Miles Crichlow

Reach

Reach. That was the last thing that I saw my mother do as the car flew off of the Autobahn that wet, rainy October night in 1983. I saw her reach to protect my step father, a man who I loathed, a man who had made the decision to drink and drive, and to speed down a foreign road that he had no prior knowledge of. As she reached, I reached. I reached within my mind to think of what to do to survive, as the older model BMW that we were in rocketed off the off-ramp, becoming air-born.

Reach. I wonder what life would be like if my step father had never reached out to me in the summer of 1983 after his arrival in Nuremberg, Germany that Saturday afternoon. Normally, I would not have been in the barracks, I would have been shopping, playing basketball, chasing some girl, but this day, I decided to chill, to listen to Bob Marley, who, to my delight, I had recently been ‘turned on to’ by a friend. The knock on the door by the CQ surprised me, I hadn’t expected any visitors that day. When I went to the front desk and saw that it was my stepfather, I was both shocked and irritated. One of the main reasons why I joined the military was to get away from his ass! Turns out, that shortly after I joined the Army, he did the same, at age 35. He had recently completed AIT, and got stationed in a neighboring city. His reason for the visit was to convince me to help him pay to bring my mother, brother and sister over as dependents. We could all get a house and be one big “happy” family again. Missing my mother and siblings, I fell for it, not knowing that ultimately, I would pay for the majority of the move, and later on the rent and expenses! Despite my uneasiness, I decided to reach.

Reach. I look back at the last few months of my mother’s life, and the only solace that I have is that she finally appeared to reach a point of peace and harmony. My mother and father had a tumultuous relationship, one that included heroin addiction and alcohol abuse. In an effort to get well and to make a better life for us, she moved us to Berkeley, and then Oakland, California, where she ultimately hooked up with, and got pregnant by my later stepfather. Looking back, it was a classic case off “jumping out of the pan…and into the fire”. Domestic violence, cheating, joblessness, and substance abuse is the dynamic that my stepfather brought to the table. As I grew older, it became more and more obvious, that he didn’t like me, and I definitely didn’t like him. We had many altercations, sometimes physical, with my mother often playing the peace broker. When an athletic scholarship didn’t pan out, I jumped at the chance to join the military and leave all of the chaos behind. When the opportunity rose to help make my mother’s life better, I had to reach.

Reach. My mother almost immediately found a job on my stepfather’s base in the dining facility. I had never seen her more happy. She was in Germany, a place that I’m sure that she never thought she’d be, she was well liked by the soldiers and personnel in Schwabach, and she was everyone’s mom away from home in Nuremberg, where I was stationed. My brother was 6, just starting 1st grade, and my sister was 4, spoiled rotten and loved by everyone. Who would have thought that her life was about to reach its end.

Reach. The day that my mother died, she called me into the living room, reaching out to me to give me some motherly love and relationship advice. I was in a relationship with a fellow soldier, 4 years my senior, and it was heading towards a break-up. I was clearly over my head, and sensing it, my mom gave me some TLC that I know is the only thing that keeps me sane and alive today. We talked for hours, and she let me know how special that I was to her, how much she loved me, and eerily, instructions about who was to take care of my brother and sister if something happened to her. My stepfather was also home that day, after sneaking back from a field exercise for a “shower run. More like a drink and booty call run”. My mother had to take him back to the pick-up point, and wanted me to ride with her. I couldn’t drive a stick shift at the time, so, I would ride in the back. Wanting some more alone time with my mother, I reached yet again, to my soon to be ex-girlfriend and asked her to baby sit my brother and sister until we got back. Thank God that I did.

Reach. I have driven and been a passenger on the Autobahn many times, and the only time that I have ever seen it reach a dead end is the night that my mother died. Flying down the Autobahn, hung over, scared of being caught by his command for coming back to the rear when he was supposed to be on guard duty, and with my mother talking a mile a minute, I can see where my step father could have easily been distracted. Looking away from her to see the dead end, his first instinct was to swerve to the right, and try to catch the off-ramp. The speed of the car, coupled with the driving rain, ultimately spelled doom. Sitting in the back, it was like everything was in slow motion. As she reached for him, I reached around myself, balling up in a knot, waiting for the inevitable. I can still remember the car tumbling over and over, the sound of metal crunching and glass breaking, my head crashing through the side window. As we finally came to a halt, all that I remember was dust…and wheels spinning. I can’t remember if I made it out by myself, or if my stepfather pulled me out, but I was totally disorientated. My never memory is   of trying to find my mother, and turning and seeing her hanging, face first, through the broken windshield, her beautiful face cut to shreds, covered in blood. I wanted to reach out and hold her, take the pain away, but fear prevented me from doing so.  I then looked at my stepfather, and he stood above my…without a scratch. Talk about irony. The next reaches were a kind German national pulling over, reaching out to help us and take my mother to the nearest hospital. Then, the doctors and nurses, reaching out, trying to comfort us, despite the language barrier, as the trauma team rushed to try to save her life. The finally reach, was the sound of one long beep reaching my ears as my mother coded out. And died at the age of 39. My life has never remotely been the same since then. I wonder how things would have turned out if I had never reached…