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Note: In this chapter we hear from several of Jamie’s family-first hand
I’d just finished giving a speeding driver a ticket when my cell phone rang. “Officer Spence,” I responded while on my way back to the patrol car, not instantly recognizing the number, but it looked familiar.
“Hey, Aiden? It’s Matt from the Austin FD. You got a sec, buddy?”
“Oh, hey Matt. Sure – what’s up?”
“This is going to sound weird, but, can I ask – is your brother’s name, Lucas?”
Instantly my entire focus shifted to the call. “Yes, my little brother. What’s wrong, Matt?” My voice was full of concern as I climbed back into the patrol car, signalling to Chris, my partner, to wait a second.
“I’m sorry to have to tell you,” Matt took a deep breath, “but he’s been involved in a serious MVA (Motor Vehicle Accident). He’s been transported to the Texas University ER as we speak.”
“Fuck! Was that the one on 290-East an hour ago?” I replied, pushing my hand through my hair, coming to rest on the crown of my head. “I heard that on the radio.”
“Yes, buddy. I’m sorry.”
I took a steadying breath. “Matt, is he… is he – you know – okay?” I hurriedly waved at Chris, placing my hand half-over the microphone. “Texas University ER. My little brother was in that MVA on 290.”
Chris, looked at me with shock written all over his face. Not waiting a second longer, he pulled the patrol car out and headed towards the ER.
“Yeah, Aiden. He’s in a bad way and the guy traveling with him is to.”
The realization hit me that it was my cousin, Jamie. Well of course! Jamie’s in the country, so those two will be joined at the hip till he leaves. God, I can only imagine the shit they’re getting up to traveling around. “Matt, – the passenger – same surname?”
“Um, I know we’re not supposed to give details but, yeah.” Matt was clearly concerned about letting the family know asap.
“The other guy is my cousin from Australia. The two of them – Lucas-Jamie – are almost joined at the fucking hip. Fuck! They were on their way to my place for a few days. Fuck it! Fuck it to hell!”
Frustration was kicking in. I shook my head. “Sorry, Matt. Thanks. I’ve gotta go. I need to let my folks and my uncle in Australia know. Thanks for the head’s up, buddy. I owe you.”
I hope Matt didn’t think I was being rude. I didn’t even wait for Matt to hang up, ending the call by dialing my dads’ number over the top of him.
Reid & Ann Maree Spence
I’d been out with a few golf buddies, finally catching a round, when my cell started to ring. “Oh, hey Aiden! How are you son?”
“Dad, where are you? Where’s mom?” His voice sounded urgent and direct.
“I’ve just arrived home – I’m in the drive. I guess your mom’s inside somewhere. What’s wrong, son? You sound alarmed!”
“Dad, Lucas and Jamie have been in an MVA just outside of Austin. I’m on my way to the ER now.”
I couldn’t believe my ears! Stunned! I stopped and braced myself on the garden fence for a moment, then ran up the drive, in the back door, spotting my wife sitting at the kitchen counter chatting to a neighbour on her cell. “Ann Marie, its Aiden…” I called out as I held out the cell, then putting it on speaker. “MOM! Lucas and Jamie have been in an accident,” Aiden repeated.
“Aiden is on his way over to the ER now, Honey,” I said as I placed my hand on my wife’s arm.
Ann Marie’s face dropped. She looked at the phone in horror. “Aiden, what’s going on with Lucas? Is he okay, Jamie?” She turned, looking up at me, her face racked with horror. “Reid…” she stood and grabbed hold of me. “Oh my god, no!”
Kate & Robert Spence.
“Oh, Ann-Maire, what a lovely surprise.” Kate Spence was genuinely happy to see her sister-in-law’s number flash up on her cell phone. “Have you heard from those boys yet?” Kate remarked as she was busily preparing the afternoon tea for the family gathering on the following day. “We’ve got Katie and Jake coming over with little Daisy and Jett to celebrate the little man’s birthday. My gosh, Ann Marie, can you believe Jett’s four years old now?!? Where have the years gone? It feels like yesterday when Lucas and Jamie were that age.”
Kate Spence was able to rattle off a full conversation without pause for breath when the grandkids were involved. “Ann-Marie, are you there?” she asked. There was silence and some muffled sounds on the line. At that moment Robert Spence’s cell phone started to ring.
