I don't remember the accident. That is the line I give every person who asks...and everybody asks. You would think people would stop asking after awhile, but they haven't. You would think that people would try to avoid talking about such a horrid crash, but they don't. You would think people would have enough respect of someone's private, personal hell to not bring it up around them, but they do. When people have the nerve to actually talk to me, it's usually one of the first things they ask.
Because I'm the one that survived.
Yes, I tell everyone who asks that I remember nothing...but the truth is, I remember everything. The squeal of the tires as I lost control of the car, the blistering screech of metal upon metal as we hit the guard rail on that too sharp corner, the screams that ripped out of my girlfriend's throat as we went over the embankment. I remember everything...
It was nearly summer when the crash happened. We'd been going through a dry spell here in Oregon when a sudden downpour hit the county hard. Within seconds, an inch of water was on the roadway. But my friends and I didn't care about that, we didn't even think about it. We were seventeen, we were invincible. Death happened to people much older than us. Nothing could hurt us...nothing could even touch us.
My best friend Darren took the back seat with his girlfriend Samantha, or Sammy as we all called her. They'd been dating since our freshman year of school. They were head over heels in love with each other, which resulted in endless ribbing from me. "You're so whipped!" I'd always tell him, when he'd ditch me, yet again, to go hang out with her. "Lucas, one day you'll get it," he'd always respond.
And in a way, I did. Sammy was perfect for him: smart, funny, adventurous, and most importantly - patient. Tall and athletic, she was the captain of the women's volleyball team, so Darren and I went to a lot of games. That suited me fine; those shorts they wore were pretty tight. That was also how I met my girlfriend, Lillian. She was new to the school last year, and Sammy brought her into our little group after she had tried out and made the team. She was blonde and blue eyed, petite and trim, but sculpted perfectly in all the right areas; practically a Barbie doll, as I often teased her. She was outgoing and vivacious and a total flirt. It hadn't taken her long to wrap her arms around me, throw her hands into my wavy, brown hair and with a light kiss on the lips, proclaim me as hers.
It took even less time for me to actually be hers. And I was. I'd fallen for that girl in a way that made me suddenly understand why Darren ditched me all the time. I'd do it to him too: blowing him off for a game of basketball in his driveway, canceling on him when we had plans to ride dirt bikes with his brother and ditching him after school when he wanted to go drinking by the river...all to hang out with her. Darren and I had been friends since Kindergarten though, and he wasn't intimidated by the competition. Whenever I blew him off he'd laugh and say, "See...you get it now, right?"
And I was starting to. I loved Lil, and had been dying to tell her that when she slipped into the front seat of the car beside me that night. In fact, I'd been running over ways to say it as I'd driven the four of us home from the party we'd been to, forty minutes away from Willamette Valley, our home.
The answer to the second question everyone always eventually asks me, and that you're probably wondering right now, is no...I was not drinking that night. Darren, Sammy and Lil had been living it up at the party however. Lil even offered me a few, but it wasn't really my thing and I stuck to soda for the night.
When Darren tried to throw a punch at some community college, frat boy wannabe (who'd crashed the beach bonfire we'd gone to) for grabbing Sammy's ass, I'd decided he'd had enough for the evening, and swiped his car keys. He'd fought me for all of two seconds and then realized that that was pointless. For one, he was shorter and scrawnier than me, barely coming up to my chin and coming nowhere near my muscular frame, and in wrestling matches that we'd had before (over all too important subjects like 'who got the comfortable chair while we watched the pay-per-view fight'), I'd always won. And secondly, he couldn't stand straight anymore, and he'd leaned to the side while trying to cuss me out, making both of us bust out laughing.
Eventually though, I think it was Sammy ramming her tongue down his throat and describing all the things they could do in the back seat while I drove them home that finally convinced him that it was a great idea. She'd winked at me after she said that, her auburn hair beautiful and shining with life in the firelight, much like herself. Sammy could always find a way to pacify hot-headed Darren.
