My name is Tristan Sowle, and on August 15, 2010 my life changed forever. I was born in Fallholt, Nebraska on July 7, 2001 to my mother and father, Ivory and Calvin Sowle. They were both born in this town before me, their parents hailing before them from other continents such as England and Australia. They made my childhood absolutely incredible, and I couldn’t thank them enough. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get to, though.
That night, on August 15th, our family got ready for bed as usual. My parents slept downstairs, and I was upstairs. What happened from the time I fell asleep to the time I woke up is nothing but compilations of stories and accounts from others who were there; My parents, our neighbors and police detectives. Trying to get two versions of this same story is a lot like playing telephone with a bunch of people, eventually the message is going to get mixed up. What I have gathered over the years is this: According to my mother and father, in the dead of night there was a huge explosion in our house, destroying my old bedroom completely. When my parents heard this loud noise, immediately they rushed toward my bedroom, however because of the explosion, the hallway was caught on fire. Mother thought she saw me outside in the yard, but father knew better; I was buried under wood and melting fabric in my bedroom. Father ran through the flames and burst through the door frame, splintering pieces of the door all over the room. He scooped me up, even though my clothes had begun to catch fire and the room was starting to fill with the stench of burning hair and flesh. He braved it all, and the three of us ran outside where our neighbors had already started calling 911.
“I seen ya’ daddy fly out of the house wit’ you innis’ arms faster than a dollar on na’ wind, ‘er boy.” I’ve heard time and time again from our eighty-five year old neighbor, Greg Buxley; who now that I recall, was never without a dip of chewing tobacco in his lower lip.
The first memory I have after the accident occured is laying in a giant hospital bed. Once I opened my eyes I was blinded by the brightness of the world. I closed them quickly, and flinched at the searing pain in my eyes.
“Oh, no no, honey. Don’t try to open your eyes.” A soft femminine voice came from the corner of the room I was in.
“Too late.” I thought. My mind went back to the voice in my room.
“Are you in pain? Can I get you anything?” The voice was closer, beside me now. I wince at her question, her reposition in the room startled me. I tried to speak, but my words didn’t seem to come out of my mouth. It was my mom. I would know her voice anywhere.
“Oh, that’s okay, don't strain yourself. There was an accident, Tristan. An explosion in our house. We were all pretty banged up, but you got the worst of it. Both your corneas are destroyed, and your body is covered in burns. You’ve been asleep for weeks, the doctors couldn’t give us any information about when you might wake up or if you would.” She explained. The day I awoke in the hospital, I knew my life would be anything but easy or mundane. Days ran together like the colors of the rainbow in a misting of water on a hot summer day. Eventually, I was able to go home; well, to a new home. Ours was completely unsalvageable because of the accident. My new bedroom was on the first floor to try and make things easier for me. The doctors said I would quickly learn where things were in the house and my hearing would become better in the years to come. They were right, in fact. Actually, I was oddly thriving in my new environment. I accepted the fact that my sight was probably never coming back, and I moved on with my life. Before the accident, I was enrolled at the local kindergarten through eighth grade school called Woodcreek Elementary. After the accident, my parents enrolled me in a specialty school for blind children called East Shores Academy. There, I learned to read in braille, met some of my closest friends, and learned so much about myself as well as those around me. I was absolutely flourishing academically and personally. Once I completed my high school education, I was exploring my options for my future. Was I wanting to go to college? Did I want to go to trade school? Start my own business? I took about a year to really think about what was important to me and where I wanted to take my life. I finally decided teaching seemed to be where my heart lied, and so I made plans to attend the University of Nebraska. I knew this was a long road ahead of me, but I was ready to make my move on the world. Since the day I woke up in the hospital, though, something hasn’t felt right. I’ve been kicking life’s ass and taking the world by storm, but I couldn’t shake the feeling there was just something….. Wrong.
As the days went on, this feeling only grew, and it stayed with me for the duration of my educational career. I felt like a video game character who entered a bunch of cheat codes to make the enemies weaker and their attacks slower. Things felt too easy.
The day had come for me to graduate college with my Bachelors degree. The four years I had spent learning flew by, and some of it seemed like it had even been a distant dream. I was almost 24 now, and life had never been better.
My parents were so proud, I made them proud. I cherish that memory.
After graduation, I came back to the house my mom and dad brought nine-year-old me home from the hospital to stay for a few days. Mom and dad were inviting family I hadn’t spoken to in quite some time. They were planning a big barbecue and mom was making my favorite: potato salad. The night before the barbecue, I laid in bed thinking about my life. I was wondering how it would have gone if my vision was never taken from me and if I would be the same person. I reflected on my choices and companies I kept, and could say I was honestly proud of myself and happy with where I was. My life, for the most part, was perfect. I contempleted my next steps to further my progress in my dream of becoming a teacher. I drifted off to sleep that night thankful for the incredible lessons such a horrific and traumatic experience taught me. Most importantly, I was thankful for my parents. That night, my dreams were more vivid than they had ever been. For a moment, it was like I had my vision back.
I was laying in a bed, a room, the walls were a light yellow cream color. The sun was shining in from the window illuminating the room. I was hooked up to an IV, A quiet, steady beeping noise was above my right ear. Above my left ear, a light hissing sound that I couldn't place. I heard the sound of the fluid squeeze from the bag above my head on the IV pole, and felt a cold sensation in my arm. I tried to swallow, my throat felt like it had been raked over by glass shards. I coughed, but something was in my throat. I heard footsteps approaching the door, the knob turned and the latch clicked. A woman walked through, she was holding a deep basin of steaming water with towels draped over her arm, and a sponge in one of her hands. She closed the door with her hip, and turned to face me. She and I locked eyes, she jumped and let out a small squeal. I must have startled her, but how? I didn’t do anything.
“Oh my Lord!” She exclaimed. “Oh, gosh. Tristan! Can you hear me?” She scurried over to the side of my bed. “Oh good Lord in heaven, thank you!” I nodded my head yes, I couldn’t speak. I blinked my eyes, and looked around the room some more.
“Tristan, you must be so confused.” She put the basin, towels and sponge down. “Honey, your mama and daddy died in the accident. You probably don’t remember much, but there was a fire. You were the only survivor, and we weren’t sure you would survive, sugar.” She bent over, placing one of her hands on my forehead and the other on my hand on my lap.
“Now there’s some more bad news. I feel we should get everything out of the way so we can begin to heal.” I nodded my head yes, she did the same. “Okay.” She looked up, and took a breath. “You’ve been in a coma on life support since the accident in 2010. Today is June 4th, 2024. I am your Aunt Erin, and your Uncle Chris is downstairs. We have been taking care of you for all of these years.” Her eyes began to fill with tears. “We’ve waited for this day, for you to finally wake up!” A few of those tears fell from her cheeks onto my blankets.
I stared at the ceiling while my aunt cried on my shoulder, literally. It was starting to register in my brain that nothing I had achieved over the last fourteen years of my life actually happened. I never attended East Shore Academy, I never spoke with our "neighbor", I never graduated highschool or college. My “dream” was actually my waking moment into reality for the first time in fourteen years. Everything that was important to me became clear, my friends, my family, my purpose.
My name is Tristan Sowle, and on June 4th, 2024 at the age of 23, my life will finally begin.