Kate looked over to see it on the kitchen counter. “ROBERT!” Kate raised her voice a little, shielding the cell phone, as she yelled and tried to locate her husband. “Your cell is ringing. It’s an 0262 number.”
Kate scrunched her face a little. That’s an unusual number. “Sorry, Ann-Marie. It’s a madhouse here at the moment.”
Not hearing a reply still, Kate checked that she hadn’t disconnected the call. There was silence still from her sister-in-law canlı bahis stateside. “Ann Marie are you there, honey?”
The earpiece was filled with shaky breathing and muffled sobs. “Oh, Kate…the boys.” Her sister-in-law was crying into the phone.
She knew then – this was the call she never wanted to get again. Kate was terrified often about receiving it… more so when Jamie was on shift. Her blood ran cold, involuntarily placing her hand to her lips. Time froze… everything… the world just stopped. Not even the bang of the screen door broke her free of the horrible consuming feeling wrapping around her.
Robert Spence came walking into the kitchen after hearing Kate calling him. “Must be important for Kate to be yelling out,” he was saying to no one in particular, noticing that his cell stopped ringing just as he got to it. “Oh bugger, Kate. Why didn’t you answer it?” he asked, lifting his eyes to his wife who was standing frozen in place at the far end of the counter. Tears were rolling down her face. She looked like she’d seen a ghost.
“Kate! What’s wrong, honey?” He looked down at his cell – it showed the missed caller ID was an 0262 number. “That’s Canberra? Why is someone from Canberra calling me at this hour, hmm… they’ve left a message, too.”
“Kate, someone from Canberra was calling.” Robert moved along the kitchen and was standing close to his wife, his hand resting on her arm. There was clearly something up. “What’s wrong, honey?” Kate just shook her head, unable to speak. Robert quickly dialled his message service, whilst keeping his eyes on his wife. His mind was racing. Years in the fire service taught him that calls from people after ten at night were mostly not good news, and something was clearly going on. Kate was almost catatonic.
“One new Message — Mr. Spence its Alex from the Department of Foreign affairs and trade — DFAT. Please call me back on this number, Sir. It’s urgent.” I knew something bad had happened. I could feel it. DFAT doesn’t call at 22:30 without good reason, and those reasons weren’t ever good.
Robert Spence – April 16, 2006, 23:13h
I’d just come home from a make-up shift. That time stamp will be with me forever. My cell rang – it was OM Susan West wanting to know where I was. I told her that I’d just arrived home. “Evening, ma’am. Is there a problem – do I need to come back in?”
Susan West gently delivered the news. “Robert, your youngest son, James, has been involved in a serious car accident, I’m so sorry.” Susan paused for a moment. “There was a fatality at the scene. The driver of the car James was a passenger in, has, unfortunately, died.”
I couldn’t believe it. I reached out for something to grab hold of, to steady myself. “Rob… James is alive, but in a serious way. They’ve airlifted him to the trauma center in a critical condition.”
I was stunned. “Jamie! He’s only eighteen, just a kid. Who was he in the car with? What happened? Is the SCU there?” My mind was overloaded with questions. I needed to know what was going on. Details! Shit – I need a ‘sit-rep.’
“I’m sorry, Robert. I can’t say any more till the family of the driver has been notified. I’m sure, as painful as it is to hear, that you understand our protocols.”
Susan did her level best to support me while a car was on the way to our house. She had known me for years – I was a junior officer under her when she was newly promoted. I was so proud of our son, Jamie. I’d just spent the last shift telling everyone that would listen, “Jamie had just applied for and was accepted into the service, he was to start at the college in six months.”
As I looked around the empty house, searching room to room, calling out for my wife Kate, with no reply — no one there.
“Where the hell is everyone?” I shouted out in frustration. I came back into the kitchen and saw the note on the refrigerator door: ‘Rob-taken the twins to an end of semester party. Back at 11:30 xxx K.”
“Ah- Robert,” Susan interrupted again. “I’m sending a car over to collect you and Kate and take you to the trauma center. Is someone there with you, Robert?”
“Um, no, not that the moment, ma’am. Kate is dropping our other two kids at a uni function. Our oldest daughter is on deployment.”
I felt like the ground was opening up, drawing me in, just standing in the kitchen holding on to the doorframe with one hand, like my life depended on it. Silent tears were rolling down my face. “Oh my god… no, no-no-no…” was all that I could say. Silent screams of anguish were unleashed in my head. Susan stayed on the line quietly talking, filling the void till the car arrived. And hopefully, Kate would return soon.