So, no, I wasn't drinking and I wasn't on drugs. There was nothing physically or mentally wrong with me that night, regardless of what the small town we lived in believed. The fact was, I was driving a car that I wasn't entirely used to driving (and even worse, it was a stick shift, which wasn't one of my strong points) and I was driving a road that I didn't know very well, Darren having driven us to the party. And lastly, I was driving much too fast.
Even with all of that though, I would have been fine.
I'd been doing fine before the crash, laughing and joking with my friends while the three of them passed around a forty ounce and laughed over Darren's feeble attempt to defend Sammy's honor. I was fine right up until the point when I wasn't. The night was pitch-black when the sudden downpour hit and obscured my vision even more. I was even fine with that, until I hit an inch of freestanding water a few yards from the corner. The car had started hydroplaning immediately and my gut instinct was to stop - to stop the car. I'd slammed on the brakes and the car had fishtailed, starting to spin. I'd had no control over the car when we'd entered the bend in the road, and we slammed right into the railing, hitting a weak spot and plummeting right over the side.
Here is where I forcefully stop my memory. Even still, it was always with me: The trees whipping past the car. Glass breaking. People screaming. The beer can spilling between Lil and I. A rough hit from a tree branch angling the car to the side. The wind being knocked out of me. Lil's door slamming into a boulder at the bottom of the steep hill. Lil's head slamming into the window, shattering it, and her skull. Her screams stopping. Darren flying over Sammy as their unbuckled bodies broke through the inferior metal of Darren's cheap "starter" car. Both of them disappearing into the dark of the night out the open car door. My body jerking against my restraints painfully. My head whiplashing back to smack the window. Everything going quiet...everything going black.
Yes, every person I talked to was told the same response: I don't remember the accident. But I did. I remembered every single detail, even though I prayed I could forget. It haunted me during daylight hours, but that was nothing compared to the hell I went through at night, when I relived the event in my dreams. My screams often woke me, and my mom's arms were often already around me, as I struggled to remember that I'd survived and I was safe in my bed.
How I wish the same could be said for my best friend, the love of his life...and the love of mine.
The First Day of the Rest of My Life
Three months after that fateful night, when September came round, my external wounds had healed but my insides were still a mess. My mom told me repeatedly that I could enroll in another school; that I didn't have to go back to the memories awaiting me there. The memories and the gossip.
The town we lived in was a small one and the crash and the subsequent deaths had been "page one" news every day since then. Speculation on my mental state as I was driving away from that party was the number one thing discussed. The freakish rainstorm that had momentarily drowned the county that night was irrelevant to the townies. They'd almost instantly proclaimed me a "drunk", claiming I'd all but murdered my friends myself, near-purposely plunging the car over the cliff.
Even though no physical evidence supported that theory, and even though I'd been tested at the hospital and cleared of any mind altering substances, there were few in the town who actually believed that. Luckily for me, I guess, my mother was a part of that tiny crowd. I suppose she was predisposed to believe the best of me though.
As the threat of school loomed closer and I was struck with thoughts of leaving the safety of my home, where I'd been recovering in body, if not in soul, I started having panic attacks that doubled me over and left me unable to fully breathe. That was when my mom offered to drive me fifteen minutes away to the next closest high school, just so I wouldn't have to tolerate the scrutiny.
I almost took her up on it, especially when I ran into Darren's younger brother one day on one of the rare occasions that I left my property. Darren's brother Josh was one year younger than us, just starting his junior year. He and Darren had been close and he'd idolized his big brother. He'd often hung out with us and had almost gone with us that tragic night. In fact, he would have been in the back seat with Darren and Sammy if he hadn't been grounded for sneaking out of the house the night before.
He hadn't said much to me when I ran into him on the sidewalk outside of the only movie theater in town. He'd been exiting from a show with his girlfriend when his dark eyes had locked onto mine. They'd immediately narrowed in anger and, since hot-headedness ran in that family, he'd walked right up to me and slugged me. I could have taken him, he was even shorter and scrawnier than his brother, but I had no desire to fight him. I sort of agreed with his anger. I sort of hated me too.
