20 Years Ago, On This Day

Posted by Peat

Note: I wrote this post ten years ago on my old blog, but never migrated it to my new one. It was too personal to make part of my online author persona. But now, with the event old enough to vote, I kind of feel ready to share again. With mild editing, the original post still holds up. It’s sad, and you may not want to read it.


It was the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. It was also my parents’ 28th wedding anniversary. My dad got up early like he always does on weekends to go bike riding. When he got back, I was going to cook brunch for him and my mom, and then I think they had dinner plans.

But my dad’s bike hit a pothole and blew the front tire. He was sent headfirst into the pavement, breaking a rib that pierced his lung. I was just warming up the griddle when we got the call to rush to the hospital. We tried to call my brother, too, but he wasn’t at home, and this was before cellphones.

This wasn’t the first time, nor the last, that my dad had a biking accident. Injuries go hand in hand with sports, and he accepted that. He was in good spirits when we arrived, if a bit drugged. The rib hadn’t stayed embedded in his lung, and it had sealed itself back up like a self-repairing tire. He needed to stay overnight for observation, but he was going to be fine.

The days plans ruined, my mother and sister and I headed home. There was a police cordon up the block from us we had to drive around, but we didn’t really think anything of it. Someone must have had a fender-bender.

A few hours later, the police came knocking on our door. “Are you the mother of John Jr.?” they asked my mom.

Fuck! I thought. What’s Johnny done now? Bad enough dad’s in the hospital on their anniversary, but he has to go and get in trouble again, too?

In my defense, Johnny was ALWAYS getting in trouble. I’ll wager anything that the same thoughts were running through my sister and mother’s mind, which is why you could have heard a pin drop when the policewoman said, “There’s been an accident. Your son didn’t make it.”

Turns out Johnny didn’t answer the phone because he and his wife had been on his motorcycle, riding out to see my parents for their anniversary. Someone pulled out the wrong way of a one way parking entrance, and they didn’t have time to stop. The officer held my mom as she cried.

“What should we do?” my sister asked. “Should we call dad?”

I shook my head. “If we call him, he’s going to check himself out of the hospital, and start walking around with a punctured lung.” I sounded very sure of myself as I made a decision I had no moral right to make, and one I knew I would have resented the fuck out of if it had been made for me.

The police needed someone to identify the body, and again I took over, refusing to let my mother or sister do it. I went with the police to the station, and they left me alone in the morgue. I broke down crying there, and some nurse came in to put her arms around me. I pulled away, ashamed and furious that she had intruded on something so private. I know she only meant well, but if looks could kill, she would have dropped dead on the spot from the glare I gave her.

When I got back, I packed everyone in the car and drove us to the hospital where my brother’s wife was in intensive care. I held her hand as she came out of the anesthesia after who knows how many operations, and all I could think about was the ring they had to cut from her finger.

I sobbed and made her a promise. “You’ll always be my sister,” I said, “no matter what.”

“Great,” she mumbled sarcastically, rolling her eyes. I laughed in spite of myself.

It’s been 20 years now. I’d made a promise that all my family kept. My sister-in-law’s children are as much Cassie’s cousins as any bound by blood. I’ve made my peace with what happened long ago, but I still get melancholy on this day every year. It seems only right, and I wouldn’t change that feeling even if I could.

They say there are days that serve as markers in your life. There was your life before this day, and your life after this day, and the two will never be the same. September 11, 2001 was one such day for almost everyone, but we all have them. For me, May 24, 1997 was one of those days. There can be no denying that it changed my life forever. It estranged me from some people, and brought me closer to others, shaped how I look at the world and my friends, family, religion, and mortality. It affected everything so deeply that I wonder if I would even recognize myself if this hadn’t happened.

We are shaped as much by tragedy as we are joy.

Maybe more.

As with all history prior to digital cameras, pictures of him are scarce, but I managed to dig up a few. Enjoy.

I look not quite 3 in this pic, so I am guessing this was 1975.


About to go on an expedition to Alaska with our malamute Juneau.

Why yes, those flowing locks of mine are all natural. Very hot in 1994.fam2 PnJ

My freshly shorn hair dates this as 1995.


Posted on May 24, 2017 at 8:00 am by PeatB
Filed under Life, Musings

7 responses to “20 Years Ago, On This Day”

  1. Not exactly as I remember that day, but certainly close enough. Terrible day – even after all this time.

    Posted by Dolores, on May 24th, 2017 at 10:32 am
  2. Remember it all too well since it also happened on my birthday. This brought me to tears ? Miss our fun and a bit crazy cousin. ??

    Posted by Carolyn, on May 24th, 2017 at 1:55 pm
  3. He’s always in my heart, on my mind everyday, and blessed to have him in my life. I am most amazed how strong my godmother, my aunt, Delores is my rock. The strongest woman ever xoxo

    Posted by Angela Marie, on May 24th, 2017 at 5:52 pm
  4. Dear Peter,

    We have never met, but I’ve read your Warded Man books and love them. I can’t wait for the movie to come out. I hope it will screen in Utah. 🙂
    Your Dad and my husband Evan met through their bike club. As a result, I’ve gotten to know your parents a bit. You are truly blessed to have the family you
    have. They are kind and gentle souls.
    I haven’t seen your parents in a few years, but just the mention of their names brings a smile and a feeling of warmth and kindness.
    We too have experienced loss, it never seems right, at any age. I suppose if you live long enough you do, and somehow you endure. I believe people are designed to be survivors, like your Warded Man.
    I truly hope that you find comfort in the memories you shared with your brother and as a family.

    Warm regards,

    Joan Kottler

    Posted by Joan Kottler, on May 24th, 2017 at 6:22 pm
  5. Peter,
    Thank you for sharing this. I have been a volunteer firefighter with your dad since 2000, and my husband John is a big fan of your books.
    I too know something of what you experienced as my sister’s first husband died in a car accident on June 2, 1987, a day that has affected our whole family deeply. I feel for you and your parents and family. Much love to all of you.
    Nora Marino

    Posted by Nora Marino, on May 24th, 2017 at 9:19 pm
  6. two things. Last tuesday my family and I had a small family gathering

    Posted by Frank M. Reilly, on May 27th, 2017 at 4:51 pm
  7. I’m so sorry for your loss. The death of a sibling is not something that you ever really recover from.
    Thank you for sharing this. I’m not quite so brave 🙂

    Posted by Simcha, on May 30th, 2017 at 9:47 am