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The Day The Music Died This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

I rose with the sun that day, its rays weakly stretching through pale grey skies.

My thoughts and heart were racing despite the few minutes I’d been awake; it was one of those stressful days after arriving home from a ski race. All the lectures, notes, assignments, and activities I had missed from the three school days I’d been gone jockeyed for position in the front of my mind. Shoved somewhere in the back like too-small shoes in the closet were thoughts of my friend, Mack, who was trapped in the hospital with infected blood.

“Taylor!” My mom’s voice floated from the floor below.

“Yeah?” I shouted back, reluctant to accept that I really had to begin my morning routine. I could hear the smile in her voice as she replied, “Just making sure you’re up.”

I snuggled farther into the flannel sheets for one last moment before casting them off and quite literally jumping out of bed. The dizzy sensation following was too much for my senses, and I collapsed onto my carpet.

“Taylor!” There it was again, my name yelled, though this time angrily. Weary, I picked myself up and affirmed that, yes, I was coming downstairs momentarily. One turquoise polo and a skinny pair of khaki pants later, I trudged down the single flight of stairs to wolf down my scrambled eggs. The rising steam warmed my face while my mother, ever vigilant, rattled off reminders: “Don’t forget to ask Mr. G. about forces and Mrs. Dalrymple about function limits and Señor about the preterit…”

I nodded as I made for the garage, having already gone through the list twice before. She paused. “And sweetpea?” I looked over my shoulder. “Say a prayer for Mack.”

All my subconscious worries found me, albeit dulled, as her eyes grew sad. I bit my lower lip and ventured, “Do you think he’s gonna be okay?” even though I couldn’t fathom any alternative. This was Mack we were debating: ingenious Mack, boisterous Mack, Mack, our resident musical prodigy. His amount of courage left me no reason to be overly concerned.

The reply came just as hesitantly as the question. “They say it’s between him and God now.”

Unconvinced, I reshouldered my backpack and let the door slam shut behind me.
+++

I had met Mack on the first day of my sixth grade ski season, I remembered. The memories flooded in as I opened my mental dam gates and took the wheel of my Tahoe. My skis, digging into my coat-padded side as I carried them under my arm, rivaled the discomfort of the new boots that constricted my feet, staggering through the parking lot of Bogus Basin. The biting, fresh mountain wind in my face, though, reminded me of why I was there. Skiing came as second nature only to walking, and I certainly loved it much more.

Arriving at the Jason Harper Training Center, I began to look for other kids my age; my best friend from the year before, Alex, decided not to race that season. Standing slightly away from the group was a boy dressed in bright oranges and yellows who looked promisingly tall. It took longer than it should have to overcome my shy tendencies, but I walked over to him and said hello. A big smile spread across his chubby freckled face. “Hello!” His voice was a higher pitch than I had anticipated with somewhat of a drawl. “I’m Mack,” he continued and extended a hand.

I was taken aback. No other kid I’d met in my twelve years alive acted like as much of an adult as I did. Mack’s smile was returned, and I shook. “Taylor,” I said. Already, the season dawned bright.
+++

Innately waterlogged, I was jerked into the present by a rapidly approaching car. My breath caught in my throat, and I slammed onto my brakes. The rickety little Honda I almost hit had also stopped then haltingly turned right into the school parking lot. A pale, frightened-looking girl sat in the driver’s seat, knuckles white, gripping the wheel.

Despite the terror she had caused me, I grinned. Being a new driver wasn’t that long ago for me. The girl conducted the creeping vehicle along the thoroughfare before letting my pass her by to breathe with relief and park.

“Something is up,” Garrett declared as I approached my locker. As my best friend, he was acutely aware when any such circumstance arose. I sighed. “You know Mack?” He nodded, having heard all the stories. “He’s in the hospital.” His eyes, green that day, widened. “He’ll be fine,” I assured as the bell sounded.

Physics called for my time, but the visions called louder. I gave in and slipped out of real time.
+++

“Taylor, I know what we’re going to be for Halloween.” The phone balanced precariously between my ear and shoulder.

“Hit me.”

“We’re getting white shirts, black ties, and bike helmets.”

