. Mark placed a gentle hand on her shoulder and she instinctively leaned in and against his chest and allowed him to wrap his arms around her.
Twenty minutes later, Dr. Benson made an appearance. "Mrs. Turnan?"
"Yes." Dee Dee stood up quickly. "How's my baby?"
"Please, sit down." The doctor instructed.
"Just tell me." Dee Dee's voice wavered. "Please."
Mark stood beside her.
Dr. Benson swallowed hard before speaking. "Your son is out of surgery, but I'm sorry to tell you...that he won't survive. We truly did all we could for him. I know he fought as well as he could, but he just couldn't win. We're all very sorry."
For Dee Dee, it was as if the doctor was speaking to her from under water. His words sounded garbled and slow…fading into a tangled web of blurred nonsense. Her heart began to pound in her ears as she felt unsteady on her feet.
"Dee Dee?" Mark felt her lean against him. "Dee Dee, here, sit down." He gently helped her back down to her seat.
"You're wrong, Dr Benson." Dee Dee said in a whisper as she allowed Mark to help her sit. "You're wrong about my baby."
With sympathy in his voice, the doctor who had now been joined by a colleague sat beside Dee Dee. "No, Mrs. Turnan. I'm not."
He looked up at Dr. Baylor who added his own sympathy. "I'm very sorry, but Dr. Benson is telling the truth." Baylor shook his head in sorrow. "The child's injuries are much too severe for a recovery. He's on life support and we're keeping him on it until you decide…"
"No!" Dee Dee bolted from her seat. "Don't say another word! Don't you…dare!" She hurried across the room to stare out the window. "My baby boy." She whispered, while toying with Alex's and AJ's birthstones on her necklace. "He'll be okay…he'll be fine." She continued to console herself. "I can't lose my baby. He's my precious boy. He'll be fine. I know he will."
"Dee Dee?" Mark quietly walked up behind her, and was once again he was unsure of his words. "I…I don't know what to say. Saying 'I'm sorry' seems to not be enough."
Dee Dee didn't turn to face Mark. She spoke to him by way of his reflection in the window. "I need to see him." She sobbed. "Please take me to see my baby."
Dr. Benson led the way as Dee Dee and Mark followed him to the Pediatric ICU.
"Yeah…Devane, here." Charlie answered groggily and with a groan. ("It's not even daybreak.") He noted to himself.
"Charlie, it's Rick, and I have to talk fast." Rick held the phone receiver between his shoulder and his ear as he threw what he needed into a bag. "Alex and AJ were in a car crash. Alex was killed. The baby is in surgery."
"What? Oh, no. That poor baby." Charlie's heart rate quickened. "What about Dee Dee?"
She wasn't in the car, but I can't imagine her emotional state. A friend of hers called and filled me in. I'm on my way to the airport."
Charlie threw back his covers and jumped out of bed. "Alright. Are you already set to leave?"
"Yeah, I'm heading out the door, now."
"I'll meet you at the airport. I can be ready in ten…" Charlie was reminded of something. Oh, damn it."
"I need to update my passport. Go on without me. Give Dee Dee and the baby my love."
"I will, Charlie. See ya later."
When Dr. Benson opened the door to AJ's room, two nurses were near the bed. One was checking readings on the machines, and the other was adjusting the blankets around the baby. When Dee Dee saw her little boy, she gasped in surprise at all the tubes and support braces on his little body, not to mention hearing the beeping of the heart monitor, the flashing button on the oxygen sensor, and the worst of all…seeing the machine force air into her baby's lungs. Her breath caught in her throat and she suddenly felt light-headed. Mark held onto her and led her into the room. He wasn't breathing on his own, and hadn't done so since the accident. She knew deep down that the machine was only a preservation device…keeping him "alive" until she said gave the word.
Without taking her eyes off her son, Dee Dee questioned the doctor. "Is he hurting?" Her voice quivered. "Does he feel any pain?"
"No, he's not hurting at all. He can't feel anything because his brain is so badly…"
"Don't!" Dee Dee interrupted. "Don't say that about my baby!"
The doctor knew that Dee Dee would rather hear a comforting lie, rather than the horrific truth. "He's heavily sedated. He's not in any pain." The doctor sighed with heartfelt sympathy for Mrs. Turnan. "We'll leave you alone with him. Please use the call button if you need anything." Dr. Benson instructed the two nurses to exit the room with him.
Dee Dee sat down beside her son's bed and put her hand between the safety railings to hold his tiny hand. "Hi, baby. It's mommy." She looked at the sweet angelic face that had only one tiny scratch above the left brow. If not for all the limb splints and the bandage wrapped completely around his head, she wouldn't know he was severely injured. "AJ? Sweet-pea, can you hear mommy?" She stroked his cheek with her index finger; trailing the edge of the oxygen tube in his little nose. "I know you're sleeping, sweetie. But please wake up for me. Come on, AJ. Wake up." Dee Dee pleaded to no avail.
Mark stood silently in the corner for a few minutes, and then decided it would be best to give Dee Dee some time alone. His heart ached for her, but he didn't want to overstep his bounds by invading her privacy.
"AJ? You're two years old, today." Dee Dee said her son. "We had some cake, didn't we? Yes, my big boy ate all of his sketti, and then blew out his candles on his cake." Dee Dee thought of how she loved hearing her baby pronounce spaghetti as "sketti". The reality of her never hearing him pronounce it correctly put another hole in her heart. She knew that this was only a drop in the ocean of things she'd never hear or see her only child do. "He's just a baby. Only two years old today, God. Why? Why does it have to be like this? Why do innocent babies have to suffer like this?" She lowered the railing and lay her head beside AJ's shoulder and sobbed. "Oh, baby. I'm so sorry you're hurt. Mommy's so sorry she didn't save you. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Please, God, don't take my baby. Please, please, please, God. No. Not my husband and my baby. Please." Dee Dee kept her head down and began to pray, to beg silently that her precious son be given back to her.