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Not Everyone That Drives Drunk Dies
It’s black. It’s black and it’s hot. The darkness keeps getting closer, closer, closer still and I can barely think. Where am I? What’s going on? Where is everyone? Megan? Amy? Adam? I want to sit up, and when I realize I can’t, I want to scream. When I can’t do that either, I panic. My tongue feels thick, my mouth cottony and dry. I can’t feel anything. Not my legs, not my arms, not even my face, which I try to move. Making sure you still have a face, are you? says a voice in the back of my mind, scathing and unpleased. I want to tell it to be quiet, never to talk to me again, want to know if it’s even real, but my brain is becoming foggy, murky, blank…
The next time I surface everything things wrong. Again. I can’t tell where I am or where I keep disappearing. I don’t know what’s happened or even if I’m real anymore. My name, Emily, floats out of nothing and I try to hold onto it. Emily? Emily what? Age? No idea. Sex? I’m pretty sure I’m a girl. Birth date? I can’t remember. It’s in the summer… I pull for a month. June? April? Well, no, that’s spring. Monday? I laugh bitterly. A day of the week instead of a month, pathetic. The darkness returns, this time freezing cold. I shiver. I hear a distant roaring and begin and mantra of sorts to drown on the rumbling, terrible sound. Emily, Emily, Emily, Emily, Emily, Emily, Emily, Emily, Emily, Emily, Emily, Emily, Emily, Emily…
The next time I return from the darkness I’m on fire. Everything hurts! My arms, my legs, my head. Everything I had though was gone, now back, filled with stabbing, searing pain. A moan of pain echoes around me, bouncing of the walls of my consciousness until I realize the cry is my own.
“She’s waking up!” The tone is frantic and surprised, like someone receiving a last minute guest. I groan again. Too loud. Too bright. Everything is too much. I haven’t opened my eyes yet, but even through my closed lids they burn from the sudden brightness. I can feel people closing in all around me. High-heeled shoes clack towards me.
“Push some pain meds.” Someone says. Pain meds? What? I want to protest, to ask what’s going on, but a wave hits me. I grow warm and the pain leaves as the tide recedes.
I honestly don’t think they ever meant to put me back to sleep, but they did. This sleep was different though. This was actual sleep, my mind dead and surrendered to my subconscious, my dreams. The last time I had been awake, fully awake, trapped inside my own head. A millennia with no one but myself for company. This time when I returned it was not really even surfacing, it was just waking up. I realized how tired I had been, how absolutely exhausted from the time spent wandering around my barely capable mind. Running in circles, screaming at myself, wondering what was happening. Chanting my own name to remember who I was.
I hadn’t meant to. I had intended to stay here, faking sleep, faking my not knowing until someone forced me awake. Something had happened, something terrible, and I had no idea what it was. What I had done. What had been done to me.
But, as soon as I yawned, the footsteps were back. The many bodies with their many anxious voices.
“No pain meds!” I heard someone reprimand. Of course they had no desire for me to drift back of to sleep. They wanted answers.
“Emily?” Someone said close to my ear, concerned. I tried to speak, but my mouth felt filled with sand. My tongue couldn’t find the muscles to make itself function, so I made up for it by opening my eyes the tiniest bit. The light that flooded in was less astonishing than I though it would be; after all, by this time I had been expecting it be the lights in Limbo. What I saw could only be qualified as generic florescent lighting.
“Is she lucid?” I heard someone else question. I blinked rapidly, trying to answer their question. That was when I saw who was there with me. Three police officers, bored and angry, a doctor, huffy yet concerned, four of what I could assume were interns, intrigued. The last person I saw was my mother. She looked distraught, her face ashen. I tried again to speak, to ask what was going on. I had to know, but all that came out was an odd, muffled croak. I found a straw shoved in front of my face and I took a gulp of the water, lukewarm and metallic tasting from being out all night. I shook my head when I had had enough of the odd tasting water, though I was still thirsty.
“What?” I managed, my voice rough, my tongue struggling to help me form the words. “What’s going on?” I said, looking from person to person. Three police officer, one doctor, four interns, my mother. No one answered. “Is someone going to answer?” I should have known it would be the angriest of all the police officers. He stepped forward, his blue eyes cold, his mouth set in a tight line. He looked to the left of me while he spoke.
