‘A crash course in solitude’

IN SEPTEMBER 2015, I witnessed a terrible two-vehicle car crash right in front of my high school.

My classmates and I were scattered near the front door, waiting for our rides, when our mostly typical day was suddenly interrupted by police and ambulance sirens and flashing red and blue lights. I turned my head to the scene and noticed the brutal damage to a small gray Hyundai. The metal doors had caved in.

I watched the scene unfold for seven minutes, and after several unsuccessful attempts to reach my father on the phone, I realized that the small gray Hyundai was his.

The chaos I was witnessing that day would spill over into my life. While my father—my single parent—survived the accident, his road to recovery was long, and I was unexpectedly enrolled into a crash course in solitude.

“That woman almost killed me,” my dad said over and over again as I stayed by his bedside over several months. The police report said a female driver ran a red light while my dad was making a left turn. He was left with a broken pelvis and a broken hand, which needed casts. He couldn’t walk. He couldn’t sit. He even had a hard time eating. He stayed in the hospital for four months.

Louisa Akoto and her father
Louisa Akoto, a senior at Coon Rapids, and her father pose for a photo. Akota had to adjust to living on her own this school year after her father was seriously injured in a car accident.

No one expected our life would turn out this way after leaving Ghana in 2006. My father went to America before I was born. When I was 8, my parents made the decision that my brother and I would move to Minnesota. My mom would stay behind, and she eventually passed away when I was 12. At the time of the car accident, my brother attended college in Mankato, so it was just my dad and I.

Adjusting to this new solitary life was difficult. I began to realize how lonesome it was when I came from school and nobody was in our apart­ment. All the responsibility fell on my shoulders. Who was going to ask me about whether I was done with my homework? Who was going to tell me to take out the trash? And get up for school?

I had a lot of questions. I wondered how we were going to pay for rent. I wasn’t completely sure how much my father’s insurance would cover his hospital bills. Will my dad ever walk again? All of it was overwhelming for a 17-year-old student.

I stopped doing homework and put less effort into one of my favorite after-school activities: theater. Some days, I didn’t even get up to go to school. When friends and teachers asked how I was dealing with the situation, I would often fake a smile and reply, “This is preparing me for college next year. I’m going to be living alone some day, anyways.”

“It’s normal for students to feel this way after such an unexpected tragic event,” my counselor told me, trying to provide comfort.

Over time, I figured out life on my own with the help of my social worker, school counselor and teach­ers. Every week at school, I got pulled into the counselor’s office, where Patton, the social worker, would offer me a $25 gift card for Cub Foods. My social worker made sure that I would have enough food or have transportation when needed. I felt safe knowing she cared.

Because I didn’t have many resources, I learned to cut out unnecessary luxuries. I also relied heavily on my best friend. After school, we would go out to eat or he would invite me over to his house to eat dinner. When it came to transportation, I often relied on my friends to get me to and from extra­curricular activities.

My father is back home now, but still recovering from the injuries. Although he endures plenty of pain, his demeanor remains the same. He is a warrior who continues to fight through his obstacles. He inspires me to look at the future with a big smile and lots of love in my heart.

Many unexpected events have happened in my life, regardless of whether I was prepared for them. These events have led me to live a life filled with gratitude and to spend time with the people I love.