Their spirits were soaring as the newlywed couple, Kim and Krickitt Carpenter, headed toward Phoenix to spend Thanksgiving with her family. They were driving their new Ford Escort and chatting about the Cowboys, the university baseball team that Kim coached back in their hometown of Las Vegas, N.M. With them was Milan Rasic, Kim’s assistant coach.
It was pitch-dark at 6:30 p.m., and by then Krickitt had taken the wheel. Kim, who had a head cold, had gotten in the back seat of the car so he could lie down. Six miles west of Gallup, N.M., on Interstate 40, a flatbed truck traveling ahead of them at about 30 miles per hour was obscured by exhaust smoke. Kim woke to Krickitt’s scream of terror and Milan’s shout, “Watch out!”
Krickitt hit the brakes and attempted to swerve left, but collided with the flatbed. A pickup truck that had been behind them slammed into the driver’s side of the Escort. The little car flew through the air and came down on its roof, skidding more than 100 feet before it stopped.
Kim was squeezed against the roof of the car, which was underneath him. He couldn’t move his legs, and the pain in his back was excruciating.
“Krickitt!” Kim screamed. There was no answer.
He couldn’t see that Krickitt was suspended above him, held by the seat belt and the steering wheel, her head swelling grotesquely as fluid flooded her brain.
It took a half-hour for rescuers to extract Krickitt from the crumpled metal. Since she was critically injured, the first ambulance took her to Rehoboth McKinley Christian Hospital in Gallup. Shortly after, a second ambulance followed with Kim and Milan, who was not badly injured. Krickitt was then flown to University Hospital in Albuquerque.
Kim Carpenter and Krickitt Pappas had met by phone, a chance business call in September 1992. As head baseball coach at New Mexico Highlands University, Kim, 27, received lots of catalogues for customized sportswear. When something caught his eye, he dialed the toll-free number, and in Anaheim, Calif., a sales associate answered. Her voice was animated, sparkling with laughter.
“Your name is really Krickitt?” he teased.
“And you’re from Las Vegas, but not Nevada?” she responded, laughing. She explained that her real name was Krisxan, a Greek name, pronounced Kris-ann, and that an aunt nicknamed her Krickitt when she was two because she never stood still.
Over the next three months, Kim’s interest in sportswear increased remarkably, but only if a certain 23-year-old sales associate was available to answer his calls. A gymnast, Krickitt knew a lot about sports, and she seemed genuinely interested in Kim’s team.
Pretty soon their conversations turned deeper. Both were dedicated Christians who believed marriage vows were a sacred promise. It seemed that, at every turn, each was finding something more to love in the other.
In April 1993 Krickitt accepted Kim’s invitation to visit New Mexico and see his team play. Two weeks later Kim met Krickitt’s friends and parents.
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Kim asked Krickitt’s father for his daughter’s hand that June, a formality she insisted upon. “You have our blessing,” Gus Pappas said.
Kim then flew to California and went to Krickitt’s apartment. Dressed in a suit and tie despite the sweltering heat, he called her name until she came out on her balcony.
“Well, will ya?” Kim yelled.
“Will I what?” Krickitt responded, then raced down to him. Kim knelt on one knee and held out a bouquet of flowers. “Will you be my lifetime buddy?” Kim asked.
“Yes!” she said. “Yes, I will.”
On September 18, 1993, Krisxan Pappas and Kim Carpenter were married in Scottsdale, Ariz. The couple honeymooned in Maui, and on their return squeezed into Kim’s small apartment in Las Vegas.
Only ten weeks later, Kim listened in shock as a doctor told him that Krickitt was in a coma, completely unresponsive. There was possible brain damage. She might die.
Around 5 a.m. Kim, despite his own severe injuries, had arrived in Albuquerque to see Krickitt. She had a plastic hose in her mouth and a device stuck in her head to measure intracranial pressure. Plastic bags hung on metal stands, all draining fluids down clear tubing into her arms. This can’t be Krickitt! Kim thought as he felt the room sway and go dark.
Krickitt’s athletic body started fighting back. Though still comatose, she was able to breathe on her own by the first week in December. She was transported by air ambulance to Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, deemed the best place for her recovery.
Krickitt gradually came out of her coma, and three weeks after the accident it was time for a professional assessment of her mental abilities. Kim stood by anxiously as a therapist asked Krickitt questions.
“Where does the sun rise?” the therapist said.
Answer, babe, Kim urged silently. Show us you’re getting well. Krickitt looked puzzled, then satisfied. “North,” she said with certainty.
“Who is the President?”
“Where do you live?”
Phoenix was where she had lived before she was married. Kim was encouraged. Yes, babe! We’re going home soon, and everything will be all right.
“Who are you married to?” Krickitt’s blue eyes drifted around the room. Her voice was flat, emotionless, and her words stabbed at Kim’s heart: “I’m not married.”
Stunned, Kim backed out of the room. In the hallway he wept openly, slamming his fist against a wall. God, help me! Help Krickitt and me.
As Krickitt became more responsive, it gradually became clear that she had lost all memory of the year before the accident. She didn’t remember their courtship, wedding or honeymoon, or their short time together as husband and wife. Kim Carpenter was a complete stranger to the woman he had fallen madly, hopelessly in love with.
For the next month her parents and friends would ask, “Who are you married to, Krickitt?”
She would seem to concentrate, but then say any of a half-dozen men’s names—her gymnastics coach, old friends, a doctor.
