Sometimes, when I close my eyes, Ican still see the gritty smoke and tumbling Explorer. I canstill feel the jolt of our small car as my dad yanked on thesteering wheel and hear the crashing of steel againstpavement. Even from the opposite side of the highway, I wastoo close to the smell of burnt rubber and flying debris. Iwatched helplessly from the grass strip as a handful of peoplewhipped out cellular phones and punched numbers, franticallycalling for emergency help. My eyes scanned the desperatescene ... the black truck on its roof, my dad attempting todirect traffic and a young man bent strangely over the yellowpassing lane. Panicked voices blended with the wailing ofsirens and stamping feet as a crew of paramedics rushed to theboy's side. He and another victim were slipped into a waitingambulance. They were dashed away and, except for the shatteredcar, the highway returned to normal.
I was not quick toforget what I had witnessed. For a moment, I struggled to putmyself in those passengers' places that I experienced from thesafety of my car. Where was my seat belt? Was I going tosurvive? What about the people I loved and cared about?Imagine - my life could be ruined in an instant. All mydreams, achievements, beliefs, hopes ... gone. One second Iwas laughing with my friend and the next I was broken in thecenter of a highway. The jingling of my dad's keys in the cardoor jolted me. I silently wiped the tears from mycheek.
With my sixteenth birthday came a temporarylicense and a set of keys. Me? Driving? The idea was certainlycausing my parents concern. Unlike most beginning drivers, Idid not ignore their worry. I found a new appreciation fortheir careful instructions. Obeying the speed limit,completing a four-way stop, clicking on the turn signal andremaining in control became essential. Each time my eyes beganto wander from the rim of the steering wheel, images of theflaming truck drifted into my memory.
Most of the time,I tend not to think through a situation. For example, thenight I chose to stay at school until 7 p.m. without callingmy parents, my mom was frantic. When I finally noticed the skywas almost dark, my dad had already been out searching for me.Once again, I thought about the young people involved in thathighway crash as I listened to the angry voices of my parents.I wondered if they told their parents where they were going.That night, I understood that even the smallest decisions canhave the most devastating results.
I do not know whatbecame of the teenagers involved in the highway accident.Still, each time I see the smoke and slivers of glass in mymemory I am reminded of how precious life is. I am remindedthat the choices I make every day may, can and will, affectwhat happens in the future ... my future. Whether it is notpassing a history test or failing to drive safely, each choicemay create a domino effect of reactions. Through thisexperience, I have learned to weigh my decisions carefully andstay safe. Sure, I still choose the wrong answer once in awhile ... doesn't everybody? I only have one life and only Ican achieve my goals and follow my dreams. I am the only me.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.