I giggled, picturing the costume.

“Yeah. And we’ll have nametags that say, ‘Elder Mack’ and, ‘Elder Taylor,’ but there is no way I’m purchasing a Book of Mormon; there is no way.”

“And there’s no way I’m risking getting into trouble!”

“Really? What kind of trouble would we really get into?” It was a challenging short of quiet that followed.

“Alright alright. I’m in. I’m in.” He was right, after all, and it sounded fun.

Though we didn’t go trick-or-treating that fall, we opted for a movie night with some other skier kids, Mary and Nick. It had been a long day at the annual ski swap- Saturday was always the busiest. The four of us passed our time pushing each other around in the shopping carts, lying on the couches in a supposedly locked loft, and playing a game with a tennis ball that we unoriginally named Wall Ball in the empty fountain.

We jaywalked to Wendy’s for lunch, hopping the fence (Mack got stuck as we rolled around on the ground with laughter) and hitchhiking back. We sorted the occasional item but mostly carried them around to play with.

As day turned to dusk, Mack’s mom, Connie, offered to have us over while she took care of some business for work. Grinning, we accepted promptly and followed her to the family’s dark emerald minivan. My heart leapt at the thought of more time with Nick, my admitted crush.

“We have tons of scary movies,” Mack whispered, sensing my excitement.

“Yeah, Tay, we’ve got your back,” Mary chimed in.

Indeed, a whole drawer under the T.V. held DVD’s with gruesome covers, titles written in what was supposed to look like dripping blood. I thumbed through their spines uncertainly. Scary movies weren’t my favorite, no matter what the situation.

“Oh my god,” Mack exclaimed, yanking out a movie with Cameron Diaz on its cover. Something About Mary. “It’s happening.”

“What’s our cover story?” I asked. Though I’d given up caring so much about rules ever since that phone call, I was cautious about how I broke them.

Mary pulled Taken from the stack and looked around the group.

“Brilliant,” Nick muttered. His freckles twitched as he smiled at me.

Mack didn’t seem to mind that his teammates were cuddling on the black leather couch or that one was asleep under the coffee table. He could quote the movie line by line and laughed out loud enough to wake Mary up on one occasion. SMACK! She moaned quietly in pain and rubbed the growing bump on her head, but we laughed anyway.

In between movies, I asked Mack if he was going to take a dance break like he had the last time I’d been to his house to hang out. We’d watched The Proposal and Fired Up, and before starting the latter we’d acted out the interpretive dance scene. “To the windooow! To the wall!” Jumping around the kitchen and living room was more fun than anything I did with my friends from school.

This time, I extracted myself from the tangle of arms and blankets to join him, and Nick took his phone out of his pocket. “You guys, my dad wants me home in twenty minutes,” he said.

Connie still wasn’t home, but the minivan sat in the driveway. Of course it was Mack who took charge. “I have my permit. We’ll be fine.”
+++

He got his license only a few weeks later, I mused. It wasn’t the first time I smiled while on autopilot. It has its advantages, checking out. Everyone seemed to leave me alone, and the last bell rang before I could register that it was afternoon.

Garrett had unlocked my intransigent locker for me by the time I arrive, so I grabbed my phone to check for any news.

1 NEW MESSAGE FROM ZINA. I clicked READ. oh my god taylor, it said.

yea?

Mack.

She probably just found out, I thought. I typed my reply: he’s in the hospital. unless he went home today?

There was no immediate answer. Garrett was lingering. He was my greatest caretaker, subconsciously or not. A few minutes passed without a single message, but it felt like hours in my state of panic. Zina always answered texts- always- and she was quicker than even I was with responses. Only one solution made itself available, so I resolved to call. She picked up on the second ring.

“Zina, tell me Mack is okay. Tell me he came home from the hospital today.” I took off at a run down the emptying hallway. My Toms slapped against the yellowing linoleum floor.

The only sound that came from the other line was a soft hiccup. Her voice cracked as she said, “No, he didn’t. Oh baby, I’m so sorry.”

The whole world stopped though my mind went into overdrive. I ran faster, faster, and yelled into the receiver. “No. No, you’re not serious. You can’t. You don’t understand. I mean, he’s not…dead.”

