We were so young – 22 – and with nothing but bright skies and open road ahead. The windows were down and the warm sun filled my car, dappling the dashboard and dancing along the hot seats. Our cars were packed with duffel bags, dirty laundry, and college textbooks. College was the place we had both loved, the place that had sheltered and nurtured us, filled us with excitement, and sent us into the future with a gleam in our eyes. I looked out at the sand along the side of the road. We would be at the beach house soon.
Of that at least I could be sure. But my future was shrouded in uncertainty. College had filled me with a zeal for life, but it couldn’t have provided me with what I craved most in that moment – a clearer sense of what the months and years before me would bring.
You were in the car ahead of me – the beloved silver Camry your father gave you freshman year. Occasionally, I caught a glimpse of you in your side-view mirror, swaying and singing to your music. I smiled. Ever since I met you I’ve smiled.
I came to college nervous and doubtful. But meeting you gave me a new confidence. The first time I saw you was on the campus quad. You were skipping and leaping in the bright sun one minute, playfully tugging at Jack’s arm the next. You smiled and laughed, and you made me smile and laugh too. For four years we were inseparable, our friendship made permanent by the secrets we shared and protected for each other. Now we were off into the world, and nothing could stop us.
I saw the truck change lanes. And I saw your car next to it, your beaming smile in the mirror. I screamed.
I pulled off the road just after your car landed, mangled and destroyed. I ran, panicked and in disbelief, to the tangle of metal that had been a Camry. It was upside down, wheels spinning. The air was acrid with burning rubber. Broken glass crunched underfoot. My heart was pounding in my chest as I looked inside.
The ruptured airbag. Your purple Kelty backpack, clothing, books, a half-eaten slice of pizza. A hell of violence and disorder.
I yanked on the door to get you out, to set you back on the highway to your life. I expected to open the door and see you smile. You would laugh and tell me not to worry. I yelled your name, but no sound came from your gaping mouth. Then I screamed – frantically – for you to show some sign that you were alive. But you were still, so completely and utterly still.
Somehow I managed to pull you out. Your head flopped limply back as I lay you on the grass by the road. Remember how you loved the grass on the quad? You used to lie there, your golden hair falling in your face as you read. The sun would catch your hair and make it shine like a halo, while your eyes filled with a radiant sparkle. Now, as the sun shone down, it revealed only emptiness in those eyes, and your golden hair was matted and dull. I knew then I would never see your smile again.
An eternity passed until the ambulance arrived. The EMTs rushed to your side, clutching equipment. They closed in on you with efficient tenderness. Then, almost imperceptibly, the cadence of their work slowed. No longer frantic to save you, they became purposeful and calm. In perfect unison they lifted your still body onto the stretcher. The grass where you had lain was flat from your body. And where your head had rested, the earth was dark with blood. I was transfixed and undone by the sight.
You were a star, a beautiful light. I thought you were impervious, indestructible, a celestial being. Heavenly. I never imagined you could be hurt, could bleed. I suppose I imagined if you were cut you wouldn’t bleed, but rather emit a kind of radiant light. Never blood.
I realize now that you bled so much because you were so full of life and passion. I remember sitting with you in our Modern Events class when we were debating physician-assisted suicide. You leapt from your chair, firing questions at classmates, your cheeks flushed with excitement. You were sometimes unpredictable and often impossible to understand. One time you burst into my room saying that you were not going to do your Ulysses reading that night because you were going to play Ultimate, and we must not forget to have fun, and, by the way, did I know that Ultimate is an incredible sport? Later that night I heard that you had won the award given to the student who demonstrates the greatest devotion and commitment to academics. I remember chuckling as I looked out the window to see you flinging the Frisbee down the field.
You were the most human person I knew, given to procrastination and frustration. But I also knew you as something almost divine – prodigiously talented, personable, magnetic, and always in love with the world and inexplicably happy. You adored people – their interesting lives and personalities. I had never met anyone who was so loving and so loved.
We had always shared secrets; I would listen carefully as you whispered about a surprise water fight you were planning on the quad, or how you saw so and so with so and so. Now I looked on numbly as they loaded your body into the ambulance, realizing this was the last, most terrible secret we would ever share. At 12 o’clock on that Thursday, you and I were the only ones who knew. Your mother didn’t know that her first born lay under a sheet, lifeless. Your father couldn’t know that he would never walk you down the aisle. Instead they were at the beach house with the family, waiting with raspberry sorbet and lemonade. They sat on the back patio, eager for you to sweep into the house, a torrent of beauty and vitality. Waiting to hold you and feel you alive and breathing. Until the phone rang.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.