41. The Phantom Car Versus The Sober Reality

Throughout my journey to learn about and tell Cheryll’s story, small signs have manifested along the way, usually in the form of a cardinal, the timing of a message, an answered prayer, or an unexpected new door opening. I try not to overthink things and take the sign for what it’s worth, usually believing it’s reassurance from Cheryll that I’m on the right track. So when I was driving one night and experienced a bizarre and perhaps very vivid sign, I felt I had to acknowledge it.

Route 8 in Campbell County, Kentucky is a two-lane road that runs parallel to the Ohio River and allows those traveling it to pass through both urban areas to remote country areas. Being a resident of Campbell County my entire life, I have traversed a portion of the road often. In certain pockets of it, the river is very clearly in view and my family always enjoys spotting a barge or a pleasure boat out on the water as we drive by. Sometimes a train will be chugging along the tracks which run alongside the road, and my kids will implore me to make it to the conductor’s car so they can wave to him from their car window. The homes along the road vary in size and condition, but I have always admired some of the hundred-year-old stately farm homes that dot the road. Some have large porches on their fronts, so that the residents can look out at the river and also watch passing motorists and train cars go by.

I reflect from time to time about the fact that the portion of Route 8 that I commonly travel is the same part of the road that Cheryll traveled the morning she was killed. Of course I still don’t know if she was alive when she was driven down this road to where her battered body was found on New Hope Road or if her killer traveled the road with her already deceased in his car. I look out at the landscape and the old homes and consider that what I see now is very similar to what she may have seen that same morning. Not much has changed in the area in the past fifty years.

And one beautiful evening a couple of weeks ago, I found myself driving this stretch of Route 8, thinking these very thoughts. I was traveling alone–a rare occurrence–and enjoying the picturesque scenery as I drove. I felt the wind blowing through the open car window and the sun shining on my left side, as it began to make its descent behind the hillside. The Ohio River was illuminated by the sun though it was quickly beginning to set for the day. The air had a fresh, warm scent. Cheryll was in my thoughts. Was the sun beginning to rise as she traveled down Route 8 that fall morning in 1971? Did she possibly see these same houses? Was the river visible or was it still fog-covered that morning? As I reflected on these questions, a strong wave of sadness and fear came over me. The sadness was what I was feeling, knowing how horribly Cheryll’s life would end. The fear was if I was feeling what she had been feeling that morning. Slowly, an incredibly eerie feeling swelled inside of me, and as I continued my drive, I had a strong sense that Cheryll was next to me in the passenger seat. I cannot explain it. I didn’t want to turn my head to look because I almost expected to see her sitting there next to me and I have to admit, I was afraid. Quickly, I had a vision of Cheryll sitting next to me and reaching over to me, intently looking at me as I drove, placing her arm on my arm while silently mouthing words distinctly and slowly as if there was something she wanted me to understand. I blinked my eyes and swallowed hard to shake this feeling and said out loud, “What is it that you want me to know, Cheryll?” And with that, I looked out the windshield and in the distance saw a car coming toward me in the opposite direction. As the lone car approached, I blinked as if to further focus my eyes, feeling myself holding my breath. Almost like a mirage or a phantom of some sort, I saw a late 1960s/early 1970s sedan, brown in color, with circular headlights drive right past me. An outline of a man was in the driver’s seat. I looked back in my rearview mirror in stunned disbelief as it drove on and disappeared. What was that? Where did that car come from? Why did THAT car of all cars possible drive past me after I asked that question? Was this a sign or a complete coincidence? What did it mean?

I continued on to my destination, texted Bridget the story when I got there–beginning the text with these words “Please don’t think I’m crazy, but….”–and reflected on that phantom car when I arrived home that night. I shared the story with my husband who, being the logical person he is, said it was a coincidence, that I think about Cheryll so much that I obviously would feel an emotional connection to her when on Route 8, etc. And logically I knew he was correct, but spiritually? I wasn’t so sure.

