An Affair to Remember: The True Story Behind Hollywood’s ‘The Vow’
Kim and Krickitt Carpenter were set for a lifetime of wedded bliss. Then the unthinkable happened: she forgot who he was.
Photo courtesy of Spyglass Entertainment/Screen Gems
Kim and Krickitt Carpenter’s spirits were soaring as they headed toward Phoenix, Ariz. to spend Thanksgiving with Krickitt’s family. The newlyweds were driving their Ford Escort and chatting about the Cowboys, the university baseball team that Kim coached back in their hometown of Las Vegas, N.M. By 6:30 p.m., Krickitt had the wheel, and Kim, who was battling a cold, was reclining in the back seat. They didn’t know it, but there was a flatbed truck barrelling ahead of them, obscured by darkness and exhaust smoke. Nine kilometres west of the New Mexico state line, Kim woke to Krickitt’s scream.
Krickitt hit the brakes and tried to swerve left to avoid the flatbed, but it was too late. The two vehicles collided. Seconds later, a pickup truck that had been driving behind the Escort slammed into it. The car flew through the air and came down on its roof, skidding more than 30 metres before it stopped.
Kim was squeezed against the roof, which was now beneath him. He had no feeling in his legs and was unable to move from the waist down. “Krickitt!” he screamed. There was no answer. He couldn’t see that Krickitt was suspended above him, held by her seat belt, her head starting to swell grotesquely as fluid flooded her brain.
Kim Carpenter and Krickitt Pappas had met by phone a year earlier, in September 1992. As the head baseball coach at New Mexico Highlands University, Kim, 27, received catalogues for customized sportswear. One day, when something caught his eye, he dialled the toll-free number, and in Anaheim, Calif., a sales associate answered. Her voice was animated, sparkling with laughter.
“Your name is really Krickitt?” he teased.
“And you’re from Las Vegas, not Nevada?” she responded. She explained that her real name was Krisxan, a Greek name, pronounced Kris-ann, and that an aunt had nicknamed her Krickitt when she was two because she never stood still.
Over the next three months, Kim’s casual interest in sportswear increased exponentially, but only if a certain 23-year-old sales associate was available to answer his calls. Krickitt knew a lot about sports, and she seemed genuinely interested in Kim’s team. But it didn’t take long for their conversations to turn deeper. Both were dedicated Christians who believed marriage vows were a sacred promise. At every turn, each was finding something more to love in the other.
Within six months, Kim invited Krickitt to visit New Mexico to see his team play. A few weeks later, he met her parents. In June, he flew to California and made his way to her apartment. Dressed in a suit and tie despite his aversion to dress clothes, he called her name until she came out on her balcony. “Well, will you?” he yelled.
“Will I what?” Krickitt responded. Kim knelt on one knee and held out a bouquet of flowers. “Will you be my lifetime buddy?”
“Yes!” she said. “Yes, I will.” The pair was married on September 18, 1993.
Two months later, Kim listened in shock as a doctor told him that Krickitt was in a coma, completely unresponsive. There was possible brain damage, and her survival wasn’t assured. She had a plastic hose in her mouth and a device stuck into her head to measure intracranial pressure. Plastic bags hung on metal stands, all draining fluids down clear tubing into her arms. This can’t be Krickitt! Kim thought.
And then, Krickitt’s athletic body started fighting back. Though still comatose, she was able to breathe on her own by the first week in December. She gradually began to come out of her coma, and three weeks after the accident it was time for an assessment of her mental abilities. Kim sat by anxiously as a therapist asked Krickitt questions. “Where does the sun rise?” the therapist said.
Answer, Kim urged silently. Show us you’re getting well. Krickitt looked puzzled, then satisfied. “North,” she said with certainty.
“Who is the president?”
“Where do you live?”
Phoenix was where she had lived before she was married. Kim was encouraged. Yes, Krickitt! We’re going home soon, and everything will be all right.“Who is your husband?”
Krickitt’s blue eyes drifted around the room. Her voice was flat, emotionless, and her words stabbed at Kim’s heart: “I’m not married.”
Stunned, Kim backed out of the room. In the hallway, he wept.
As Krickitt grew more responsive, it became clear that she’d lost all memory of the year before the accident. She didn’t remember her courtship with Kim, their wedding, their honeymoon or their short time together as husband and wife. Kim Carpenter was a stranger to the woman he’d fallen in love with. Krickitt’s parents and friends would ask, “Who are you married to?” She would seem to concentrate but then say any of a half-dozen men’s names-her gymnastics coach, old friends, a doctor. Once Kim showed her a video of their wedding. When the camera panned on Kim’s face, he said gently, “That’s me. And the girl is you.” But Krickitt showed no reaction.
