Sitting by the window I hear the skid of tires on 75th street as the clock ticks on the wall. In just enough time to turn my head, I see a Mercedes going over one hundred miles per hour, as it slams into the car driving across Roe. The explosion of impact happened so fast that after the initial sound of the collision, all the tiny pieces of glass fell from the air like a silent, glittering rain. I will never, ever forget the sound of a car crash, and the life-changing effects it had on me.
Ever since I can remember, the thought of driving was always something I looked forward to. Stepping into the driver’s seat was the epitome of growing up. I dreamed of the things that a car could bring: the ability to drive into the unknown in a night of adventure with my friends. Or exploring the vast world of suburbia to get McDonald’s dipped cones. As a kid that’s what I imagined, I always pictured driving as a wonderful thing.
But what I didn’t think about was hearing the sound of screeching breaks outside my friend’s house as we witnessed a fatal car crash. It was just a mere hundred yards down the road. I didn’t think about a night I would find out that someone I knew, someone I interacted with, was killed in a car crash on the highway. You don’t think about things like that. You don’t think about that until you feel the impact those cars can have on people’s lives. And when I did, my life was changed forever.
Unable to speak, my friend and I ran outside into the chaos on the sidewalk. The police sirens were blaring down the road. The intersection was scattered with the debris from the four cars hit in the wreck. Soon the distress began to ripple throughout the street, coating the air with a cold silence as we just stood there, shocked and numb. That’s all we could do.
The seconds ticked by as I looked across the street, and saw one of my friends walking toward us down the sidewalk. He had been turning onto 75th at the time of the crash, coming to pick me up.
It was then that I realized that if there was only a moment’s difference, he could have been the one in the car, as it split in half. That was the thing that has stuck with me. The everlasting flashbacks of that horrifying noise. The thoughts of “What if it had been someone I knew?”
Then, a month later, it was.
“Houston St. John died in a car accident today.”
My mind stopped. I couldn’t comprehend the words my friend was saying as I stood frozen. The minutes passed by. Finally, I got out a simple: “What?” as I saw my friends with tears in their eyes walking by.
Then all the flashbacks began to come back. The screeching tires. The raining glass. Everything. I could imagine the whole thing. But this time it was different. This time it wasn’t a stranger, it was a friend. Someone I spent a good portion of my summer working with. I couldn’t just think of it as some crash, but the crash that killed Houston.
Another wave of emotion hit me as the memories started coming back, the memories of how we first met during a production of “Les Misérables”. The memories of how I wished we had become better friends, talked more. So much was running through my mind. Then came the final realization: he is gone, just like the person in the crash I witnessed less than a month before.
For a long time I didn’t drive. At first I was actually scared, panicking even when I was a passenger. It was a constant thought that it would be me in that car. Me in that accident.
Being in a car makes you vulnerable. You have to trust the people around you, but also realize that you are not untouchable. In a split second, another driver’s choice can take your life. But just as easily, your choice can take theirs. That gamble is the thing that honestly terrified me, to the point of not wanting to drive.
But then I realized that I will always have to live in a world with cars. I will have to drive, and I can’t be afraid of that. When I finally started driving again, I was scared. My knuckles were white, and I was “that guy” going the exact speed limit. But I did it, and I will continue, knowing that it will help me. For now I know that stepping into the drivers seat really is the epitome of growing up.