Zina’s breath caught in her throat. “Yes,” she croaked, “he’s dead.”

The phone fell from my shaking hand, and I clutched my stomach as I doubled over. This wasn’t happening, it couldn’t be. Nauseous, I tried breathing- unsuccessfully. Tears of frustration burned as they rolled down my cheeks. I turned on my heel slowly and closed my eyes. The dizziness came on stronger, but I couldn’t hurl, not in the middle of school.

When I opened my eyes, there was Garrett. One look from me was all it took, and he whispered, “Oh shi...” I threw myself into his arms and heaved shrill sobs into his chest. “He’s dead!” I wailed, helpless. There was nothing I could do but cry, a new concept for me.

I don’t know how long we were entwined there in the hallways before I gasped, “Hun, can you please take me home?” I felt him nod and took his hand.

The world began again, vision cleared, nausea and dizziness subsided until I was left was a tight knot resting heavily in the pit of my stomach. Moms in sporty-chic tracksuits will telltale to-go cups of coffee idled in their SUVs. Groups of our peers scattered from their flocks throughout the parking lot to find their separate cars. The asphalt crackled under the feet of passing people whose voices and laughter echoed emptily in my sluggish mind. Such an everyday scene became sensory overload. I can’t do this.

I saw nothing while buried into Garrett’s side until we reached the pale gold 4Runner. The wool seat covers were the same color as the exterior, and the tinted windows had never looked so inviting. For the first time, Garrett’s driving was inviting as well. Overly cautious and usually painfully slow, it was amazing that I got home within the hour, but the speed was perfect for me. Too much was overwhelming, and too little left me restless.

He even let me play “Wagon Wheel,” a doleful country tune that was my current favorite, on the iPod connector. The mournful melody wafted from the ancient speakers and out of the cracked windows. I sang along with circumstantial calm. “Rock me, Mama, like a wagon wheel. Rock me, Mama, any way you feel. Heeeeyyy, Mama, rock me. Rock me, Mama, like the wind and the rain. Rock me, Mama, like a south-bound train. Heeeeyyy, Mama, rock me.” It reminded me of my ski team, of thinking about nothing but edges slicing snow and positively flying about valley clouds. I smiled serenely.

“Eat, sleep, shred, repeat,” was our motto. And repeat and repeat and repeat, not just for me but for him, too.
+++

The main focus of the cameras right before a skier starts his or her race run is the face. A pursed mouth, a hard-set jaw, a pair of shielding goggles, a single sticker on the front of the helmet. The sticker advertises whatever company sponsors the skier, the company that keeps him or her going.

Though my helmet isn’t quite identical, one important element is the same. Written thickly in black, it reads, “4Mack:” the boy who keeps me going.



Join the Discussion

This article has 6 comments. Post your own now!

Alina said...
Nov. 16, 2011 at 10:22 pm
Taylor, we met the Winsauers in SLC when Mack was just 2.  Your memoir is a tribute to your love for him and for the amazing person he was/is.   Thanks for sharing.
 
BJ14 said...
Nov. 16, 2011 at 7:10 pm
hi Taylor I just want to let you know this memoir is so beautifully written! awesome job. it reminded me so much of everything I loved about Mack and truly made my day. Thanks so much for sharing!
 
iwakeup2early replied...
Nov. 16, 2011 at 7:13 pm
Hey thanks (: but who is this? I'd love to know
 
MikaylaRose said...
Nov. 13, 2011 at 9:14 pm
Absolutely amazing. I went through almost the exact same thing at school, but it's amazing to see it put into words. Thank you for writing this.
 
Loki17 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Nov. 11, 2011 at 8:22 pm
Extremely well-written.  Tangible emotion.  Mack would be proud.
 
Woodsmom said...
Nov. 11, 2011 at 10:14 am
A most mature and beautiful young woman, writing with such deeply felt emotion. Taylor has written a most beautiful memoir about a most beautiful young man, gone too soon. Taylor's writing conjures up emotion with images of action and visual...life's reality mixed with love and beauty. Thank you, Taylor.
 
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