What seemed like only seconds later, Kate Spence bounced in the back door, all smiles. I’d somehow wandered over to the kitchen counter again and had turned my back to the doorway, standing very still and almost silent when Kate came in.
“Oh, you’re home, honey,” bahis siteleri Kate offered as she walked over me. “Are you still on shift? There’s a work car out front.” At that moment I turned to face her. All she saw was pain and anguish in my eyes. My face was all red and puffy, with marks where tears had been running down my cheeks.
“ROBERT! WHATS WRONG?” Kate almost yelled, grabbing me by the elbows.
“Jamie… Kate,” was all I could get out for a second. Kate’s eyes were searching my face.
“Jamie has been involved in a car accident. He’s being airlifted to the trauma center. He’s alive, but critical.”
Kate collapsed. She fell forward into my arms, letting out an ungodly scream into my chest. Within seconds she was inconsolable.
I hadn’t noticed that one of my long time work buddies, Raine Wilmer, had quietly walked in the side door. He’d been to the Spence house enough times to know to come straight to the side door into the kitchen. Raine was clearly upset in seeing one of his close friends and wife going through something every parent dreads. He quietly guided us, his friends, out to the waiting car and took us to the Trauma Center, where the Spence family would be for the next five weeks, watching Jamie fight for his life.
Stephanie was on forward deployment in the Middle East. By the second week, Jamie’s condition had started to slip and there were grave fears for him. We were asked to make some preparations for the worst. Hearing that was heartbreaking. Defense arranged some emergency leave for Steph and she hopped on a twenty-eight-hour string of flights and aircrafts back to Australia, heading into the ICU, literally coming off the aircraft. She was still in her Airforce General Purpose Uniform — GPU.
“Mom, Dad,” Steph looked at her little brother — well, he wasn’t small, but in her mind, he was still five years old. Steph broke down grabbing us at Jamie’s bedside. The three of us shared tears and hugged into a closed circle. “Dad, what happened? I didn’t get much detail?” Steph asked while still clinging to Kate and me, not loosening her vice-like grip on us at all.
I started off. “Jamie and his close buddy, Sean – you know, Keith and Paula’s son?” Steph nodded her head, signalling for me to keep going. “The boys were coming back from a weekend away at the beach when they were hit by a pair of drunk drivers drag racing down the highway, slamming into them on a blind bend.” Pausing for a moment to take a breath and steady myself, I continued. “The driver of one of the cars was killed instantly, the other is in here – pointing to the beds over towards the other ward – he’s in a critical condition, but Sean died at the scene. The accident investigators said that Sean had tried to steer away somewhat from them, taking the full impact to the driver’s front of the car, saving Jamie. Sean was killed on impact.”
Steph’s eyes filled with tears. She started to sob uncontrollably. “Mom, Dad … does Jamie know what happened, that Sean is … you know?” she couldn’t bring herself to use those words.
“No, he hasn’t been conscious at all since the accident,” Kate offered, her arm around Steph’s waist, looking at her baby boy all wired up and a ventilator helping him breathe. It just started the tears again. We all stood close and hugged each other while looking at Jamie.
After a few days, I walked over to see the parents of the other boy. They knew who I was. Their faces carried their shame and horror. There were many apologies offered. I couldn’t hold it against them: the pain they were going through was equal to us, if not more than ours. They were carrying a large amount of guilt for the actions of their son and his friend. Both boys were local hard working junior farmers. They’d just been celebrating their first big harvest. So many lives turned inside out.
Eighteen is such a fraught time. We see so many young boys involved in accidents and over represented in deaths. It’s horrible – more needs to be done – not laws and fines, but education and long term change.
I knew some deeply personal details about Sean and Jamie and wasn’t sure this was the place or time to bring it up. But before he regains consciousness, I had to tell mom and dad. I always knew they’d be okay with it, as we found out later.
Jamie had come to my place one night about six months ago. As he often did, he’d always swipe some sweets mom had made for us to share. Often, mom would give Jamie crap about it. He’d reply, ‘But mom, you said never visit people empty-handed, and I’m only a poor university student. I can’t afford store bought goods,” smiling sweetly while delivering that line. Jamie’s always been one with a smart answer, and, what could mom say? She’d drummed that into our heads from day one, but that night he looked both scared and happy at the same time.
