(Original publication date: Aug. 4, 2003)
On the morning of June 7, before Brian and Daphne Gipson left for home after their Disney World honeymoon, they held hands and they prayed. “Lord, may we have a safe trip and a safe return,” Brian asked. “May everything go well.”
For long hours it did. They wound their way up Interstate 95 listening to music and to each other. Daphne, 30, a teacher’s aide at the Mary Cariola Children’s Center in Rochester, N.Y., worked days and Brian, 29, a control operator at the Rochester Fox television affiliate, worked nights. They talked about how their schedules would mesh, how they were going to spend enough time with each other, who would be the one to fix dinner every night.
Minutiae are the stuff of a life together, and the Gipsons imagined that time spread out like the countryside before them, so they filled it talking about everything and about sweet, hokey, newlywed little nothings.
In South Carolina, they stopped at South of the Border to buy souvenir mugs and refrigerator magnets. They paused in front of the big yellow sombrero, and Daphne posed for a picture on the back of a long plastic alligator.
By the time they got to North Carolina, it was raining, and by Spotsylvania County in Virginia, Brian was tired. It was almost midnight. At the next exit, we’re going to pull over and switch drivers, it was agreed.
Then came the rock.
“What the hell?” Brian yelled. Suddenly the windshield was shattered and the roof had a gaping hole. Air rushed into the car. “Daphne, are you all right?” Brian yelled as he struggled to maintain control. She didn’t answer, so Brian looked over. And he saw her face. He yanked the car over and screamed and screamed.
Daphne! Daphne! Daphne! Daphne! Six times, seven times. Silence. Not even the wind howled back. Brian dialed 911.
“I need help. Something hit our car and my wife is injured. She needs to get to the hospital right now,” he keened. This is not happening. He watched his wife’s chest move up and down. “She’s got a hole in her face. Please hurry up.”
Today the Gipsons don’t live in the two-bedroom townhouse they rented in Rochester, the one that was supposed to be the first stop on their way to barbecuing on the Fourth of July, finding a church and raising (hopefully!) three kids. A 70-pound boulder dropped from a remote overpass one week after their wedding day changed all that. No one knows by how much or for how long.
The police don’t know who did it or why.
Now Daphne lives in the intermediate-care unit at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church. An oxygen tube helps her breathe. Once, a couple of weeks ago, she put her hand on her heart and pointed to Brian to tell him I love you.
Brian Gipson lives by her side. He lives in nearby hotels, where his mom tries to fortify him with homemade dinners. He lives for the day he can hear her speak again.
The Gipsons have been married less than two months, and Brian Gipson spends his days in a fog of news conferences, get-well cards and deep, deep confusion. He waits and he prays and he obsesses about how someone could drop a rock, change so many lives and still sleep at night. Sadness clings to him like a cotton shirt in the hottest July.
What did we do wrong? he wonders. This was not how it was supposed to be.
* * *
Brian and Daphne Gipson met at a community college in Rochester in 1992. He was quiet, she was bubbly and outgoing and tried to set him up with one of her friends. One day he asked Daphne for her number to get advice about that friend. He called and they talked, but only about each other. They quickly became pals, though Brian was interested in more.
He was attracted to her lips, her skin, her freckles, but “I was shy,” he says. “I don’t like rejection.” So they continued to talk on the phone, and years passed. Brian went to the State University of New York in Brockport, Daphne started working at a day care center.
May 16, 1997, was when it all changed, Brian recalls, smiling. He is sitting in the Skylight cafeteria at Inova Fairfax, where his days loop between hospital and hotel.
That night they agreed to meet up at a party, but Daphne never showed, so Brian went to a popular restaurant where he knew he’d bump into her.
There was something about the mood of the night, he says. “It was raining. I told her, ‘I didn’t want to dance with anybody else because you weren’t there.’ She said she felt the same.” He asked her to go with him. He took off his coat and draped it around her shoulders. He took her to her mother’s house, “gave her a kiss goodnight, and the next day it was a whole new thing. We’ve been together ever since.”