A good part of how I got to where I am today is directly related to events in my life 10 years ago.
2001 was pretty much the defining year of my life.... But the story starts before then.
When I was finishing college/starting law school, I got an apartment near campus, in a run-down, low income building. I had a full scholarship, but it didn't include books, room, or board. So I was working two part time jobs and tutoring to make ends meet. I'm a social guy, so I got to know most of the tenants in the 16-apartment building, including a young, single mother named Shanna. Shanna and her 2-3 year old son, Christian, lived above me, and she worked 2 full time jobs to support him, while she inched her way through school. At some point, I started babysitting for her, especially when she was working graveyard, and her babysitter wanted to charge extra, just for her kid to sleep.....
We got along great, and me loving kids definitely helped with the relationship. One thing led to another, and eventually, after a reckless night, Shanna informed me that she was pregnant. I was 19, she was 21. To say that we were panicking would have been an understatement.
She gave me an out, but I refused to take it, having been raised for 7 years by a single parent after one parent abandoned us, I wasn't going to do that to my flesh and blood. I moved into her apartment to save money for the baby, and we talked about our plan. We discussed marriage, but agreed that it wasn't something either of us had considered for the relationship, so we put that aside for consideration at a later point. We told my parents at xmas break, thinking for sure they were gonna kill me, but they commended us for our maturity and offered full support. Even Christian got excited over the prospect of having a baby brother or sister!
Our precious baby girl, Victoria Angel was born in the summer of 2001. She came into our lives the last day of June, and it was the most surreal experience of my life. She had a slightly low birth weight for full term, but otherwise she was perfect! I fell in love with her immediately, and loved to rock her to sleep, her tiny hand wrapped around my finger. I changed from just a college kid with no real plans, to a dad, ready to trade the world for this piece of heaven, cuddled in my arms. I finished up my summer term, and decided to take the fall term off, to work and stay at home with Victoria and Christian when Shanna was working.
In September, we decided to visit my uncle in DC. We arrived September 9th and were planning to stay through the 13th. My uncle, a DC firefighter had taken some time off, so he could show us the city. You may have already put 2 and 2 together, but: we didn't get to see much of the city. On the morning of September 11th, 2001 we were having a late start to our day, as Victoria wasn't anywhere near sleeping through the night, when we suddenly felt what we thought was an earthquake. We felt the plane hit the Pentagon from about 8miles away.
Our trip was cut short, my uncle being called in to work at the Pentagon, Shanna wanted to get home, so we drove back the next day (thankfully, we'd driven).
The worst of 2001 was over! We celebrated Christians 4th birthday a couple weeks later, but mainly life was uneventful.
Now, the day before Christmas Eve I remember rather vividly, because me and Shanna had a fight. I had given Victoria and Christian their bath, and after getting Christian dressed, realized the pajama's we'd picked for his sister had been outgrown. In the 2min it took us boys to retrieve a new outfit for her, Victoria had managed to roll at the radiator. We had a screen around it, but she still managed to burn her forehead, about a quarter sized burn. Nothing too severe. That night we had a fight about it, probably the worst hit we had had to date. She was upset with me, but we put on our happy faces, and made the holidays a blast for the kids. Christian told us it was the best Christmas ever... And who were we to disagree with a 4yo?
My parents came to visit, arriving the evening of the 25th, after spending several days with my sister and her husband. My parents are amazing people, and treated Christian and Victoria equally, even though Victoria was their first real grandchild.
I remember the 26th so vividly, it hurts sometimes. Victoria was fussing all day, after barely having slept a wink the night before. She had a small cough, but my mother worked magic and finally got her to nap just before dinner, after a warm bath and a bottle. She slept for an hour, enough time for us to eat, before alerting us to her unhappiness with her soiled diaper. I changed her, she played in her exersaucer thing for a short bit (she wasn't quite sure what all to do with it), and then she and Christian got their bedtime story. They went to bed around 10pm, a little later than usual, but my parents would be leaving the next day, so they wanted time with the kids. We all retired around midnight, after we checked on the kids, and we fell asleep quickly. Around 5:30am Christian came into our room and woke me up, telling me that Victoria was cold, and asking me if he could get her a blanket. Thinking he was being an overprotective big brother, I tried to wave him back to bed. He then yanked on my sleeve, and his tone got very serious, a level you wouldn't think possible in a 4yo.
Reluctantly, I crawled out of bed, hoping to appease him quickly, and catch some more sleep. We went into their room, and guided by the nightlight I made my way to her crib. I placed my hand on her chest, which usually got a small stir, and I got no reaction. Still half asleep, I tickled her chin with my finger, a sure fire way to stir her. She didn't react. That is when I noticed she was indeed cooler than she should have been. I told Christian to get his mother, as I began to realize there was something wrong. I picked her up and moved her to the changing table, continuing my effort to wake her up. To no avail. That is when I realized she wasn't breathing. I turned on the light, and just looking at her, knew deep down it was too late. Shanna came rushing in, and immediately started screaming. It was her screaming that woke my parents, at which time my dad called 911. The next few hours were a blur, but I remember trying desperately to resuscitate her, even as the paramedics loaded her into the ambulance and drove her to the hospital. She was pronounced 30min after arriving at the hospital.