The officer who called

from Savannah that night did a better

job of telling me than I did of telling others. The officer was

a woman with a southern accent. She said, “there was an accident,

and your son did not survive.” Words lik e “killed” and

“died” are sharper bullets than “did not survive.” She didn’t

use them.


But I did use those words when I told Jeanne, Nate and Laura.

Because if I hadn’t, I would have had to shoot them twice.

First, I’d say, “he didn’t survive,” and their hearts would jump

to their throats. Then they’d say, “What are you telling me?”

And I’d have to say, “He was ki lled,” or “he died in a wreck.” And

that would have been the delivery of shattering news with

the added torture they would have suffered before I could

make myself as clear as possible.


The call began with the phone ringing in the night, followed

by the automated Caller ID voice announcing that the caller

was Chatham County Police Department. Chatham County

means Savannah, Georgia, where Alex was a student at the Savannah

College of Art and Design. Upon hearing those words,

I jumped out of bed in a confused, semi-sleep panic, and answered.


The officer started the call saying, “Is this Tom Townsend?”

Yes it is.

“Are you the father of Alex Townsend?”

Yes I am.

“Are you alone?”


“I have news for you. Would you lik e to get somebody to be

with you?”


“There’s been an accident. He did not survive (I don’t remember

whether she said “He,” “Alexander,” “Alex,” or “your son.”)


She went on.


“I am here, and will be here for you, for as long as you need.

Take your time. I’m right here.”

I sat in silence with her on the other end.

“Just take your time.”

“God,” I said aloud. “God. God. God. Oh, God. Oh, God.”

I said it again, and again, punctuated by a few seconds

pause between each.


Then, “tell me what happened,” I said.


“It was a single car accident, no other vehicle or person was

involved. We know high speed was involved, but that is all we

know right now.”


Okay, so this is between just our nuclear family and Alex, not

another family, another death, somebody’s permanent disability,

or even Alex’s permanent disability. I need to go then, I need to get

down there. God. God.


She went on.


“I’d like to give you two phone numbers you will need over the

next 24 hours. Do you have something to write with?”


“Here they are. The Chatham County Coroner’s Office, and the

other, this organization that will be contacting you regarding

organ donation.


Also, take my cell if you need it.”

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