Two middle school teachers from Florida, Judy and Barnard Lorence, should be back in their classrooms getting ready for a new school year, but there's no chance of that now.
A moped accident has left Mr. Lorence brain-damaged and lying in a bed at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston. He can't speak more than a few words, and he cannot move either his legs or his left arm. Sometimes he doesn't even recognize his wife.
It was 44 days ago that the Lorences caught a ferry to Oak Bluffs and walked the gauntlet of moped rental shops on Circuit avenue extension. They rented one to share, Mr. Lorence driving and Mrs. Lorence holding on behind him.
A few hours later, at about 2 p.m., they were heading down the Edgartown-West Tisbury Road near Oyster Pond Road when a Buick sideswiped the moped and sent both of them flying.
When they landed, Mrs. Lorence, who is 35, had a bad case of road rash, but her husband, whom she calls Barney, was not so fortunate. Like his wife, he was wearing a helmet, but he suffered a serious blow to his head and face.
When emergency medical crews arrived, it was an immediate priority one. Mr. Lorence, who is 60, was rushed first to the Martha's Vineyard Hospital and then by helicopter to a Boston hospital.
"From the very beginning, this has been very traumatic," his wife said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "He was life-flighted off, and I was stranded on the Island by myself."
The couple's seven-year-old daughter had stayed back in Milford with Mrs. Lorence's parents. "A wonderful social worker at the hospital took the ferry with me to meet my father and my sister at Woods Hole," Mrs. Lorence said. "We drove up to the hospital, and we were told there was very little hope."
But Mr. Lorence held on, in intensive care, in critical condition. For the next two weeks, he was in a semi-comatose state, Mrs. Lorence said.
"This has turned our lives upside down," she said. "There is so much of the unknown, and doctors can't tell you what's going to happen because they don't know."
On August 2, Mr. Lorence was transferred from Brigham and Women's Hospital to Spaulding. The littlest signs are seen as improvement.
"He's still on a feeding tube and on a catheter. He's just now moving his left arm a little," she said. "If you ask him, he can somewhat clap with his right arm. Sometimes he'll know who we are. I say, ‘I'm Judy,' and then he shakes his head."
The two have been married 11 years. Their daughter, Dynelle, goes to the hospital with her mother just about every day. They stay with Mrs. Lorence's parents, commuting to the city. Dynelle's school in Jensen Beach has sent up the year's second grade curriculum, and her mother plans to homeschool her.
"We're living out of place, and we're living in the unknown," Mrs. Lorence said. "Even with recovery, this is just the beginning of a very long process that could last even until old age sets in."
Mr. Lorence has already undergone surgery to repair three fractured bones on the left side of his face. More surgery is expected to repair damage to his right knee. The medical bills, Mrs. Lorence said, are "unbelievable."
Mixed with her shock is a dose of anger.
"We had no idea about the controversy around mopeds until we got to the hospital and heard from people," she said. "They need to put something in place to make tourists know and be aware of the controversy and the dangers. They need to address it specifically, so tourists know how people on the Vineyard feel about people on mopeds."
Mrs. Lorence said she and her husband also had no idea that just five days earlier, a young woman named Kate Dunnet Miller was killed in a moped accident in Oak Bluffs.
The Lorences rented their moped from Two Wheel Traveler, a dealership right near the Strand Theatre whose owner, Francis Alarie 3rd, has been outspoken about efforts by dealers to improve safety and training.
Even though the two would share one moped, it was only the driver who received any training. "They had Barney drive around the block, and that was it," said Mrs. Lorence.
When asked what kind of footwear they had on, Mrs. Lorence said her husband was wearing sneakers, and she was wearing sandals. Town bylaws forbid dealers from renting to people wearing sandals, but the regulation is rarely obeyed or enforced. Only in recent weeks, in the aftermath of the fatal crash and Mr. Lorence's accident, have Oak Bluffs selectmen pushed for better enforcement.
Meanwhile, the driver of the car who hit the Lorences back in July, 75-year-old Mary Larsen of Chilmark, was found responsible of improper passing and fined $50. The charge of negligent operation was dropped by the prosecution.
The Lorences have hired an attorney, Bryson Cloon of Kansas. He said Mrs. Larsen's insurance had very low coverage. Mrs. Lorence said she's too overwhelmed to think about any legal action now.
What troubles her most is the thought that the husband she knew might not ever be the same person again. "He's very outgoing and very likeable," she said. "When people meet him, it doesn't take long for people to click with him."
A computer executive for many years, he was most recently information systems manager at Digital Corporation before downsizing made him think about doing something else, like using that teaching degree he had. "He felt he had a calling for it," his wife said. So for the last six years, he's taught. The subject he teaches is geography. Mrs. Lorence teaches math.
"He has a strong faith, and this will help pull him through, to accept what's going on and to try and deal with it," his wife said. "He's very caring, and he has a daughter who needs him. He loves reading to her, going biking with her. To think that would be taken away would be devastating."