His girlfriend had dragged him away from me when he looked like he wanted to start wailing on me. Reluctantly, he let her pull him away, but he screamed vile things at me the entire time he left. "You f**king bastard! You should have died! You f**king drunk! I hate you! I f**king hate you!" He went on and on with stuff like that until he was finally out of earshot.
Like I said, that was almost enough to convince me that a change of stomping grounds was in order. But I couldn't. I couldn't do that to my mom. She already worked two jobs to make sure she and I had enough to eat and a place to stay. I couldn't burden her further by making her go thirty minutes out of her way, twice a day, every day, to drop me off and pick me up from school. And driving myself wasn't an option. I didn't drive anymore...ever.
It was just the two of us after my dad left her when I was three. I have no idea where he went or if he even thought about us. Truly, I didn't think much about him and Mom never really talked about him. Really, it was only when father and son events popped up that I was even reminded that children were supposed to have a mother and a father. Mom and I did just fine, and that felt one hundred percent normal to me.
So with a heavy heart, I told her no, told her that I'd endure the ridicule and curious stares and go back to Sheridan High to finish my senior year of school. One more year and then I could leave this town to start college somewhere far away from the flood of memories. One more year. I could give my mom that.
"Luc, the bus will be here in a couple minutes." My mom turned to face me in the kitchen, her green-brown eyes narrowed in concern for her only child. "Are you sure you don't want me to drive you, honey?"
My mom had been a beautiful woman in her youth, but her life had been a hard one and she was a little run down from it. Her face was always a little haggard looking, her eyes always a little tired, her cheeks always a little sunken, her pale skin always a little ashen and her 'too early for only being forty-five' gray-streaked, light brown hair, always looked a little lifeless in the hasty ponytail she always pulled it back into. And this morning, she looked even more worn.
The catastrophe hadn't been easy for her either. She adored all of them: Darren was a second son, Sammy an adopted daughter and Lil - I think mom was already picturing picking out baby clothes for the grandchild Lil would most certainly give her. But none of those aches compared to the ache of almost losing her own child, of being that close. That scare had left permanent worry lines deep in her features.
I kissed a streak of gray on her scalp. "Yes, Mom. I'm sure. This will be bad enough without my mommy dropping me off."
She sighed sadly and clasped my large hand in her small ones. The gaze in her eyes held a look that I'd seen all too often in the past few weeks. She was drinking me in, absorbing me, in case she didn't ever see me again. I always let her do this. No matter how long she needed to do it.
Her eyes started on my hair, brown and wavy and longer on the top than she approved of, then she skipped down to my jaw line, smooth for the first time in weeks, since I'd actually shaved this morning. She glossed over my other features and settled on my eyes, an exact duplicate of her hazel shade.
She smoothed out my black t-shirt and reached behind her to hand me my letterman's jacket. Her eyes drifted over the large letters of our last name - West - the only thing my father had given me really. She nodded slightly as she watched me slip the jacket on. Her sad eyes traveled back up to mine and a sad smile to match it played on her lips. "Have a good day, Luc."
I swallowed and nodded back at her, attempting a smile of reassurance but I'm sure failing miserably. "Thanks, Mom." I kissed her head again and headed out the front door.
My mother watched me as I stood outside in the light drizzle of the morning rain. I saw her hand pulling back the flimsy lace curtain in the kitchen and saw the shadow of her face as she watched over me, protecting me with her vision and I'm sure multiple silent prayers. I turned back to watch the road.
As the raindrops picked up strength, my eyes lingered on one spot of the pavement, where a small puddle was starting to form in a dip in the sidewalk. I watched that puddle, mesmerized. Drops plunged heavily into the small circle of water, splashing the edges out further with each steady drip. Within moments there was a half inch of depth in that puddle. In my mind, the puddle suddenly became a huge lake on the surface of the now vast sidewalk. In my mind, cars flew over that lake, none of them having an issue with the depth of the water as their tires broke waves into the surface. Then, suddenly, I was driving Darren's Geo across that lake, and almost the instant the tires hit that water, I started losing control. I also started having trouble breathing.