Monday, April 11, 2016

Half a Life

"Martin Amis has written that we all hope, modestly enough, to get through life without being murdered. A lot more confidently, we hope to get through life without murdering anybody ourselves." - Darin Strauss, p. 127

When my friend, Katie, moved to Arizona before 6th grade, we became pen pals to replace our neighborhood explorations and sleepover parties. AOL then replaced the letters. On December 17, 1998, less than a month after I turned 16, Katie and I chatted online on the eve of our winter break and talked about me flying out there to visit for spring break a few months later. She signed off after saying her friend, who had just gotten her driver's license, had arrived to pick her up for their first joy ride. Having recently experienced the freedom of being entrusted by the state to drive alone as a teenager, I probably replied with something like, "Have fun!!! It's the BEST feeling!" A few hours later, Katie, not wearing a seatbelt, lost her life after that friend of hers lost control of the car [while driving recklessly so I heard] on a winding mountain road.

I learned of this devastating news upon returning home the following evening from my first-ever concert with friends: Q101's Twisted 5, featuring BeckCakeEverlastGarbageGoo Goo DollsSoul Coughing, and Third Eye Blind. I remember my parents were both awake waiting for me when I got home. I remember the look on their faces, as the excitement of the live alternative music drained, replaced by disbelief, when I heard the seriousness of what they said: "We need to talk to you. Katie died in a car accident last night." I remember thinking, "Katie, who?" unable to process they were talking about my friend, Katie. 

I didn't fly out to Arizona for her funeral, and I ended up not seeing anyone from her family until 6 years later when I was on a cross-country roadtrip with my friend, Shawna, and we met up with Katie's twin brother for dinner. I can't remember now if we even spoke of Katie, both of us probably overwhelmed that we were hanging out without her, both now college graduates. 

Mr. Anderson, my English teacher at the time of the accident, knew about what happened because I imagine I wrote him e-mails about my devastation and how this loss impacted my own sense of being. Interestingly enough, he is the one who recommended this book to me about a month ago as a wise response to a "good memoir" collection development query. I read most of the book while time-traveling around Cuba in the back of a 1952 Chevrolet, which existed before the invention of seatbelts. I considered the discomfort of this detail throughout the trip with the book in my lap and Katie on my mind.

The memoir is a brutally honest self-reflection, beautifully written by Darin Strauss, who unintentionally at age 18, struck and killed a female classmate who swerved her bike in front of his moving car, how he strived to "live for the two" from that point forward, and how her death continued to affect his life and relationships. 

A handful of times I've considered Katie's friend, the driver, over the years and wondered where she is now. How did she deal with the weight of responsibility that I imagine comes with killing one friend and seriously injuring another? I know every circumstance is different, but if I knew I her, I would recommend this book. 

This past week, Katie would have celebrated her 33rd birthday. Over the past few years, I reflected upon the time I realized she had been both dead and alive for the same number of years and the fact that she has now been gone longer than she was here. It's a bizarre fact to try and process. She never got her own driver's license, never graduated high school, never went to college...what now seems like an infinite list of nevers. 

“Things don't go away. They become you. There is no end, as T.S. Eliot somewhere says, but addition: the trailing consequence of further days and hours. No freedom from the past, or from the future."

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