“You were in a car accident,” he said, his tone disapproving and furious. “You are the only survivor of a drunk driving accident.” He said, and his last words sounded like a sneer. My eyes wide, I search for an answer. Was I the driver? The drunk one? Was anyone else in the car with me? Did we hit anyone? Were we the ones that were hit? Was I alone and the drunks were killed? Scenario after scenario ran through my head, each one more hideous than the last.
“We had suspected brain trauma,” I heard from the back of the room, next to my mother. “We were right, she appears to have amnesia. This could be troublesome, we need her to remember what happened.” The police officer was still talking to me, but I was focus on the words of the doctor. She led my mother out of the room leaving with three police officers and four interns. I paid attention to the red-faced officer once more.
“You know what I don’t understand about you little punks? You load up on alcohol and hop in a car for a joy ride!” he said, his volume rising. “You don’t realize it just makes my job harder! More body bags! More parents to explain to!” he was close to a bellow and I clamped my hands to my ears, tears rising in my eyes. Suddenly, all too suddenly, I remembered what had happened. The party, the out of character drinking, being with my best friend, the skidding, Adam driving, the screams of tortured metal as we wrapped around a tree trunk. Adam’s face, white, dead already. Megan, screaming and crying just as she gave way to violent shaking before making no more sound. Amy, lying silent before vomiting blood and wailing so loudly I was sure that Adam and Megan just might wake back up. But they never did. Never would. And apparently neither would Megan. I opened my eyes again and heard a horrible, piercing scream that continued and didn’t stop. I began to tell them to shut up, that I had just received the worst news of my life and I didn’t care if they were in labor or having their limb cut off. When the words failed to form I realized I was the one screaming. The three policemen cover their ears and I wonder if they’re thinking about shooting me. The four interns look ready to cry and completely unsure of what to do. The doctor ran into the room, throwing the four babies a furious glare. My mother was close, on her heels, and she ran over and grabbed me by the shoulders. She shooed away a syringe the doctor had just begun to brandish and shook me violently by the shoulders.
“EMILY!” she screamed. I realized I could hear her because I had finally shut up. She had tears in her eyes. I saw the doctor shoving the three policemen and the four interns out of the room, and I could hear her swearing at the young doctors. I began to shake and I saw my mother look around like she suddenly wished the doctor was back with that syringe. I shut down completely.
The police: Well, they asked for a report that I was barely able to give. I couldn’t tell them everything that had happened. I wanted to, but my mind, my mouth could hardly find the words to describe what had happened.
The doctors: Wanted to know what hurt, what to fix. I let them figure that out by poking and prodding me, grumbling when it hurt too badly.
My mother: All she wanted to know was what had gotten into me. Every question she asked began with why.
I: Didn’t know what to do. What to say, how to feel, how to react. I wanted to tell the story, tell everyone exactly what had happened. I could remember and the words were always on the tip of my tongue, but I couldn’t find a way to verbalize, to communicate. I just couldn’t. Maybe now I can.
Everything had started like a normal Saturday night, but everything had gone so wrong. So awfully, terribly, horribly wrong. Amy and Megan showed up to my house to get ready for an after-prom party. They laughed as they told me how they had almost hit a tree on Curler’s Road. I now know that this was an omen. That we should have stayed home and not bothered with the party. None of really wanted to go, but Megan’s boyfriend and prom date, Adam, wanted to go. Megan wanted us to go, so we did.
