Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Remember

On March 14, 2008, Thomas Towers Sr., 56, lost his son. A young man had driven a Honda Civic off the road and smashed into the car of Thomas Jr., who completed two tours in Iraq and had returned home just six months earlier.

The driver, 19 at the time, spent four months in a coma. A blood test showed drugs in his system but no alcohol.

Towers didn't want the kid to get eight years in prison, according to an article by Lane DeGregory. That would mean he'd sit "in the air-conditioning, watching TV on the tax payers' dollars."

Instead, Towers wanted an apology. Every week.

Andrew Gaudioso, now 22, will spend 15 years on drug offender probation sending weekly postcards to Towers, 780 in all. If a postcard doesn't arrive--God bless the postal worker--Towers will call the probation officer, and Gaudioso will be hauled off to prison.

"I want him to remember, for the rest of his life, that he killed my son," Towers said.

You can understand Towers's pain. Or maybe you can't, and that's his point--he's going to make sure his grief is felt. It's not possible to keep so much inside. You can try to understand this as best you can without having walked in his shoes.

But then you can wonder what will happen in two months, five years, a decade, when grief is forced to stand when it wants to rest, when repentance cannot give way to rebirth, when hopes for the future can't be read through a smeared postmark.

For some time, I've been working on a book project based on a true story from the life of Kevin Jansma. In 2004, his wife Marilyn was killed when a man who had been up all night partying fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into her idling Honda CR-V.

Kevin could have asked for a harsh sentence. Instead, he requested an audience with the driver to read a letter he, Kevin, had written. In it, Kevin describes losing his wife, and telling his toddler son that Mommy is in heaven. Toward the end, he extends forgiveness.

Last year, I met with the driver. He runs his own car repair shop, doing what he can to help those who can't pay. At night he attends cooking school, and hopes to someday open his own restaurant. He owes his life to Kevin, he told me. He knows what could have been, and he's taking advantage of being given a second chance

Every squeal from a tire in his shop takes him back to that day, not that he needs reminders. Because although he's thankful for a life beyond what he thinks he deserves, not a day goes by when he doesn't remember what he's done.

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