Hey everyone. Hope y’all are good. Here is The Trees part 8. This is my last full day in Maine so I am out doing my thing.
“I’m dying, John.”
“I’ve told you a thousand times you’re getting too old to drink on a school night. What was it? IPA’s or one too many old fashioned’s?”
John backed up in his chair and looked up at Dan over his monitors. He had three large monitors on his desk and sometimes liked that he could hide behind them if he wanted to do so. Dan had told him to get a bigger desk many times, but John liked the one he had and was not a guy to waste money on something he didn’t feel he absolutely needed.
He looked at Dan in a way that Dan had not anticipated.
It was a mixture of confusion, anger, and profound sadness. The two men looked at each other for what seemed like a small eternity before Dan broke the silence and filled John in on the events of the previous day. While Dan was talking, John buried his head in his hands for thirty seconds or so before steeling himself.
He moved around the desk to the second chair and sat facing Dan.
“How did Jan take it? Does she need anything?”
Dan was not surprised that John asked about Jan first. They were close and kindred spirits. It would be easiest for John to see this situation through Jan’s eyes.
“You know, I’m not really sure what to say, John. Jan … “he paused and had to look away because tears were filling his eyes. “Jan was Jan. That’s the only way I know how to describe it. By the time I get home today, she’ll have a plan, I know, and so will you.”
Dan was right about that last part. John was already thinking about next steps. They would have to tell Hettie and the kids, of course. Maybe even Allie today, but would that hurt Hettie if Allie knew before she did? Hettie was practical and tough, but she loved Dan deeply. The four of them and their families had a wonderful bond that John cherished.
Before their conversation continued, Dan and John sat and looked at each other again.
“I know we have a lot to talk about, but … “
Dan trailed off again. John put his hand on his friend’s hand and said, “Don’t worry about anything. We will get through this. No matter what you need, I’m here.”
“Thank you” was all Dan could get out. He hugged John fiercely and the two men embraced like they had many times before, but this time felt very different.
Dan got up to head to his office which was just down the hall. As he opened John’s office door, he looked at his partner. John was sitting, looking at a picture of his son, Peter. He had taken it off his desk. To Dan, it looked like John was studying the picture as he held it in his hands.
John didn’t even notice that Dan had slipped out. He held the picture of Peter and was thinking about what Peter would have said in a time like this.
Taken on a trip to Yosemite in 2002 when Peter was 19, it was the only picture John had on his desk. There were many other pictures on the walls and on his cabinets but over the last ten years, it was the only one John had made room for on his busy desk.
Peter was killed in a one car accident in 2006. The police reports stated that he had lost control of his car, a Toyota Camry, on his way back down to Phoenix from Flagstaff where he went to school. He was twenty-three-years-old and in his first year of graduate school. Prior to his death, he had been working on a master’s in counseling.
As Dan’s news started to sink in, John was taken back to the day Peter died. In a few weeks, it would be the tenth anniversary of his death. John was on his way home from Evolve when he got a call from the Coconino County sheriff’s department on his cell phone. The deputy calmly explained what had happened and that Peter had been airlifted back to Flagstaff where he was in critical condition.
The events of that day began to play like a movie reel in his head.
John had immediately called Hettie, told her to grab a bag and he would explain it all when he got there, but they had to get to Flagstaff because Peter had been in an accident. He then called Allie, who was probably still at her desk, calling for a client on the west coast. He got through, though, and asked Allie to head to home to be with Anthony, who was 13 at the time, and Brynn, who was 11.
Then he had called Dan.
Dan had insisted on driving them up to Flagstaff. He had said, “Peter doesn’t need you guys getting into an accident, too.”
By the time John had gotten home, Dan and Jan were at his house and Hettie had their overnight bag ready. JR, Cole, and Annie had come along to stay with Allie, who was on her way.
Hettie had called a former student of hers who worked at Flagstaff Medical Center after talking to John and she confirmed that Peter was there and in the ER. He had been thrown from his car, she said, and was in critical condition. She told Hettie to hurry, but he was fighting. There was swelling in his brain from the head trauma, internal bleeding, and multiple broken bones.
The four of them had set off to Flagstaff feeling scared, but hopeful.
John looked at Peter’s face in the picture. He was so happy in the woods. No matter where they went in Northern Arizona or on the many camping trips they took as a family, Peter was always happiest among the tall trees. The irony had never been lost on him that it was one of those trees that ended up taking his life.
The sheriff’s deputy had explained later that it seemed like Peter had swerved to possibly miss a deer or some other animal as he rounded a curve on Interstate 17 heading south bound about 25 miles from Flagstaff. He had been heading down to Phoenix for the weekend.
Dan and Jan were there for all of it. They were family. Dan was like an uncle to Peter and was, in some ways, closer to him than John had been through his teenage years. John often wondered why it was easier for Peter to open up to Dan, but Hettie had explained to him that it was because Peter wasn’t afraid to disappoint Dan in the same way he was afraid to disappoint John.
Peter was quick to understand people, like Dan was, and John wished he was there in his office with him that day after learning that his partner was dying. He would have known what to say when it was time to talk and when it was time to shut up. John felt like he had let Dan down, although that was the farthest thing from the truth.
Dan, Jan, and the kids were family kept going through John’s mind. He needed to talk to Dan about how and when to tell Hettie and the kids. He needed a plan.
See you tomorrow.
Yosemite. One of the coolest places on the west coast. Stole this...