When we got to the party it was already in full swing. People were drinking and smoking pot left, right, and center. I had to be home early in the morning to go to work, Megan had a high tolerance for liquor, and Amy didn’t drink. Neither did I. Adam immediately pulled Megan into the fray and began pushing drinks on her, taking twice as many for himself. I had seen this as a good thing. If Adam was getting himself wasted, the last thing on his mind was taking advantage of Megan by getting her hammered. Amy and I wandered around. Neither of our dates had been that satisfactory. No one that I would ever want to hang out with again, but we were friends with all the same people, so we were bound to be at the same party. Amy met her date before I saw mine. He offered her a drink, which, to my surprise, she took, telling me that she had to live it up before she went off to college. I had smiled and told her I would catch up with her later and began pushing through the crowd in search of my ex-date. I found him a few minutes later talking with one of his friends from football. I said hello, and after swearing at him for insulting Amy at prom, I began to talk to him also. I don’t know when, but I found a drink in my hand. I didn’t really want it, but Brian, the ex-date, was watching, so I gulped it down, not wanting to seem like a loser. It burned my throat and tasted like nail varnish, but as soon as I set down the cup I found another one in my left hand. Brian was watching me skeptically, so I downed that too. This one was sweet, like lemonade, and nowhere near as strong. We continued to talk, and as I grew warmer and my surroundings fuzzier, I found myself chugging the “nail varnish” like a desert survivor would chug water. Brian was gone, I noticed, after a long while, but there were other boys that were just as cute and they seemed interested. I almost took off with one of them for a walk, but I felt someone tugging on my arm. It was Megan, supporting between herself and Adam a passed out Amy.
“What’s wrong?” I managed to slur, raising my voice above the music. Megan told me Amy had passed out after having three beers. I laughed and raised my empty jug triumphantly, proud that I was still standing and still semi-coherent. I laughed and followed, holding Amy’s purse. Adam was pulling his car keys out of his pocket. Megan asked if he should really be driving. I noticed he was staggering around, eyes bleary. I told him she should let Megan drive since she was the most sober of the bunch. He told me to shut up and get in the car, practically throwing Amy on top of me once I was seated in the backseat. Megan rolled her eyes and got in the passenger side, warning Adam to be careful. He smiled and told her not to worry, he would have us back to his house in no time.
He sped down the driveway, swerving to the left as he pulled onto the road, taking off towards his house going twenty miles an hour over the speed limit. Megan reprimanded him, telling him to slow down. He laughed again and told her it was fine, he could see perfectly, nothing was blurry. Even being totally smashed myself I could tell that we were beginning to swerve dangerously into the other lane. Megan yelled at him this time.
“ADAM! Slow down or let us out!” she said, and I could see her itching to grab the steering wheel. I joined her in protests to slow down. Amy, still unconscious, rested in my lap, breathing heavily. We were about to make the right onto Curler’s Road when something occurred to me.
“Don’t go on here!” I slurred, angry. “It’s too dangerous!” I barked, earning a harsh stare from Adam.
“Emily! If you don’t shut your mouth and let me focus, I’ll dump you and Amy on the side of the road!” he bellowed, turning to look at me. Megan reminded him to keep his eyes on the road and asked him to slow down again.
“Adam, please! Just a tiny bit!” she said, sounding almost close to tears as the trees of Curler’s Road whizzed past, turning into a solid wall of green and brown iron. He laughed and tapped the accelerator. I heard the engine roar loudly. I’ll never know if he was just trying to scare us or if he was fed up with being yelled at, but things began to go wrong. I remember it now. It wasn’t in slow motion like it was supposed to be, but everything was so clear and focused that I saw one thing happen at a time.
First, the car began to fishtail, the back tires suddenly taking the place the front ones had just been in. Second, a tree, the biggest one on Curler’s Road, the one Megan and Amy had almost hit, loomed up close to Adam’s window as we spun faster and faster. Third, Amy slipped from my lap, flying towards the tree, but still inside the car. Fourth, I saw Megan scrabble for her seatbelt, her face panicked, terrified, like someone that’s just seen a ghost.
We continued to spin. The tree got closer. Amy slid further away. Megan lost the grip on her seatbelt.
And we collided.
The car screamed as the metal bent and the glass popped.
Totaled, damaged forever, wrapped around the trunk of the tree like it was made of putty. Adam hit first. He died instantly, I’m sure. His face was already blank and white by the time I looked at him. Megan began to scream and I reached for her, I wanted to comfort her, but as I reached out she began to shake. I unbuckled myself the best I could and tried to crawl to her, my legs pinned by the bent metal of the car. She shook so violently she looked like a mere blur. The screaming stopped just as suddenly as the shaking had started and she went totally limp against the snapped in half dashboard. I stared, horrorstruck until something wet splashed into my lap. I looked to Amy, horrified. Her face, coated in blood, looking like something out of a horror movie contorted and slackened as she screeched so loudly I thought Megan and Adam would sit up and tell her to be quiet and then offer to help her. But they didn’t. I reached for her, my hands shaking from the shock, covered in blood, whose owner I was not sure of. My hands were halfway to her when she fell forward into them. I couldn’t support her. She was deadweight and I just couldn’t hold her up. She was dead. I was sure. They were all dead.
