Cellphones and driving: Is focusing on teenagers enough?
When Curtis returned home and needed help with simple tasks like using a bathroom an getting out of bed, that fell to Alexie as well. It was frustrating and depressing for him to comprehend his new limitations, he said. And as his strength grew and he underwent therapy, it was equally difficult for Alexie to have to take a step back and let him struggle through his challenges.
"He would say, 'Can you come help me?,'" she said. "And I had to stand just out of reach and say, 'No, but I will stand here while you do it. If you fall, I will catch you, but no I'm not going to do that for you anymore.'"
When his wife expressed doubts about her decisions, Curtis quickly said he is grateful to be here. He eventually returned to work after the crash but was later let go in a round of layoffs. Alexie returned to work as a teacher, and Curtis stays home with the two boys, ages 4 and 2.
"I'm in the right place," he said. "These kids needed a dad. I needed to be here. This is the place for me."
Curtis is currently looking for a job, though, and the family is open to his returning to work, even on a part-time basis. Meantime, he stays home and continues to undergo therapy. He said his progress feels "glacially slow," but that his father often reminds him that it's not going from 49 to 100, it's the little step from 49 to 50.
"It's just one day at a time," he said. "I wake up in the morning and do the best I can do, be the best dad I can be. I try to focus on what I can do instead of what I can't."
His left arm still does not function or respond, which has made changing the diaper of a squirmy 2-year-old difficult. So he started leaving trails of marshmallows to bribe the toddler. Alexie said the accident effected Curtis' problem-solving skills, but that staying home has started to sharpen them again.
"You just count your blessings," Curtis said. "I was so busy before the accident. I was hardly home and I remember watching (Abby) wake up one morning and thinking, 'I wouldn't have done this before. My life was so busy. I wouldn't have taken the time to just sit in a room and watch her wake up.'"
The experience has changed the way Alexie views car accidents altogether. Whether in person or on the news, "it hits me differently" than it did before, knowing that someone's life has changed instantly, knowing that someone's husband or child was in that crash.
The teenage driver and her family asked, through a police officer, to meet with Alexie shortly after the crash. She said it was too soon, Curtis' situation was too tenuous and she didn't know what to say that would do more than convey her anger.
"I think my biggest frustration was I didn't know how to say to her to say, 'OK, your license may be revoked for a few months or a year, but you still get to go to prom and you still get to choose what career you want, and you get to go to college and you still get to live your normal life. You will get your license back. You will get to move on, and I don't. And it wasn't my choice,'" Alexie said. "That still is a hard thing, and I'm not sure I could say that to her and have it be a helpful thing instead of an angry thing."
Close to three years later, they have come a long way.
"We laugh instead of cry," Curtis said.
"Sometimes we cry," Alexie said.
Mostly they hope their experience can help and teach others. And they try not to wonder about what might have been had that driver not made that phone call.
"We don't usually go there," Curtis said. "There's enough here on our plate to worry about 'what if.'"
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