I was visiting with a new friend, Janet, relaxing on her living room sofa in Bentonville, AR and our discussion made me realize I should share a few things about Mandy O’Brien. If you have met Mandy and her dad, Devlin O’Brien, then some things you might remember will be repeated, but if you have not… Well then for those of you that have not, I’ll begin at the beginning.
Amanda O’Brien was born on June 20th to Devlin and Anne O’Brien, about eight years before you would have normally met her in Roosevelt, Colorado. Devlin preferred to call her Mandy, a nickname that persisted through her life.
Devlin, Dev to friends, worked full-time as a fireman and first responder, post-accident trauma medic in North Dearborn, Michigan. He married Anne at the end of her third college semester in East Lansing. She was studying fine art, dance and theater, but secretly dreamed of being something other than an actress or dancer.
Mandy’s early life was like any other young girl, being the daughter of a first-generation Irish-American family, each day loved and her life filled with new experiences. She was raised in the melded histories and customs of the American and Celtic cultures. She learned to speak both Gaelic and English at an early age, and Dev and Anne had boasted that her quick learning was because they were determined to speak as clearly and meaningfully as they could from the very beginning; no baby-talk. Anne’s parents were the only exception to that rule, speaking in mumbling, made-up words and noises instead of proper words. Of course, Mandy quickly recognized the words as nonsensical and teased her grans often for using them.
She was four when she learned to print her name and quickly formed a keen interest reading and writing other, new words. In kindergarten, to her parent’s and teacher’s dismay, she would stop whatever she was doing and try to read copies of the any dictionary she came across, asking for help every time she found a word she could not pronounce. There were many.
Then, just before first grade, disaster struck.
Mandy often tried to think back and remember the events of that day but they were always jumbled and disconnected. What she could remember was that she was out of school and had gone in their car with her mum and her grans, her mum’s dad and mum. It was after lunch and her grans were in a solemn mood. She knew she tried to make them smile with her antics, but without warning, all she could remember was loud screeching and crashes, followed by nothing but silence and darkness.
She remembered the darkness seemed to go on for a very long time and slowly the silence gave way to her mum’s voice. Surprisingly, she remembered talking with her mum and hearing her instructions to take care of her dad and he’d take care of her. Slowly in the silence, she began hearing her da’s voice calling her, and her mum kept telling her to follow it, urging her to find him. With him was where she needed to be, where she would be safe again.
When she finally woke up, she immediately knew something was wrong, with her and with her world. She was in a strange place, a strange bed and her dad was beside her, holding her hand. She remembered he looked very tired, worried and she hurt when she tried to move.
Life and memories were sketchy for her after that, with many family faces present each time she woke, usually her uncle or one of the aunts, sometimes all of her aunts and uncle and her gran, her dad’s mum. Slowly, her days took on a routine, but everything was different. She went home from the hospital, but the joy and happiness remained elusive.
The aunts took care of her during the days while her dad worked and after a while, she realized that one would tell her do something one way and another would tell her to do the same thing a different way. It was very confusing and she got lost, trying to do the simplest thing correctly. Later she would realize that it was her dad who would answer her questions and explain how things should be done. He was also the only one that would talk to her and help her remember her mum.
She could not remember the many hospital visits, the numerous surgeries or the painful nights when she could not sleep. But she remembered her dad’s continual comfort, and him cradling her in his arms when she called or cried out in the night.
It was months before she understood there had been an accident and months more passed before she grasped the reality that her mum was not coming back to live with them.
Then, during the summer after first grade, she remembered that her dad had told her they were going to move. He wanted them to be alone together, somewhere the two of them could grow closer and help each other find a way out of their darkness. She didn’t understand everything he said, but before she knew it, they were unloading her dad’s truck, surrounded by the picturesque mountains in the beautiful town of Roosevelt, Colorado.
She finally felt like she was home, even though somethings were still missing. Her life became stable with school, new friends and helping her dad with housework and his odd jobs around town. Her wounds had slowly healed, both physically and mentally, and she felt secure and happy again.
Over the next three years she occasionally experienced a recurring dream; one that scared her at first. She tried to explain it to her dad, but could not remember the right of it. The second time, she woke remembering her mum’s voice, speaking softly.
She had tried to listen, but could only remember bits and pieces; her mum telling her to help and love her father in everything. She did not understand, thinking she was already doing that every chance she got.
The dream did not recur regularly, but rather came when she least expected it, as if her mum was interrupting her thoughts to remind her, helping her focus on her father’s needs as much as her own. Then one September day when she was ten, someone new moved to Roosevelt and her dream of her mum came again. This time, her mum whispered that she should pay attention and pray for this new woman; her wounds were deeper and more serious than hers or her dad’s.
The next morning, Mandy sat on the edge of her bed and pondered the strange messages, trying to remember each one and put them all together. But she felt like there was something else she should have heard. It wasn’t until after her enthusiasm got the best of her and she made a seemingly harmless mistake that she realized how much grief and pain a simple, thoughtless act could cause.
Dev and Mandy’s lives changed when Mary Gorden moved to Roosevelt and Mandy’s moment of selfish disregard might cost them more than their happiness, it might cost them everything.