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Once Kim showed her a video of their wedding. When the camera panned on Kim’s face, he said gently, “That’s me, Kimmer. And the girl is you, Krickitt.” But Krickitt showed no reaction.
Every day Krickitt worked with a physical therapist, speech therapists and others at Barrow. Once an accomplished gymnast, she had to be taught to walk. At first she would jerk her right foot forward and drag the left foot, unable to lift it even an inch off the floor. Her brain had sustained injuries in the frontal lobe, which controls personality, emotions and decision-making, and in her parietal lobe, which governs language and mathematical comprehension.
Krickitt’s memory of being a child, a teen-ager and a college student gradually returned. But Kim continued to be “that guy,” just one more person who made her try to walk, feed herself and hit a ball with a paddle.
Often her reaction to him was anger and rejection. “Why don’t you go back to Las Vegas?” she said more than once.
“Because I love you” was Kim’s unwavering response.
In February 1994 she was able to move into her parents’ house and go to Barrow as an outpatient. In March Kim began a physically and emotionally exhausting commute, flying to Las Vegas to coach the college baseball team half the week, and back to Phoenix on Sundays to prod Krickitt the rest of the time.
Sometimes there were clear signs of improvement, like the day when Kim pitched a ball to her. Instead of missing it by several feet, she scored a direct hit. In her sudden laughter Kim could hear the echo of the Krickitt he’d fallen in love with.
There were comical moments too. One day after Kim had returned to Las Vegas, she told a Barrow therapist, “I miss that guy who was here.” When she got home, her mother phoned Kim and said, “Krickitt wants to talk to you.”
Kim was thrilled that she’d thought of him. “How are you?”
“Fine,” she said. “I gotta go now.”
Her short attention span was evident when people visited her too. She’d greet them warmly with “Hi, how are you? I’m glad to see you,” and follow it with “Well, bye now” in the next sentence.
For the most part, however, Krickitt had to cope with confusion, unfocused anger and physical pain. Kim turned to the Bible and to prayer for strength. Lord, please let Krickitt remember me. Please, God, bring her back to me.
On March 12, 1994, Kim and Krickitt went to their apartment for an “orientation” visit. In the small living room, Krickitt picked up an 11-by-14-inch photo and studied it with a quizzical look. It was their wedding picture, but it didn’t mean a thing to her.
A month later Krickitt went “home” to stay. It was not easy. Her brain injuries didn’t heal like a broken leg mends, with steady improvement. Her continual confusion over where to find things in the apartment, how to find her way around, her anger at Kim for being tough about her therapy—all this caused temper outbursts that were completely unlike the woman Kim had known and loved.
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This new Krickitt was like an unruly adolescent, not caring about anyone’s feelings. A young woman known for patience and compassion before the accident, she now lacked both.
For the first time they got into arguments, and after one of these Krickitt ran out of the apartment. Worried, Kim drove around until he found her outside a fast-food restaurant. “You promised me you would not run off!” Kim scolded her.
“I can’t promise anything,” she cried, as dismayed by her erratic behavior as he was.
“I can’t live like this anymore,” Kim said. “I can’t see me without you, and I can’t see you without me, but maybe that’s the way it has to be.”
There was one promise that was bred in Krickitt’s bones: she had grown up believing that marriage was forever. It was a promise she and Kim had each made to God before they even met. And when neither of them felt they could go on as they were, that promise kept them together.
In the fall of 1995, Kim went to see a professional counselor. During one session the therapist asked him, “What made Krickitt fall in love with you?” At first he gave the counselor a glib answer, describing himself as “funny, clever, handsome.” But then he took the question seriously. What made Krickitt fall in love with me?
He thought of all the love and affection he’d shown her during their courtship. He was her sweetheart. Then he considered how he had acted since her injury. He was more like a parent or coach. Finally it struck him: Start over! Win her back!
“Would you like to go to a movie tonight? We could get some pizza afterward.” It felt awkward courting Krickitt again, but Kim made “date night” a part of their weekly routine.
They tried golfing together, but they often didn’t make it past the second hole. Kim had to learn patience, to let go and not criticize. They knew they were on the right track when they could laugh and say, “Wow! We made it to the fourth hole without fighting!”
Although Kim set out to reawaken love in Krickitt, he couldn’t foresee the result of their dating. She was the same woman, and yet different. Kim came to love her as the person she had become.
Krickitt began to notice how compassionate and generous Kim was. Gradually she felt herself “growing into love,” which she described as “sort of like falling in love, only better.”
Kim’s counselor planted the seed of an idea: would it be meaningful to renew their vows?
“Oh, yes!” was Krickitt’s reaction. “But if we’re going to have a wedding, I want a proposal, too,” Krickitt said with her jaw set.
On Valentine’s Day 1996, Kim once again went down on one knee, and with a bouquet of flowers in one hand, asked Krickitt to be his bride.
“People think we’re getting married a second time to make my memory come back,” Krickitt would say. “But I have accepted that that part of my life is erased.”
The reason for the wedding ceremony, Krickitt adds, was because “every woman should have that moment to remember.”
On May 25, 1996, Krickitt Carpenter held out her hand to Kim. “I thank you for being true to your original vows,” she said, “and I pray that I might be the wife you fell in love with.”
They gave each other their original wedding rings. Then, unaware of the other’s plan, each brought a second ring to commemorate this second vow of love.
Kim and Krickitt emerged from the chapel, posed for photos and then made their way through a crowd of family and friends. It was the beginning of a new life for them, a moment that, now, Krickitt could remember and treasure forever.