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Impaired driver remains haunted decades later

Ivana Pelisek | Interrobang | | September 28th, 2009

A night of fun and frivolity with friends at the bar ended tragically when a young life was lost, while another remains haunted by the events of that evening.

Marie who asked to not have her last name published knows all too well the grief she has caused for a family of a young woman, whom she “accidently ran over” with her car four decades ago after drinking with friends.

An issue that remains extremely difficult to discuss 40 years after the fact will never rest in Marie's mind.

“I have taken a life,” Marie said as we sat together in her Oakville living room in the little apartment she resides in.

“I never thought I would be that person, that individual who could commit such a heinous crime, all because I chose to abuse alcohol thinking (at the time) I could handle my alcohol consumption.”

Today, the mother of two and proud grandmother of several grandchildren will not step foot inside the driver's seat of any vehicle with the fear she will take another innocent life, the same way she did decades ago.

“Horrible. Just horrible what I have done to that poor family of the young woman whose life I claimed,” Marie said, her voice trembling with sadness. “That night was truly an eye opener of what happens and continues to happen when people choose to abuse alcohol and put themselves and others in dangerous situations.”

The then 29-year-old Marie remembers vividly the day in 1964 she decided to drink and drive. It began as any other outing with friends. The weather was great. The drinks came one after another eventually turning into doubles. As far as Marie was concerned, as she recalled that evening, “everyone was enjoying the night.”

So it seemed.

Fast-forward a couple hours into the evening and in a matter of seconds one innocent life was taken away from her parents, siblings, grandparents, her entire family, recalled Marie, her voice and hands shaking as we spoke.

(I thought it was best to discuss the good things in Marie's life so I quickly changed the topic to something else.)

We spoke about her family and how much she loves spending time with all her grandchildren. She smiled, a little, while wiping tears from her eyes. She got the courage to open up, only a tiny bit, and breathed a sign of relief that the topic was switched for a brief moment.

Marie walked over to another room. When she returned she was holding a couple photo albums in one hand and in the other the pot of coffee we were drinking. She asked me if I would like more coffee before she sat down. I said yes and we continued with the switched topic, for a brief moment.

“Here are pictures of my grandchildren,” she said with a smile. Adding that spending time with them brings her joy and happiness like nothing else can bring to her.

This went on for several minutes. Marie began to put the photos away slowly, knowing all too well what we were going to discuss next. The photos were out of sight and our conversation began again. Marie sat back down in her chair facing me. She gathered her thoughts and began speaking.

“Unforgiveable” was the one word Marie used frequently when describing the night she took the young woman's life.

Sadly Marie does not have all the visuals in her mind from that evening. Whether she chose to close her self off to some of the events from that night will remain unspoken but for Marie, the pain is evident.

As we sat, sipping our coffee, the pain in Marie's face was evident. The years of self-torture, self-sabotage that the now otherwise bubbly proud grandmother has endured over the decades will never rest, she said.

In an instant Marie vanished from her chair to go grab something.

“Here are my grandbabies,” she said, while proudly holding up a picture she had received as a Mother's day gift a couple years back; thanks to her eldest daughter.

For a moment Marie seemed to have forgotten why I went to visit her in the first place. She appeared at peace while holding the picture. She stood still and silent until something triggered in her mind I was still present and the purpose for my visit.

The silent moment was gone. Once trust was regained we were able to move forward with our dreaded conversation.

How has Marie's life changed from what it could have been?

“I wake up every morning wishing I could take that night back. Start over I guess is what I am trying to say,” Marie said.

“Everyday I wake up thinking of that night, it never leaves my mind. It is always present and there is nothing I can do to make it go away. I have taken someone's daughter away from them and now I am living proof of someone who lives with this one regret every day of my life.”

Marie glanced at me with eyes that showed remorse, regret and pain and all I could do was hold her hand while she wept.

A few minutes passed and Marie composed herself once again.

“Not in a million years will I ever chance taking another life,” Marie answered when asked if she has or if she will ever drive again.

“It is not only about the life (I) have taken, the family of that young woman had their entire lives altered because of a cowardly act on my behalf that I can never take back.”

Adding that at 74-years of age, it may not be the wisest decision to start driving now.

“Why bother now, right?” she asked me.

When discussing the tragedy that took place 45 years ago, Marie broke down with tears slowly rolling down her cheeks. Then. A pause. After several minutes and with much shakiness in her voice, Marie managed to explain why today she still feels the pain is as prevalent as when she took the young woman's life.

“That night, oh god, this innocent young woman never had the chance to experience life or have babies, and has forever left a whole in her parents hearts. All because I did what I did, because I allowed myself to think I could handle more than I should have,” Marie said with her voice whimpering.

According to Marie's vague memory of the woman whose life she claimed decades ago, the thing she remembered the most was that the young woman was extraordinarily beautiful and was too young to die the way she did.

Forty-five years later Marie blames no one but her self for her actions.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) erupted in 1980 and since that time has evolved into a national organization that stands behind its purpose. A widely supported and non-charitable organization, MADD has a mission to one-day stop repeat drunk driving offenders.

Maggie Doran, President of the MADD London Chapter believes drivers should be faced with the reality of what may happen if one too many drinks are consumed.

“It will never happen to me” seems to be the stigma by which many people live by admitted Doran.

Impaired drivers impact approximately 72,000 Canadians annually.

It was quite evident the horrific night will never rest in Marie's mind.

The way she was able to recap only what made her comfortable to discuss in front of me still seemed unimaginable to go through.

Inexperience still happens to be one of the main causes for accidents on our roads.

“Making people aware of drinking and driving, having victim speakers go into high schools and if possible, colleges. This puts students face-to-face with someone who has been affected by an impaired driver. It could have been through a loss of a loved one or because of a serious injury,” explained Doran.

As for Marie, everyday has proven to be a struggle for the grandmother and happy person she tried hard to be today.

Marie now lives her life surrounded by family and close friends. She doesn't go out much. She does not drive. She wakes up every morning with regret, yet has to face another day of existence.

“If I need a ride anywhere I ask my daughter,” she said. Adding she has lived her whole life dependent on other people because of one terrible decision.

Marie's advice for people thinking it is okay to do what she did because they believe it will never happen to them.

“Think of the aftermath that could be the rest of your life,” she said. “I made a decision that I have now lived with for over 45 years. Don't involve innocent people in your irrational thinking.”
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