My diagnosis: Fractured skull, four stitches to reattach part of my scalp. Every finger in my right hand had been broken when I had reached forward to catch myself. Lacerations in my left and right legs, a cracked collarbone from slamming into the seat. My face was bruised. Cuts covered every inch of me from where I had crawled out of the car and through the shattered glass. Two cracked ribs. A broken wrist. Internal bleeding. It went on.
But it didn’t matter. I didn’t care. And I still don’t. I never will. The only reason I survived, the doctors say, is because I was wearing my seatbelt and I was on the right side of the car. Not the left, which had smashed into the tree.
The first “if” I come to is “if Megan had been wearing her seatbelt, she would be here with me, crying over Amy and Adam.” But at least I wouldn’t have been alone.
The second is “if I had held onto Amy, she would be here too.”
The third is “if I hadn’t been so stupid, I never would have gotten into the car.”
The fourth is “if I wasn’t such a screw up, I never would have taken that first drink.”
The list goes on and on and on. I’m prescribed a medicine that’s supposed to make the “ifs” go away. But they don’t. And I’m glad. I feel responsible for this. I know I’m responsible. So many things could have been different. This could have been avoided. I could have made Adam stop the car. I could have told Megan to buckle up. Could have held onto Amy and never let go, just like when we played “red rover” when we were little.
I get a medication for the “coulds” too. They don’t go away either, and I keep it my secret. I should live with this. I should tell their families it was my fault. Should tell the police to lock me away. Should finish myself off the first time I get the chance.
The medication for the “shoulds” never comes. But I wish it would. They’re the worst. Every single one brings me closer and closer to a final decision. Every single one makes me feel useless and small. Every single one makes me wish things were over.
After two weeks in the hospital I hear that I’m invited to go to the funerals of Amy, Megan, and Adam. My mother acts like she’s going to force me to go, but she knows I wouldn’t miss them for the world. This is my last chance to see them. Even if I never liked Adam that much, this is my chance to tell them I’m sorry.
My chance to finally kiss the days of me and Amy and Megan good-bye.
Amy’s funeral comes first. Her parents on time as always, if not a little bit early. Closed casket. Her parents saw me and immediately hugged me. They told me through their tears that they didn’t blame me. They were glad I was still alive. They tell me Amy would have been happy to see me at least make it through. I want to tell them that Amy would be happier to be here alive. I want to, but I don’t.
They tell me they know it’s last minute, but they want to know if I would mind saying a few words about Amy. I tell them I’ll try, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to. They tell me it would mean a lot to Amy and I want to slap them. I know they’re trying to guilt me into this. I tell them I will. And I tell myself I will.
I don’t know if I’ll be able to, though. We haven’t even stepped into the sanctuary yet. I haven’t seen the coffin. The box that holds Amy, my best friend.
The service begins. I let everyone go in before I dare enter myself. I stare at the ground as I enter. I don’t want to see the box. I feel someone grab onto my cast and I know it’s my mother. I sink into the pew next to her. I don’t look at the program she offers me and there is no way I’ll look up. No one has actually talked yet and I haven’t started crying yet. I feel someone lean close to my ear and I turn around. I know that the girls from our circle of friends are there, and they’re already crying. I can see everyone from where I sit since I’m seated almost at the front.
But the strange thing is, there’s no one there. I mean, I know there are people, but I know it wasn’t one of them and I’m sure it’s Amy. She always used to get really close to me and Megan’s ears and whisper. Just to scare us. Tears trickle down my face and it gets to be hard to breathe. My mom puts an arm around me as the pastor begins to talk. I know much of what he’s going to say is standard, so I barely listen. When I hear that her father has taken the podium, my ears prick up. He begins to talk about all that Amy wanted to do with her life and I feel my insides manage to be come less substantial than liquid. I drown him out too. I know what she wanted. She wanted to be an art major. She wanted to begin a charity. She wanted to have two children, one boy, one girl. I hear my name being said and my mom gives me a little prod. I ignore her, hoping her dad will get fed up and move on from my name, but I feel like someone is holding my hand. I look and there’s no one there. With my broken fingers, I would have known if someone really was there. I know it’s Amy again and I stand, brush of the front of my dress and head down make my way to the front and take my place at the podium. I know the coffin is to my right and I still don’t dare look at it. I hear someone tell me to wipe off my face; I look like a mess. I want to laugh. It’s an incredibly Amy comment and as I stand on the podium I question my sanity.
