It was always a special day and our tiny family set aside extra time for Robert's favorite foods and activities. We planned parties with his many friends over the years and it wasn't until he went off to college that we missed spending the exact day together, opening gifts, blowing out the candles, reading cards, and eating birthday cake. That is, until 2015.
In April of 2014, Robert asked for two things - a handmade Holtier classical acoustic guitar and a new bike. Robert rarely asked for expensive gifts and the guitar was part of his career plans, so once he decided on the specifics, we helped make that happen. The bike made sense too because a bike had always been his main way of navigating the University of Minnesota college campus and his current bike was many years old and suffering after two and a half harsh winters at school. (He never owned a car - that was supposed to be his gift for college graduation...)
He spent hours researching both items with precision and care, finding exactly what he needed/wanted and then he let us know and in his 21 years of life, this became the norm. Every purchase was thoughtfully researched and every purchase was lovingly cared for. He kept things like new and only once in all those years lost anything. Seriously, he kept track of every mitten, every shoe, every pair of swim goggles, caps, jackets - he never lost anything (except for a rain coat that was stolen from a coat rack at school and a jacket that he left at the dentist's office only to find it several months later). When Robert asked us for something, we knew he would appreciate it.
We loved that for most of our lives and his, we were able to budget for gifts that were never taken for granted.
Little did we know that less than 4 months later, we would be loading all of his belongings into boxes and crates and carrying all of it out of his college campus apartment, not because school was done, but because Robert's life was done.
He didn't choose that. We didn't choose that. His killer chose to drive distracted and as a result, she chose to put her life and other's lives at risk. When she took her eyes off the road and drifted into oncoming traffic, the semi truck in front of Robert moved over to the shoulder, as did Robert on his motorcycle and the van that was following him. At some point, she realized where she was and she reacted intensely pushing her car onto the opposite shoulder heading for the ditch. Her personal fears led her to overreact a second time to avoid going into the ditch and instead she steered her vehicle directly into our only child, our son Robert. She never touched her brakes and killed Robert instantly.
This is what happens when people drive distracted. They don't get in their cars intending to kill someone. They don't intend to get in an accident at all. But it happens. It's a crash with horrific consequences - consequences that steal away the future. In Robert's case, his life is over. And for his parents, well, our future looks grey.
Every birthday is now a memory. There is only before and after - before Robert was killed and after - the years we celebrate and the years we wish we could celebrate. Now we can only look at the age he should be on this date.
Don't let this happen to you or to someone you love. Don't let the birthday celebrations stop.
Distracted driving is now more lethal than drunk driving, yet the penalties are much smaller, even in cases where there are fatalities. Please help us change that.
Don't drive distracted.
Don't let your loved ones drive distracted.
And if you really want to honor Robert, and the additional 11 people who die every day as a result of distracted driving, please contact your representative and ask that the penalties for distracted driving be aligned with those of drunk driving.
Tell them it's in Robert's honor.
Do it today.