October 12, 1996
I had survived my first week of graduate school at Georgia Tech and was very much looking forward to seeing a familiar face. David showed up that morning in his black F150 pick-up truck, and we headed to Six Flags. It was a lot of fun. We rode plenty of rides, laughed and talked, and just generally had a great time. Afterwards, we had a late supper at The Varsity. Then he drove me back to my dorm, walked me to my apartment (where I once again had this brief moment of wishing he would kiss me good-night – he didn’t), and I watched out my window as he got back into his truck and drove off. We hadn’t made any plans to see each other again, but I figured we would continue to talk from time to time. We had become pretty good friends over the previous 2 1/2 years.
When I got back from classes on Monday afternoon, I had two messages on my answering machine. One was from my mother, and the other was from Russ. They both said the same thing.
David had been in a terrible car accident on Saturday night. He was in the ICU at Georgia Baptist Hospital. And he might lose his leg.
Turns out, he had fallen asleep at the wheel just outside of Atlanta and veered into a guard rail. Thankfully, no other people or vehicles were involved. He wasn’t wearing a seat belt, but this was one of those 1-in-a-million times when that was for the best. The airbag didn’t open, and the steering wheel ended up pinned to the back of the driver’s seat. David had been slung over to the passenger’s seat with his leg stuck between the dash and the seat. A Good Samaritan pulled over to check on him and called 911. When the ambulance arrived, they decided that would take too long. A helicopter landed on the interstate and airlifted him to the hospital. Very soon after arriving, he was in surgery to try to save his right leg.
After I got the messages, I called my mother for more information. David’s parents had gotten to the hospital sometime on Sunday, and each time they went back to see David in the ICU, he had thought of more people they needed to call – his boss at UPS, his friend Russ, and eventually me. David hadn’t remembered my phone number, but his parents were able to track down my Dad’s veterinary clinic in my hometown, and then my Mom had called me.
When I got to the hospital a very short time later, Russ was in the waiting room along with David’s parents. I could have picked them out of a crowd of thousands. There was no denying which two people were David’s parents.
(Funny side note: I had thought all along that David had feelings for me beyond friendship. After all, he kept coming over to my apartment and taking me out to dinner and such. As my friend Sonya once said, she thought “David Baggett’s sun rose and set on Laura K Pearson.” So I was kind of surprised when his parents clearly had never heard my name before. I wanted to say, “But I’m Laura! You know – Laura? David’s unrequited love??” Ha! Clearly, we had been wrong about that.)
David was in the ICU for almost a week, and I went to the hospital every evening. His mother loves to talk, and she especially loved this random girl who seemed to care about her son, so I learned lots of things about his family and about him (especially little kid stories). In spite of not knowing me before then, she almost immediately assumed that I was, in fact, David’s girlfriend. One night when it was time for everyone to leave, she said, “Go ahead, Laura. Kiss him goodnight!” Yikes!! Talk about an awkward moment. David and I just looked at each other with this mix of horror and confusion, and I bent down and kissed him on the forehead. Before that, the heart monitor was doing a slow and steady beep…beep…beep. Suddenly, it went beepbeepbeepbeepbeep. I still smile when I think of that.
It wasn’t the last hospital kiss we would have.