That's what everyone kept telling me. But accidents are spilled drinks and torn pages, not dead people. Every time someone tried to console me with "it was an accident," I wanted to punch them in the face. I was now not only the girl who ran the red light, I was the girl who killed someone. That's a heavy label. And I stuck it hard and fast to my forehead with Superglue.
Yvonne was a mother. Her children were grown, but no doubt they weren't ready for life without mom. Yvonne was a woman, a daughter, a sister, a friend. Yvonne was dead, and I had killed her. And yet, we called it an accident.
Truly, it was. Sitting behind that white moving truck for so long, I thought the light had turned green. Really, the truck driver had made a right turn on the red light. Thankfully, I guess, he had made his right turn with plenty of room in traffic, or I would have been slammed on the driver's side by oncoming traffic as I inched into the intersection unaware. Thankfully, I guess, I had been wearing my seat belt. Yvonne had not. The investigator said that had she had her seat belt on, she would have survived the crash.
I stayed in Arizona for almost a month. When I got home, I received notification that my license would be suspended for 30 months, and that there was a warrant out for my arrest. I found that second part out from one of my dry cleaning cops, who came into the store and told me. "Did you know I'm supposed to arrest you?" he said with a smile. Wait, what? Apparently, the notice to appear in court had been delivered to the wrong address for my father's law office, and so it went unopened. We missed the court date, and now I was Wanted. I called my dad, who made other phone calls, and the date was rescheduled. That date was dark. Oh, how it loomed.
I remember exactly the Sunday dress I wore to appear before the judge. To face the children of the woman I had killed. I remember the pit in my stomach, the sweat on my palms, how my legs trembled. A few things worked in my favor, again, divinely. First, to repeat, my father represented me. The attorney representing the other family was a friend of his, and the judge was the father of a kid I'd gone to high school with. The investigator and the police knew me. I wasn't some troubled kid. I was a barely turned 18 year old, graduated-early, straight-A, never-been-in-trouble little girl. And sadly, it had been an accident. Because of those factors, charges were changed and combined to lesser offenses, and the attorney representing Yvonne's family told me not to worry, that he had no issue with seeking the lesser punishments allowed by law.
I stood before the judge and cried as Yvonne's children shouted out in the courtroom, "She killed my mother!" "My mother's dead!" I could see the compassion in the judge's eyes as he listened. He felt sorry for both of us, but wanted me to be able to move on with my life since her death had obviously not been a willful act.
I had to pay a maximum fine, plus court costs and fees. My license was suspended for the 30 months. And I was given a suspended sentence of 15 days in jail, pending any moving violation in the state of NJ within a year.
I was grateful for mercy.
I was also emotionally exhausted, and filled with the pain of facing Yvonne's family. Walking out of the courtroom, I was consumed with terror that her son would chase me down in the parking lot and kill me in revenge. Or, later he would find me. And I would deserve it. I am amazed, still, that my father walked by my side. And I felt safe.
Facing the legal ramifications of my actions was difficult. But the greater challenge would be learning to forgive myself. I couldn't let myself off so easy.
. . .to be concluded tomorrow.