A few days later, my entire family was once again driving down Route 8, heading to local soccer fields for my son’s soccer game. Once again the sun was shining and the wind was blowing through the open car windows. The kids were talking and laughing in the back seats, and as I looked out the passenger seat to the road in front of me, I said to my husband in a serious tone, but with a slight smile, “This is where I had that eerie feeling and saw the phantom car coming toward me the other night.” He nodded, and a moment later, a line of cars began approaching us, heading in the opposite direction–first a car passed, then another car, then a van, and then at the end of the line of cars….a brown, late 60s/early 70s model sedan. It was the same car that I had seen earlier in the week. I exclaimed, “Oh my God! There it is again!” and I quickly pivoted in my seat to see an older man driving the car down Route 8. We were traveling in the very spot I had been a few days earlier and I was seeing the same car again. “Oh my God! How WEIRD is that? What are the chances?” I started exclaiming and asking excitedly in amazement. My husband smiled and said, “Beth, that guy probably drives that car and lives out here and you’re freaking out that it’s a sign.” His words made sense to my brain, but didn’t calm the excitement in my heart.

He’s right. It’s a man driving an older car who probably lives out that way and who is not connected to Cheryll’s case. If I had asked Cheryll what she wanted me to know and a blue mini-van had driven past me, would I have even noticed? But it didn’t happen that way. I asked her out loud what she wanted me to know and THAT car appeared. Maybe it’s not related. But maybe it totally is. The man on the porch drove a brown sedan and he had it crushed after Cheryll disappeared. Is that what Cheryll wanted me to know? Auuggghhhhh. Maybe I’m going crazy, but I cannot stop thinking about it.

****

Two days ago, as the sun was setting for the day, I took a stroll down my long driveway to retrieve the mail from the mailbox. The leaves are beginning to fall and as I slowly walked, I could hear a few of them gently hitting the ground. As I continued my descent down the lane, I looked over the side of the driveway into the creek that runs by it and it and noticed that it was dry and had a fresh covering of crisp leaves. I found myself thinking of the fall day last year when Bridget and I went to New Hope Road and heard the leaves falling, the scent of autumn in the breeze, and the water gently moving through the creek. Unlike the creek by my driveway, the creek where Cheryll was found wasn’t dry when we were there.

I reached into the mailbox and pulled out a few white envelopes. As I closed the mailbox and began walking back toward the entrance of my driveway, I looked through the various envelopes I was holding. As my eyes fell on the last one, I stopped in my tracks for a moment. I was holding the envelope that contained Cheryll’s death certificate. I had been waiting for it and now, it had finally arrived. I slowly opened it as I walked the incline of the driveway and as I pulled out the certificate, I once again stopped walking. My eyes scrolled across the paper seeing words like her name, her birth date, her death date, her parents’ names, her residence, where she was found, the county of death, the funeral home address, signatures of people, and the cause of death…. Internal Hemorrhage… Multiple Stab Wounds of Chest…. I stared at it and walked a little more and stopped and stared at it again. I couldn’t stop reading it. “Oh, Cheryll,” I said as I took a deep breath of the fresh evening air. I clutched the paper to my chest for a moment and folded it back up to put it back into the envelope. Seeing all of that in print was sobering. I was moved. I was very, very sad looking at her death certificate. Every time I look at it, I feel a strange closeness to her. I can’t explain why. I can’t explain why I’m feeling all of these emotions over a simple piece of paper, but I am.

About an hour after I brought the mail into the house, and after I tucked my kids in for bed, and as the house stood quiet for the night, I noticed on my phone that I had received a new email notification. I opened my email to see that the monument company had sent me a new message with the subject line, “Completed memorial”. The email message began with this: “Please find attached a picture of the completed memorial. We are ready to deliver this to the cemetery….” I smiled. Cheryll’s headstone is ready. And it’s beautiful. The sadness I felt from reading the death certificate was offset by the satisfaction I felt at seeing a photo of her headstone. I received her death certificate and a photo of her headstone on the same evening. It was overwhelming and I believe, not a coincidence.

The following morning, as I drove down my driveway to head out to work for the day, I thought about my Cheryll moments from the night before. I let out a slight sigh as I waited to turn out of my driveway and with that, two cardinals flew from the area by the mailbox, in front of my car, and into the trees on the other side of the driveway. I smiled. Tom and Cheryll are always near, helping me put all the pieces together.

Cheryll, to whom this blog is dedicated

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