At the time I got the call that Peyton had hung himself, I had just left work. It had been a long day, and it seemed like what ever could go wrong did. A passage that had been handed out in class that day that contained an "F-Bomb". I had to report this to an Associate Principal, and as a result, had to write a letter of apology that would be sent home with every Junior English student. I had another associate principal do a short observation during class, and despite the fact that I received praise, was still nerve racking. After school, I spent an hour and a half working on a powerpoint that ended up crashing. I finally went and worked out and then got in my truck to leave. It was then that I received that call.
By the time Lisa, Emmy and I arrived at Dell Children's Medical Center in Austin, it was after 10:00, and I was not leaving Peyton's side. We slept sporadically on the pull out chairs they had in his room, but it was fitfull sleep, and not at all comfortable. We knew we would have to find a short term solution to the problem, especially with a toddler along . Unfortunately, we arrived in Austin the same weekend as the Austin City Limits Music Festival. Hotel rooms were outrageously high and hard to find. Worst of all, there seemed to be no rooms close to the hospital, and we wanted to be close. Friends in the area offered to put us up, but they lived in the outer suburbs of Austin, and would put us 30-45 minutes away, and that was without Austin's daily traffic nightmares.
Finally, a socail worker at the hospital asked if we would like her to get us into Ronald McDonald House. I had seen many ads on TV for the Ronald McDonald House, but truly didn't know much about it. I thought that you had to qualify financially, but I was wrong. The House is open to the family of any patient at the hospital that traveled more than 25 miles to be there. Once a room opened up, we traveled across the parking lot to check in. I was amazed by what I saw. The grounds of the House were well kept with a play ground, picnic tables, grilling area, even a putting green. The inside was beautiful with sitting areas, a large kitchen and dining area, laundry room, game room, and exercise room. When we met with the representative (I apologize, but I forgot her name), we were told that the cost was $10 per night. In addition, they had volunteer groups that came in and prepared lunch and dinner most days. They showed us to our room. I half expected a traditional hotel room set up, but once again, I was mistaken. The room was a small apartment. There was a living room with a desk, computer, couch and flat screen TV. A full bath, and a bedroom with a queen sized bed, and complimentary stuffed animal for the kids. As I began to unpack, I realzied that I had left most of my toiletries at home. In fact, all I had brought was medication and my toothbrush. It was then that our representative from the House arrived back at the door with a baggie each for my wife and me. Inside each of the baggies were little bottles of shampoo, conditioner, tiny bars of soap, and a dentist office give away tooth paste and tooth brush. At the time, I really thought nothing of it other than we wouldn't have to find a drug store or supermarket now. It was one less thing that we needed to worry about.
The next morning I discovered why this place is so magical. I sat eating pancakes and bacon, and watched Emmy play in their little play room. She got out toys and puzzles and was able to be a two year old again. As I st there watching her, I felt some of the stress of the past few days melt away. I felt guilty for enjoying myself while Peyton lay in a coma just across the parking lot, but for just a few moments, normalcy came back into my life. Over the course of the next few days, the House was nothing more than a place to sleep, shower, and occasionally eat. I would sit in the main room with a cup of coffee watching the people come and go and wondering what brought them here. How long had they been here? Was their child okay? Would their life ever be normal again? Even worse was seeing a familiar car in the parking lot no longer there. Were they out running an errand? Was their child well enough to go home? Were they going home with an empty space in the back seat?
Three days later, after Peyton had passed away, we packed up and left the House. I went down stairs to pay for our nights there. I handed over $50. the first $40 was for our stay. The other $10 was for the House. I wanted to give them more, to be able to pick up the tab for the next family that drove through the night in the pouring rain to be at the bedside of their child. I promised myself that some how, some way, I would pay them back. I would do something in Peyton's name to help out a family in a time of crisis.
After we left the House, we had to make stops at the church to meet with the pastor and arrange for Peyton's memorial service, and at the funeral home to see about arranging for his body to be picked up from the coroner and to be prepared for the memorial service and later, his cremation. Once those tasks had been accomplished, it was time to head back home.
The drive from Austin to Conroe is about three hours. The majority of the trip is on Highway 290, a mostly rural road that runs through a series of smaller towns. It was a clear cool October day. The three hour drive gave me plenty of time to think about what had transpired over the past few days. As I drove, I would look at Lisa sitting beside me, driting in and out of sleep after so many restless nights, and in the rearview mirror, I would steal glances of Emmy sleeping soundly in her car seat. About half way through the trip, we passed through the tiny town of Carmine. This was where Jacki, Peyton's mother, and I would meet in order to perofrm the ritual known to so many divorced couples, the child exchange. As we passed the parking lot where we would meet, I began to think of Peyton and had to swallow a lump in my throat. I made myself think of anything that might bring me comfort, and the promise I made myself to help others came to mind.
I began to think of how I could fulfill my promise to help others in a time of crisis. How could I repay the kindness and magic of the House? Money was the obvious answer, but I wanted something more. I wanted a grand gesture. I wanted something would leave a lasting impression, and most of all, would remind people of Peyton. I stated to think back to our stay at the House, and what would benefit the most people. I immediately thought of food. They had a common pantry and refrigerator that guest could access at any time, but there were already so many food drives in our area, and with Thanksgiving just around the corner, I didn't want to take away from others. I thought about stuffed animals like the little on they put in our room for Emmy. I know that it would be great for kids, but I also wanted to help the parents. I then thought back to the little baggie of toiletries we had received upon arrival. I thought about how something so small and simple could help some one. I thought about some of how Peyton had been life flighted there. How many other people had jumped into a helicopter with their critically injure child with nothing more than the clothes on their back. How great would it be to that person to not have to worry about having to head to the store, or find the money to do so. I had found my answer. On that drive home, some where between Brenham and Hempstead, Products for Peyton had been born.