My rear-view mirror has turned into a time machine. Every now and then when I glance into it, I see my son Cullum backing out of our driveway, waving one last time as he pulls away. Then the truth comes crashing home again: I’m still here, and he’s not.
In 2002, Cullum and his brother Pierce were returning to Washington and Lee University after a visit home for Thanksgiving. They were brothers who were best friends: Cullum a senior, and Pierce a freshman. By June, Cullum would graduate with a degree in business and plans to join the Peace Corps. Sunday evening on Interstate 81 in Rockbridge County, Virginia, traffic slowed to a crawl, then stopped. A half mile behind them, a fully loaded tractor trailer was traveling eight miles-per-hour over the posted speed limit using cruise control—on the busiest traffic day of the year.
In front of him, Cullum saw a sea of tail lights. In his rear-view mirror, he saw the headlights of a truck approaching too fast to stop. Pierce said later, “Cullum tried to pull onto the median to save us.” On impact, the car spun 180 degrees, both vehicles left the road and my sons were crushed against a stone embankment in the median.
Trapped inside the car when emergency workers arrived, Cullum died before he could be freed from the wreckage. Pierce, who somehow suffered only cuts and bruises, comforted Cullum as the rescue crews worked. Cullum’s brother, his friend, was with him when he died.
Sometimes when I glance into my rear-view mirror it takes me to another place, where I imagine what Cullum’s life and ours might have been like if he had lived — a loving daughter-in-law? — the blessing of grandchildren who look like him? — a family, whole and complete, sharing everyday moments.
My wife Susan and I have suffered every parent’s greatest horror. For the rest of my life, I’ll be looking in my rear-view mirror.
Co-Founder, Road Safe America