“Hello,” I say, my voice quavering. “My name is Emily. I was friends with Amy-” my voice breaks and I feel embarrassed, but I don’t know if I can keep talking. “I don’t know…” I trail off, but swallow and begin again. “I don’t what I should say. No words can describe…” I trail off again. I don’t want to talk about my emotions in front of a group of people that probably blame me for Amy’s death. “I miss Amy.” I say finally, the tears beginning again in full force. I don’t know how I can talk when I feel like my heart has been torn in half. I shake my head at Amy’s dad who is standing off to the side. With a nod he sends Amy’s older brother, Connor, forward to take me back to my seat. Head down, I sink back into my seat, trembling. All of a sudden I picture Amy’s face as she died. Horrified about what was happening to her, terrified to die. I break down. Sobbing. Hands are on my back and I don’t know who they belong to, but I know there’s more than one pair. They rub soothing circles and there’s another whisper in my ear.
I’ll miss you, Emily. I love you. Best friends forever.
Bitterly and crazily I wonder where Megan is. I was there when her dad died. I can’t help but think she’s selfish, and immediately after the thought I want to ask my mom to punch me in the face.
The service ends and I don’t remember how I got back to the hospital. They want me there until the funerals are over so they can be sure I don’t kill myself.
Adam’s funeral comes next. His is awkward. Closed casket. I know his mom from when she helped with the fall play, but I feel like I don’t belong. My mom comes to this one too. I still can’t look at the casket. All I can picture is Adam’s blank, pale white face, dead, even though a picture of him smiling looms down at me from an image cast by a projector. Seconds before the service starts I’m approached by his mother and his mother’s friend. The friend has to speak for the mother. She wants me to speak at his service. His girlfriend, Megan, of three years can’t be there and she wants me to take her place. I want to kick both of the women. I want to know how they dare act as if I could try and replace Megan. I want to, but I don’t. I nod and I tell them I’ll try my best.
I find my mother, close to the front again because they want me to speak. She takes my hand and I feel someone pulling my ponytail lightly. I know its Adam. I could feel him when I walked in. He asks me if I ever really hated him. I whisper no. I don’t know how I could hate him now. He thanks me for coming and then leaves me alone. He knows how hard this is for me. For me to be asked to speak. My turn comes and I begin, tears running down my face. I feel two hands on the small of my back, supporting me. I know one belongs to Adam, the other to Amy, who whispers hello.
“Hello, I’m Emily,” I say, and it’s easier this time. “One of my best friends was his girlfriend…” my voice fails as I begin to speak of Megan. “My other friend and I didn’t always approve of him, but he was a great person…” I trail off again, my heart beginning to ache along the scar left from Amy’s funeral. “I was glad to know him.” I finish lamely. But I can’t go on. I realize that I really did care about Adam, and my heart rips again, leaving me sobbing in my seat. This crying is worse than last time and I still wonder where Megan is.
I’m sorry, Emily. Please forgive.
Adam is whispering to me.
I’ll miss you, Emily. I love you. Best friends forever.
Amy says again.
I don’t remember going to the car, but I remember being led back to my bed in the hospital.
Megan’s funeral comes last. Closed casket. Her mother and little brother are in tears when I offer to speak. Her mother does tell me that she didn’t want to ask me to speak because she saw how hard it had been for me, but she tells me it just wouldn’t be right if I didn’t. I want to tell her that there is nothing right about any of this, so it wouldn’t have made a difference. I want to, but I don’t. Her mother asks if I’ll speak first, and I tell her of course I will.
I forgot about the tradition in Megan’s family.
The tradition I learned when I went to her father’s funeral.
To touch the coffin before I speak.
To say a prayer while I touch it.
