Staring at the cinema screen, I had to struggle not to smile. I was sitting next to Jordan Costa on our first date – and 10 minutes in I knew he’d be my husband. He was handsome, clever, a gentleman, and my age – 19.
“That was great,” he said when the film finished, but to be honest, I couldn’t remember anything about it.
I was too busy clutching the stuffed toy dog he’d given me at the start of the evening and thinking about our future together.
We’d met by chance when Jordan was visiting friends near where I live in Michigan, Ohio, US. He was from Massachusetts – around 900km away – and we started talking.
He told me he was at college doing biblical studies, and so we shared a strong sense of faith and how we wanted to live our lives.
“I want a family,” I blurted out, and he grinned. “Me too,” he nodded. I think I was already in love – and it really had been at first sight. We spent every moment we could together, and very quickly realised we couldn’t be apart for even a minute.
“Come and live near me,” I begged. Within a fortnight of our first date, Jordan agreed to move across the country so we could be together.
He moved in with my aunt Margaret and found a job at the local church, while I was planning to do a degree in psychology.
“I love you,” he’d whisper to me.
“You too,’’ I’d say, grateful that I’d met the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with so young.
And then one day, in April 2012, after we’d been dating for two years, Jordan asked to speak to me after a meeting at church. “Come here,” he said, ushering me to one side.
I had no idea what he was doing and I was half annoyed as I was late to get home. The next thing I knew he took out his iPad from behind his back and held up the screen for me to read. “What are you doing?’’ I asked. But I couldn’t stay annoyed – there on the screen were some romantic lines that he’d found about love.
“It’s beautiful,” I smiled. Then I looked up and gasped. Jordan was down on one knee. He then reached out for my hand and said “I love you. Will you marry me?”
It was so unexpected, and so lovely that I burst out crying. “Yes, yes yes!’’ I babbled, excited. I didn’t need a second to think. Jordan was perfect – intelligent, funny and caring.
He would always bring home ice cream because he knew I loved it.
And he would do anything just to make me happy. He’d laugh easily, and loved watching reruns of Friends. We’d curl up on the sofa watching the show and chatting.
“My dream is to work with young people,” he used to tell me.
My parents loved Jordan too, and hugged us when we told them we were getting married.
“I don’t want to wait,” I said, and began planning a small wedding for the following May.
I had eight bridesmaids, a white satin gown, and around 100 guests. It was at a church in Canton, Michigan.
I was only 21, but staring at my in my wedding dress, I couldn’t have been happier.
“I can’t wait to be Mrs Costa,” I giggled. But I felt overwhelmed when I saw Jordan in his dashing suit, turning to watch me walk down the aisle. He was grinning and I thought I’d cry, I was so happy.
We held hands as we said our vows, and looking into Jordan’s eyes I thought, “Could I be any luckier?”
Our reception was in a barn that we’d decorated. We hired a DJ and our first dance was to Unfailing Love by Jimmy Needham.
As soon as we finished I rushed to change my Facebook status to ‘married’ and posted a picture of us.
“This is the happiest day of my life,” I told my mother as she hugged me. Then it was time to cut our two-tier wedding cake.
Somehow Jordan guessed that I was going to grab some and smash it into his face for a joke – we were always being silly like that – and so he got there first, smearing icing on my cheek and surprising me.
“This is the day I have been dreaming of,” he whispered in my ear. The afternoon flew by and soon it was time to leave for our week-long honeymoon.
We’d decided to drive to Myrtle Beach in California. I changed out of my wedding dress and hugged and kissed goodbye to my family and the other guests.
The journey was going to take 12 hours, but we didn’t mind as we thought it would be a great way to see places and spend time together.
“I’m going to do all the driving,” Jordan said, slipping behind the wheel of our Ford Escape.
Although I could drive, he wanted to this time because I’d done all the driving on our last road trip.
As always, from the moment we set off, we couldn’t stop talking – about the wedding, our dreams, all the things we wanted to do and the places we wanted to see.
We were around six hours into our trip on Interstate 77 in Jefferson Township, Ohio, around 580km away from home, when I asked Jordan if he minded if I took a nap as I felt really sleepy. “Go ahead, darling,” he said. Although it was late evening, the visibility was good and there wasn’t much traffic. So I pushed back my seat and closed my eyes. Everything faded to black for a moment and then suddenly Jordan’s voice jolted me awake.
“Oh no, help us!’’ he screamed. I opened my eyes and there was a truck right next to us – in Jordan’s blind spot. There was no time to be scared as it happened so quickly.
Jordan swerved to avoid the truck, which was coming up on his left, and then we were careering towards the central reservation. Everything slowed down and yet I wasn’t scared.
I remember thinking “The truck is too close to the car,” and then I saw the central barrier racing towards our car. I braced myself, putting my hand on to the dashboard. With the other hand I gripped the handle above the window and gritted my teeth.
I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t do anything but wait for the impact…
Jordan was screaming “Help us, somebody help us!” But the next moment the car smashed into the barrier and flipped over.
We were rolling, and rolling, the world spinning upside down. “It’s going to be OK,” I told myself. I just knew that if I closed my eyes, and then opened them I would be safe.
