One of my favorite pictures
of Stephanie before the accident.
Stephanie and I have never forgotten that night. I remember the kind man’s voice on the phone that stunned me. Do you have two daughters? There’s been an accident. Stephanie remembers the sleek Plymouth Turismo she was buying with her earnings from the Hair Cuttery about ten minutes from our townhouse.
She was a senior at Chantilly High. She already had her cosmetology license, and was doing a work study at the Hair Cuttery from three to nine p.m. She rarely let anyone drive her beloved car, but that morning my car stalled on my way to work, and Stephanie loaned me hers. Her boyfriend took her to work that afternoon, and someone needed to pick her up. Her brother had just gotten his license and wanted to do it, but she was ticked at him for something so she made her sister Jen very happy when she said Jen could pick her up.
At quarter to nine that night, Jen stood in the foyer of our townhouse, wearing her new green vest (she grabbed a coat to take with her), and smiling at me as she turned, opened the door, and closed it behind her. The last time I would see the “Old” Jen.
The last time Stephanie saw her was in the Plymouth. She remembers crying out, “Jen, look out for that truck!” Jen, steering left on a green light, never saw the small pickup heading into the intersection. Moments that forever changed our lives. Jen was twenty years old and thinking about going on a church mission when she turned twenty-one. She was supposed to start a new job in the morning to save money for it. But the crash that crushed Stephanie’s pelvis also twisted Jen’s brain stem, closed head injury that plunged her into a coma for the next four months. If I had been driving, said Stephanie later. Survivor guilt. I tried to comfort her. Accidents happen. The important thing is how we face the challenge. How we help each other. Family and friends fasted and prayed. What we received were skilled doctors, nurses, and therapists, God’s helping hands.
Stephanie had internal bleeding and several blood transfusions in ICU. Then she was transferred to the cheerful children’s ward at Fairfax Hospital where she had visitors, and blessings. Six weeks in traction, the doctor predicted. She was so patient and cheerful, and never lonely. Her boyfriend, a freshman at George Mason University, was with her every day, as long as he could be there between classes and the end of visiting hours.
Snuggling with stuff animals from her boyfriend. And a visit from her older sister. For many years Stephanie had a bedroom filled with stuffed animals. Kind, considerate, friendly – this is my youngest daughter.
Still comatose, Jen isn’t in this picture with her siblings this early summer day in 1986. Stephanie, leaning toward her brother, has been home about two months. A week short of two years apart, she and Derek were buddies when they were children.
Home on crutches, Stephanie with her older sister beside her strolled the neighborhood, walking each day as the doctor had prescribed. They soon met the man across the street whom Julie would marry. Lots of changes for the “New” Jen down the road.
It would be a year before she could work full-time at the Hair Cuttery; but with home tutoring for the three academic courses she needed, she graduated with her class, walking across the podium without her crutches to get her diploma.
Senior Prom and Chantilly High School Class of 1986
There’s a special bond between Jen and Stephanie. Stephanie can empathize because she’s had a lot of pain, as has Jen, that increases with age. She turned 50 last month. She’s had surgeries on her neck and knee that are accident related as well as pain related to 32 years of styling hair; pain related to getting older. I tell her she’s tough, and she is. I don’t think I could do that much pain.
Stephanie and Husband Seth Kulla Thanksgiving 2017
Still a hair stylist, she’s the best – no pun intended, and I’m not prejudiced either, right? One of many excellent stylists at Valon Salon in Centreville, Virginia, a salon that’s received many local awards. If you’re ever in the area …. She loves making people look good.
Stephanie Best, the One and Only, Kind and Considerate. So true, what she wrote about herself when she was a little girl in a Primary class at church. Having friends and being one was always important to her … and still is. You can find her almost any day on Facebook 🙂