And this means looking at it. I look around for Megan’s mother so I can tell her I can’t, but a crowd of mourners has swallowed her up and I can’t fight my way to the center. I look around for help, but no one is there. Then, there’s a tug on my arm just above my cast. My heart leaps and I’m sure it’s Megan, but I suddenly realize it’s not. It’s her brother, Duncan, just eleven years old and suddenly without sister or father. He looks at me, green eyes rimmed with tears that have yet to fall. My throat constricts as he looks up at me.
“Please, Ems.” He says, his voice cracking. “I know you don’t want to and I’ll go with you, if you want.” I want to tell him to leave me alone, that there’s no way in Hell he’s getting me to so much as look at the coffin. I want to, but I don’t. “It’s Megan.” He says finally and I know what he means. Best friend duty is calling me. I have to.
“And you promise you’ll go with me?” I say, taking his hand. He gives me a watery smile and the tears well up in my eyes.
“Yes.” He says. He tells me that we’ll make our entrance after the service starts. He gives me the rose I’m supposed to lay on the coffin before I say my prayer. The tears that I thought I would be able to control begin to trickle down my face, and I notice that I’m shaking so bad that I’ve already crushed the flower completely. Duncan takes it out of my hand and gives me another one. I’m careful with this one and I hold it loosely in my hand. The doors in front of me swing open and my eyes immediately shoot to the ground. I will not look up. Not for anything. I won’t move. Not for anything. Except Megan.
And Duncan begins to lead me down the aisle, squeezing my hand. The tears are flowing freely now and I sniffle. He squeezes my hand, and I can’t help but feel eternally grateful that I am not being forced to make this walk alone. We stop walking and I know we’ve reached the coffin.
I begin to cry even harder. It’s almost like I can feel Megan, but I’m unsure because she hasn’t said anything. I wonder if she will. I feel like she’s hiding from me, avoiding me, angry with me and I feel the pit in my stomach grow to be bottomless.
Duncan raises our connected hands together to touch the coffin. I pull back, trying not to touch it, but he whispers to me.
“It’s Megan.” And this time I know he means something different. I can feel her, like she’s almost alive. And I know he can feel her too, that I’m not crazy. I can almost see her, sitting on her own coffin staring at me, tears in her eyes.
When my hand touches the wood I notice how smooth, how cold the box is. Inanimate, impersonal, cold. Not at all Megan. And this upsets me. I’m still not looking at it, but the sensation of touching it fills me with an urge to throw the lid open and shake Megan back awake, tell her to quit joking. As that urge subsides I am flooded with sorrow and Duncan leads me away, seating us between my mother and his mother. The service begins and I’m not listening. I know they are almost about to call my name and I’ve given up on all hope of Megan speaking to me. I feel emptier, almost dead. Instead of ripping, my chest aches like my heart is going to explode at any moment. I give a small whimper that I’m sure no one can hear.
And she’s there, telling me she’s sorry for taking so long. She thought I was angry with her for dying. I tell her I am and how badly I miss her, how I wish I could have joined her rather than sit through all three funerals. She tells me never to think like that again. She tells me to tell Duncan how much she loves him and how sorry she is. I squeeze his hand and he looks at me like he heard. I feel her lips brush the top of my forehead and she is gone, leaving me quiet with tears streaming freely.
Now it’s my turn to speak. To get up and leave the safety of my seat. To throw myself in front of these people that have every right to hate me one last time. I take a deep breath.
And I stand up.
I am surprised to feel Duncan clinging to my hand, and I decide to bring him with me.
The speech I give is the best I have given at any of the funerals. Not because I care the most, but because they’re all there with me.
Megan, Amy, and Adam. Because it’s a culmination of all three events. Because Duncan is there, keeping me tied down to reality, expecting me to deliver a beautiful speech about his beautiful older sister.
And for him, I hold back my tears and I do her justice. I take my seat again shaking this time instead of crying, Duncan still attached to me, now bawling his eyes out.
The service ends and I hear them all one last time.
I’ll always love you like a sister, Emily. I’ll always be there when you need me.
Megan says, her voice thick.
I’m sorry, Emily. Please forgive.
I’ll miss you, Emily. I love you. Best friends forever.
Amy says softly.
And then they’re gone forever.