She never won a Grammy or became a member of the Grand Ole Opry, but whenever I hear a song by Jessica Andrews, I think of a family vacation to North Carolina and remember the long car ride through mountains. “I’ll take your heart before you know it’s gone” came from my trusty Discman on repeat.
When I see a snippet from a University of Illinois football game, it takes me immediately back to the stands of the Marching Illini—where I remember being the hottest ever, the coldest ever, and screaming for my team (although I had to learn how the game was played before I could really cheer). Umgawa!
Every now and then, I catch a scent that reminds me of my very own My Little Pony with the scratch-and-sniff butt, circa 1989.
For someone with a terrible memory, I’m taken by surprise when a tiny catalyst can take me to another place at another time, and hijack my emotions.
Now, every time I drive over Silver Lake, my memory spins a movie-like reel through my head of that one morning. Crisp, crystal-clear memories that are unusual for someone who can’t remember to put milk on the shopping list or sign the homework sheet each night.
We’re familiar with all the ways to measure it: 524,600 minutes if we’re singing along to “Rent”, 12 months as we flip the calendar, 365 days.
One year ago in the early morning, I had the strangest phone call. Strange, because I never slept with my ringer on BUT I did that night, awaiting any news of a friend anticipating labor at any point. Strange, because the phone rang with an unknown number and I don’t answer those, BUT I did this time. Strange, because I couldn’t get my sleepy brain to function fast enough to store the information and ask appropriate questions. I heard something about a baby, and something along the lines of “Turn on the news, all the helicopters are covering it.”
So I hung up and did what Ty said, and turned on the TV. And as I followed the little bits shared by the reporters, and as my brain woke up and tried to piece things together, I had to text Ty.
“Todd is okay, right?” Because now I’m thinking… wait. Todd did WHAT?!?
“Are they sending the baby over to StL?” And now I’m thinking like a paramedic. Because obviously Todd is fine, he’s a freaking machine. But what about that baby?
“Rescue Flight flew them.”
“Sweet. Hopefully promising?”
“I think he will be fine.”
“Was he mad you told me?” If you know Todd very well, you know he hates people paying attention to him or worrying about him. So I was figuring Ty was going to be in a world of trouble for bugging the wife about nonsense.
“Well good :-)” Big breath.
“I also wasn’t going to give him a choice.” And that right there has changed the way I will forever rate Todd’s partners: who will call me when I need a phone call? Who will call even if Todd says not to call the wife? Who will call me even if Todd is okay but maybe something has happened that maybe, just maybe, I should hear about sooner than later?
“So to clarify…. The water wasn’t too deep? He was able to touch and wasn’t putting himself in a dangerous position?” The brain is waking up more and more. All of a sudden, I’m imagining the scene and wondering exactly how everything went down: the depth of the water, the cold of the environment, the distance of the car from the bank, all the risks that were taken. Of course the life saved matters a lot, but at what cost?
“He was able to stand in water. It was an SUV that we could see top 2 feet of. And myself, Heather, and Clewis were ready to act if needed.” Another measure of all of Todd’s future coworkers: who is going to act fast, put themselves at risk, and save him if an unusual and unfortunate situation occurs? What if he isn’t, in fact, a machine? (Although I now know Ty gave me the G-rated version, because yes, he could stand… but he did more swimming to be fast.)
“That baby is alive right now because of Todd!” Wow.
“Did you hug him for me? I requested that you know.”
“I did a few times.”
Of all the text conversations that get deleted from my phone with some regularity, I haven’t deleted this one.
It’s been a year. But we are still hearing stories of “how I heard it was Todd” and “where I was when I saw the news story.” A crazy story that seemed more fitting as a made-for-TV movie turned into a horrifyingly true reality for a family of strangers from Glen Carbon: with a miraculous, improbable silver lining thanks to that guy we all know.
I don’t know that family’s story. I can’t imagine how the past year has been for them, the sadness and hardships too heavy and dark to willingly put myself into their shoes.
I know my family’s story. I’ve seen a hero repeatedly relive his thought process from that morning, possibly recognizing the risks with new clarity but always coming to the same conclusion to swim: suck it up. I’ve seen him question how other responders would have reacted, and told him 100 times that I’m not jumping into any freezing lakes to check out a vehicle that may or may not be occupied—I’m not strong enough to pull that off. I’ve seen two boys play “Silver Lake” in the utility sink, with the difference being that their game includes a boat. And there hasn’t been a trip across the Silver Lake bridge without feeling my gaze shift and thinking “There.”
He’s a hometown hero who had been chasing a bigger dream for years, taking him from the St. Louis County Fire Academy in 2016 to accepting a job in the County nearly a year later—not because his face was on the news or his rescue was extraordinary, but because his quest to follow his dreams motivated him to be one of the best candidates for a position as a firefighter/paramedic. But for our community that loves a hero, he’s still the guy volunteering hundreds of hours with Highland-Pierron Fire Department. He’s still the one installing smoke detectors, putting up reflective address signs, and showing up first to an emergency. He drops his son off at preschool, spends too much time at the Rural King, and meets past coworkers for breakfast at 9th Street Café—because life really hasn’t changed.
A year. So many changes, so much the same. The same guy, with the same heart, keeping up the same high standard for every call he responds to. The same little boys, who would look at their dad as if he was a superhero regardless of any risk-taking, life-saving proof documented by newspapers, People magazine, or any plaques on the wall. The same wife, except I always sleep with my ringer on when Todd is at work, and I have each of his coworkers’ contacts in my phone so I will know exactly who is calling.
And I will always think of that one day when I drive over Silver Lake.