Every day Krickitt worked with a physical therapist, speech therapists and others. Once an accomplished gymnast, she had to be taught to walk. At first she would jerk her right foot forward and drag the left foot, unable to lift it off the floor. Her brain had sustained injuries in the frontal lobe, which controls personality, emotions and decision-making, and in her parietal lobe.
Krickitt’s memory of being a child, a teenager and a college student slowly returned. But Kim continued to be “that guy,” just one more person who made her try to walk, feed herself and hit a ball with a paddle. Often her reaction to him was anger and rejection. “Why don’t you go back to Las Vegas?”she said more than once.
“Because I love you,” was Kim’s unwavering response.
In January 1994, about two months after the accident, Krickitt was able to move into her parents’ house and go to the hospital as an outpatient. Kim began an exhausting 600-kilometre commute, flying to Las Vegas to coach the baseball team half the week and back to Phoenix on Mondays to support Krickitt the rest of the time.
Sometimes there were clear signs of improvement, like the day when Kim pitched a ball to her. Instead of missing it by several feet, she scored a direct hit. There were funny moments, too. One day, after Kim had returned to Las Vegas, Krickitt told a therapist, “I miss that guy who was here.” Her mother then phoned Kim and said, “Krickitt wants to talk to you.”
Kim was thrilled that she’d thought of him. “I’m really glad you called,” he said.
“Well,” she said. “I gotta go now.” Her short attention span was equally evident when people visited her. She would greet them warmly with “Hi, how are you? I’m glad to see you,” and follow it with “Well, bye now,” in the next sentence.
On March 12, 1994, Kim and Krickitt went to their apartment for an ‘orientation’ visit. In the small living room, Krickitt picked up a photo and studied it with a quizzical look. It was their wedding picture, but it didn’t mean a thing to her.
A month later, she went “home” to stay. It wasn’t easy. Her continual confusion over where to find things in the apartment-combined with her anger at Kim for being tough about her rehabilitation-caused temper outbursts that were completely unlike the woman Kim had known and loved. This new Krickitt was closer to an unruly teen. Known for patience and compassion before the accident, she now lacked both.
The couple would get into arguments, and after one of these, Krickitt ran out of the apartment. Worried, Kim drove around until he found her outside a fast-food restaurant. “You promised me you wouldn’t run off!” Kim scolded her.
“I can’t promise anything,” she cried, as dismayed by her erratic behaviour as he was.
“I can’t live like this anymore,” Kim said. “I can’t see me without you and I can’t see you without me, but maybe that’s the way it has to be.”
However, one promise was bred in Krickitt’s bones: she had grown up believing that marriage was forever. It was a promise she and Kim had each made to God before they’d even met. And when neither of them felt they could go on, that promise kept them together.
In the fall of 1995, Kim went to see a professional counsellor. During one session, the therapist asked him, “What made Krickitt fall in love with you?” He thought of all the love and affection he’d shown her during their courtship. He’d been her sweetheart. Then he considered how he had acted since her injury. He was more like a parent or coach. Finally it struck him: Start over! Win her back!
“Would you like to go to a movie tonight?” he asked her. “We could get some pizza afterwards.” It felt awkward courting Krickitt again, but Kim made “date night” a part of their weekly routine. They tried golfing together, but they often didn’t make it past the second hole. Kim had to learn to let go and not criticize. They knew they were on the right track when they could laugh and say, “We made it to the fourth hole without fighting!”
Although Kim had set out to reawaken love in Krickitt, he hadn’t foreseen the result of their renewed dating: he came to love her as the person she’d become. In turn, Krickitt began to notice how generous Kim was. She felt herself “growing into love,” which she described as “sort of like falling in love, only better.”
Kim’s counsellor eventually planted the seed of an idea: would it be meaningful to renew their vows? “Oh, yes!” was Krickitt’s reaction when the counsellor sought her opinion.
So on Valentine’s Day 1996, Kim once again went down on one knee and, with a bouquet of flowers in one hand, asked Krickitt to be his bride. And on May 25, she held out her hand to Kim. “I thank you for being true to your vows,” she said.
They exchanged their original wedding rings. Then, each unaware of the other’s plan, they offered each other a second pair of rings to commemorate this new vow of love.
Kim and Krickitt Carpenter are still together today and have two children.