I was tumbling, trying to hold on. Metal crunched on tarmac, glass shattered and I lost myself, surrendered to it as we rolled.
Then we slowed and stopped and I opened my eyes. We were on the other side of the barrier, upright in the opposite lane.
Fear thudded through me now. The noise had stopped. All I could hear was silence. I could smell fuel and smoke and burnt rubber – it was so strong my nostrils flared, my eyes watered. “I’m alive,” I thought, shocked, and then I looked at Jordan.
He was unconscious, slumped over the steering wheel and there was blood everywhere. There was a gash on his forehead and blood was pouring out.
“Jordan,” I screamed. “Jordan wake up, please.” But he was motionless.
Undoing my seat belt, I clambered over and used my hands to try and put pressure on the wound on his head to stop it from bleeding. I was also screaming for somebody to help. I didn’t know where my phone was to call the police or ambulance, but I couldn’t leave Jordan – he was bleeding too much.
I just hoped that someone else had seen the crash and called for help. “Jordan,” I cried, hoping he would come round. “Wake up Jordan.”
Moments dragged by. I kept calling out to him and praying and hoping he would be all right. At one point my heart soared when Jordan seemed to cough and blood poured from his nose and mouth, but then nothing.
The ambulance arrived in a few seconds and the next thing I knew there were people surrounding our car.
The emergency services checked Jordan’s pulse and then shook their heads at each other and said “No”.
I didn’t understand what they meant. I was too weak, and panicking. Miraculously, I was fine – I had a few bruises and cuts but otherwise was not in any great pain.
I just wanted to know that Jordan was OK. I was in shock though and as the ambulance men were with Jordan, another man checked on me.
“How is my husband?” I kept asking. “What is happening to Jordan?” But nobody would tell me anything. I was led to an ambulance while the men were still checking Jordan. “Just relax,” a medic told me.
I begged for a phone and called my mum. “We have been in a crash and I’m not sure if Jordan is going to make it,’’ I said, numb and unable to believe what had happened.
It was all a blur and I could hardly focus. All I cared about was finding out about Jordan, but through the fear I heard Mum saying she and Dad were on their way to me and would bring my best friends Brittany and Austin too.
Hanging up, I was taken to hospital and checked for internal injuries. “You’re very lucky,” a doctor told me. I nodded, looking out all the time for Jordan. “He’ll be OK,” I kept telling myself. But sitting in the hospital bed, I knew as soon as the two police officers walked into my room that Jordan had not made it – it was written all over their faces.
And at that moment, my life fell apart. “No, it can’t be,” I told the officers. “We just got married this afternoon. He can’t be gone.” Then the tears came and I just cried and cried, my entire body shaking. Just hours earlier I had excitedly changed my Facebook profile to say that I was married, and now here I was, a widow at the age of 21.
It just didn’t seem real and I prayed I would wake up and find out that it’d been some awful nightmare.
But the awful truth sank in and, crying, I picked up the phone the police officer gave me and told my parents: “Jordan didn’t make it”.
The line was awful. “What did you say?” Mum asked, and I repeated it.
It was my parents who told Jordan’s family he’d passed away – I wasn’t strong enough to do that.
When Mum and Dad finally arrived at the hospital I just fell into their arms and sobbed. My mum kept stroking my head telling me everything was going to be OK, but I knew it wouldn’t. Jordan was dead, and I didn’t know how I was going to cope without him.
I was released shortly after and when I walked back into my bedroom at my parents’ house, members of our church had already been in to take away all the wedding gifts we’d left there to open when we returned from our honeymoon.
In their place were notes of encouragement and support from people offering their condolences and support. I could not sleep and Mum sat with me on my bed and we just hugged each other for several hours.
On a Thursday, just five days after Jordan and I had been married, in the same church we had Jordan’s funeral.
Still now that day is a blur and I have no idea how I even got through it. I cried constantly afterwards – just looking at a photo, or one of Jordan’s T-shirts made me burst into tears.
The pain is indescribable, it’s raw and overwhelming. Many of my friends didn’t know what to say, as it was hard for anyone to cope with the fact I was so grief stricken. Instead they simply sat with me so I didn’t feel alone and had someone there for when I felt like talking.
Ten months on and I’m still numb. There is nothing about the journey of grief that is easy and all I can do is take one day at a time.
For a while I had a recurring nightmare where I would see Jordan covered in blood in the car and I would wake up gasping for air.
It got to the stage where I knew I needed help to try and get over what had happened, and so now I see a grief counsellor.
At first I couldn’t have any of Jordan’s things up in my room, but now I find comfort in having them near me.
I sleep with Jordan’s old pillow and the stuffed toy he gave me on our first date – and even have his old socks and some of his T-shirts.
I also have three photo albums of our wedding day, which I spend hours looking at and remembering the day I once thought was the best of my life.
I married so young because I didn’t want to live another minute of my life without being Jordan’s wife. I just wish with all my heart that I had got to be his wife for longer than a day.
But I wouldn’t change meeting Jordan for anything.
Some people never meet their soulmate and even though we didn’t have long together, I was lucky enough to experience true love, and for that I am eternally grateful.
Heather Costa, 22, lives in Michigan, USA