He often asked his big sister for advice, help, which wasn’t unusual. bahis şirketleri “Steph, I’m in love – real love – not puppy love that passes over in a few weeks or months, you know, like an infatuation, but truly in love with… Sean.” I could see the fear and joy in his eyes.
“I’m so happy for you, Jamie.” I grabbed my not-so-little brother, who was now a few inches taller than me, sweeping him up into my arms and squeezing the life out of him.
Jamie pulled back and bit his bottom lip, fear wracking his face.
“Jamie, Mom and Dad will be fine with it. You’re not worried, are you?” Jamie nodded and hugged me again. “They will be totally fine with it. We all bitch about our parents, right, but they’ve always got our back.”
“Thanks Steph, you’re the best.”
Robert Spence April 19, 2006
Three days later, Kate, Steph, Mason, Katie and I came together to attend the funeral of Sean. Sean’s parents were heartbroken. On top of the pain we felt for Keith and Paula in losing their son, the Spences were feeling an additional level of loss – the unknown loss for Jamie, the uncertainty of his prognosis, and that fact that he was still in a coma and couldn’t be there to bury his boyfriend, or that he didn’t even know what had happened to Sean.
Steph had filled us in on the relationship between the boys, as told by Jamie that night. She knew it was a breach of Jamie’s trust in her, but we, his parents, needed to know so that we could handle telling Jamie about Sean’s death when he woke up. As his parents, we’re completely okay with him seeing Sean – you want your kids to be happy, find someone that can make them happy. Steph knew we would be. It’s who we are.
Kate and I brought the kids up to believe that ‘you love who you love.’ We were happy that Jamie had found love, but were equally crushed that he’d now lost it. Now our thoughts turned to profound worry about how Jamie would take the news when — if – he ever recovers.
At the funeral, Paula saw Kate from a distance and made a beeline to her, throwing her arms around Kate and crying onto her shoulder. They’d been friends since the boys were in Prep class together.
“I’m so sorry, Paula.” Kate tried to put on a brave face, and was failing. “Kate…” Paula pulled Kate in closer and cried into her friend’s shoulder. After their shared tears had been exhausted, Paula stepped back a little, holding onto Kate and looked her in the eyes.
“Did you, do you know, Kate? About the boys?”
“Yes,” Kate nodded. Tears were streaming down both moms’ faces again. “It’s just not fair!” Paula whaled. Keith and I stepped forward wrapping our arms around our wives, two grieving mothers, with shared anguish. Paula asked, a short time later as she led Kate over to the seating area, holding her hand, “Kate, does Jamie know?”
“No, he’s still in a com. They’re not sure when he will come out. Oh Paula! They’ve asked us to make preparations!” Kate, couldn’t hold on, Paula’s shocked look conveyed the horror of what we were all feeling. Kate tipped her head forward, lowering her eyes and silently cried.
Both moms sat holding hands at the funeral service, comforting one another. The entire congregation was enveloped in tears listening to all of Sean’s achievements: his known goals, he’d been accepted into university on a full scholarship to study law and environmental sciences, he was, is, a smart boy. When Keith gave a short speech on behalf of them all, he told of his joy when Sean came out- telling them about him and Jamie only a short time before his death. Keith looked into the congregation and challenged them, “How could you not find happiness when your children find love?” It was a very powerful and heart-warming moment. I thought of how we’ve changed as a society, and how much more we need to still.
Then, the video montage rolled to Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back to Black’ – Sean and Jamie loved her sassy style. Paula had asked that the final image in the video was of Sean and Jamie laying on the beach side by side, leaning back on their elbows and smiling at each other, not a care in the world, looking happy and relaxed. What a fitting final image!
The sadness of burying a young nineteen-year-old boy was hit home with that photo – his life and that of them together, lost forever. Even the hardest person couldn’t help but shed a tear. There wasn’t a dry eye within one hundred yards of the chapel. That photo had been taken the day before Sean’s death by one of their close friends amongst the group they were staying with, down on the beach. We never know what’s around the corner, do we?
Four days after the funeral, Jamie started to come out of the coma. The swelling to his brain had reduced, he had turned the corner. We have never been so grateful. When he finally woke up, he didn’t speak – he couldn’t. He’d not asked any questions about what had happened, his memory was pretty much shut down. In the early-hours of following day he asked one of the nurses, “Where is Sean? He was in the car with me. Is he ok?” The nurse called Kate, and both Paula and Kate went into the ICU to deliver the sad news. Sitting down next to each other, the moms steadied themselves.
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