One night in early June 2001, Cindi Broaddus was driving on the highway with a friend and was doused with a gallon of sulfuric acid. With burns over more than 70 percent of her body, the road to recovery was a long one. But Broaddus not only survived, she went on to take this terrible event and turn it into an opportunity to teach other victims of senseless tragedy that one horrible random act can inspire thousands of acts of kindness. Read an excerpt from her new book, "A Random Act: An Inspiring True Story of Fighting to Survive and Choosing to Forgive," written with Kimberly Lohman Suiters.
Am I Dying?
I never hear it coming. I never see it fall. And I never hear the bloodcurdling screams that come from my own mouth.
I do not feel anything.
I must be dead.
But I can't be dead because I am aware that I have a few seconds left. So have I come back to life? Or was I never dead at all?
The only explanation is that I am suspended in a void between life and death. It is a reprieve, a few seconds to tell my children good-bye.
My first conscious thought is that Jim, my friend who is driving, will have to carry that message for me. I hear myself begging him.
"Jim, please, pull the car over. Something has happened to me. I am dying. You have to tell my girls how much I love them. Tell them I'm so sorry, I don't want to leave them like this. Please pull the car over, Jim, please."
I need him to listen to me, to give me every ounce of attention he has, but why won't he stop the damn car? The darkness is overwhelming, not only outside in the predawn blackness, but also inside of me.
Though the fire is scorching my skin, I can't get a more searing image off my mind: my three daughters. The more I slip into the fiery abyss, the farther away from them I feel. I cannot die like this. I have too much living I want to do. Please, God, get me home to my family. This cannot be real. I don't want Angela, Shelli, and Brandi to know I died like this — in so much pain and so afraid. I just want them to know I love them so much. I would give my life for each of them. We have been through it all together. If this is my end, I don't want my last moments to be apart from them.
It's so dark and loud that I'm afraid Jim won't hear my desperate message unless he stops the car and listens to my every word. I need him to pull over so he can be my eyes, my ears, my mouthpiece. Does he even realize what's going on? I must be dying the way my mother did. Of a silent, deadly heart attack. Her death devastated me, so I know how my daughters are going to feel. I can't stand that thought. I can't stand leaving without them knowing that my last thoughts are of them.
"I can't see! Jim, I cannot see. I'm dying. I'm dying! You must stop and listen to me. Please pull over, Jim. Please, you've got to pull over."
Jim hasn't answered me, hasn't explained why he won't pull over. Instead of Jim's voice, I hear the voices of my daughters. I see their faces, but I can't touch them. I need them so badly right now, and I know they'd rush to my side if they knew what I was going through while they were sleeping. Can Jim even hear me, or have I already died? Is my time up?
I'm screaming bloody murder, but to me, my voice is calm. It seems to have no effect on Jim. He drives faster. I can't see the road, the speedometer, or him, but I can feel him accelerating, regardless of my pain, my fear, my death. My mind is going a million miles per hour. I'm reliving my life.
"Shut up, Cindi! I won't do it. You're going to live to tell them yourself." Jim fires back with a force I have never heard from him before. He would never tell me to shut up unless it were a last resort to shake me out of hysteria. It works. His intensity is welcome because it tells me I am alive. Oh my God, I am alive.
But for how long?
That void, not knowing whether I was alive or dead, is gone. What replaces it is even worse. It is pain and fear.
"I can't pull over, Cindi. I have to get help. God help us, I think someone threw acid on us."
In the dead of night, on a long, lonely highway, someone crept along an overpass with a gallon glass jar of sulfuric acid, and waited. It was 3:00 a.m. on Tuesday, June 5, 2001. At that hour, the H. E. Bailey Turnpike outside of Newcastle, Oklahoma, might as well have been the bleakest, loneliest dirt road in America. Little did we know that someone else was awake at this hour, planning his attack, his heart filled with anger, his hands bent on destruction, and his eyes focused on the highway below. He had the upper hand as he waited for his defenseless victims, two innocent people who trusted that a quiet night meant a peaceful one. Two innocent people whose lives would be changed forever.
Did I hear Jim right? Acid? Who would do such a thing? But because Jim won't stop, and because of the desperation in his voice, I'm convinced someone is chasing us. Someone set me on fire and Jim is not stopping because now that person is after us. Who would chase us? Why does he want to kill us? Where is he now, behind us, or right beside us? How do we get away from him?
These answers can only come from Jim because I can't see. I have been blinded by the acid. My face catches fire first, then my neck and chest and arms and stomach and legs. The pain is unbearable. I've got to get it off me. With both hands, I cover my face, feel something moist, and believe I'm bleeding. But it's my skin coming off in my hands. My eyelids, my chin, my lips are all being eaten by acid ...
The foregoing is excerpted from "A Random Act," by Cindi Broaddus and Kimberly Lohman Suiters. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022