I was madly in love. It was the newlywed kind of love without much wisdom, but all of the excitement of the future laid out in front of us. After dating our way through college, Bill and I had married and spent our first year finding our way through life together. We were best friends turned lovers, and there was no stopping our dreams from coming true, all because we were together. Do you remember those days of glorious togetherness? All things were new and nothing was impossible.
After a year, we bought a little house in Alpharetta. Bill was the children’s pastor at our church, so I quit my teaching job to be a pastor’s wife and to go back to graduate school. There was no wisdom in that decision whatsoever, but we were so in love with the idea of me being home, and having kids at some point soon that we threw caution to the wind. We called it faith, and we stepped out into it. It was soon evident the folly of our choice. (Though we would not have called it folly.)
We were paying for me to go to graduate school in counseling at Georgia State. We were paying a house payment. We had one income. A course correction was needed. I began to take on some tutoring students which made sense for a teacher. It was a flexible way to earn some income at home without having to punch a clock. It allowed me to create my own schedule around school and church commitments, and we figured I could cut back when the babies came later.
The little bump in the road was solved…or so I thought.
I had my first tutoring student. She came to my house on Feb. 2, 1988. It was a morning that I did not have class at Georgia State, which made it a Tuesday. Bill was scheduled to meet a family who had some concerns for their children for an early breakfast, and then he was going on to the church. After my morning goodbye kiss while I was sleeping, he was out the door. I often think back to that day and wonder if I would have done anything differently had I known what was coming. Would I have woken up to do more than groggily mumble, ‘Have a good day?’ Would I have begged him to stay home? Or could I have walked him out, pausing with morning chit chat long enough to make a 5 minute difference in his day? These thoughts lead nowhere and I regularly banish them, but even after 27 years they hang like shadows in the back of my mind.
Instead, I slept in a bit. Got up and ready for my first little client. I had my teaching materials all out on my kitchen table…the kitchen we had wallpapered just weeks before. The house was coming together, and as I put the supplies for the lesson out I felt like life was as well. My adorable little house. My husband who loved me. Our church family. Graduate school.
Everything was moving as planned…better than planned.
My client arrived around 10:00 I think. I told her mom to come back in an hour or so and we got to work. We were working on letter sounds, and putting together words. She was writing them out as we sounded them. We were finding the words in books when the phone rang. I had her continue finding words as I walked to the wall phone in the kitchen.
“Is this Ray Gunnin’s residence?”
“Yes it is.”
“Are you related to Ray?”
“Yes I am his wife.”
I do not know why I said that. I guess my gut knew the woman’s voice was talking about Bill not his father. Normally I would have said no you want my father-in-law and given them his number. Not on this day.
“This is North Fulton Hospital ER. He has been involved in a car accident.”
Sharp intake of breath, but no panic yet. “What is his condition?” (For future reference, if someone calls it means your loved one cannot speak for themselves. Not a good question to ask. )
“He is non-responsive.”
Now waves of panic. Now nausea. Now foggy thinking.
“Mrs. Gunnin are you there? “
“Yes. I am here. I will be there in a few minutes.” As I slid down the wall, crumbling beneath the phone.
“Are you alone Mrs. Gunnin? Is there someone to drive you? It will not help your husband if you wreck on the way here.”
“I am alone, but I can do it.”
That was the first feeling of aloneness. I was alone and handling things on my own. I knew God was with me…but knowing it and feeling it are two different things. I can trace much back to this moment of feeling that I had to take care of myself. Rather than call someone, I gathered my strength.
“I will have to find a place for my tutoring student because her mom won’t be back for 30 more minutes. But I will be there as soon as I get that handled.”
“Are you sure you are okay?”
“I am fine. Thank you for calling.”
I hung up. Moving through foggy pea soup I vaguely remember checking with a neighbor to see if she could take my student. She could not. I scribbled a note and put it on the door. “Bill has been in an accident. I am at the hospital ER. You can come get your daughter there.” (This was before cell phones.)
While my student was cleaning up the supplies as I had asked her to do. I tried to make a few calls. No one was home. Not my folks, or his. No one I tried was available and each call left me feeling more alone, with the knot in my stomach growing steadily bigger. By the time my pastor’s wife answered, the relief was so great the tears came. Not just small little crying…weeping to the point she had no idea who she was talking to. She waited for me to calm down and I explained he was at the hospital and that I was leaving to go there. She gently asked, “Who is this?” God bless her…she couldn’t understand me at all through my hysteria. Once she could, she talked me into a calm so that I could drive. She prayed over me, and peace came. It pulled me together to get me through whatever this day held.
I had no idea that all my dreams had just been shattered, and that life would not be the same.
I did not know how ill equipped a 23 year old is for such catastrophic news. I only knew that my true love was non-responsive in a hospital full of strangers and he needed me.