CW: I’m about to go into detail about a friend of mine who died in a car accident at 19 years old. Click away now if this is triggering for you.
I wrote this play-by-play of the events of March 18 and 19, 2013, not to make you pity me or to get sympathy. As with anything else I write, I wrote it first to process my own feelings that have recently resurfaced almost eight years later. And second, to hopefully show anybody else who’s been through something similar that you are certainly not alone.
This is also the first part of a series of blog posts, so I felt I wanted to get the context of my friend’s death in writing before sharing further. So with that said…
In a room with no windows.
That’s where I believe I sat, in the moment your soul was ripped from your body on I-575, just north of Chastain road.
March 18th, 2013, around 2 pm in Kennesaw. In fourth period astronomy class, my senior year of high school, I sat in a room just like the casket where your body now rests. A gloomy upstairs classroom that somehow contained not a single window.
I remember walking outside later to see the sun beaming through the clouds, and noticing puddles that weren’t there ninety minutes ago. I remember mentioning that I had no idea that it had rained.
That evening, tornado sirens blared and hail battered the roof. I looked outside to see the wind swirling the rain into an obstructive fog, while my mom and two-year-old sister sheltered in a closet.
I remember texting two of my friends, whom I knew would be driving at that time, to see if they were okay. I didn’t know your post-high school schedule, and so your name didn’t cross my mind.
It didn’t matter. I didn’t know yet that, by that evening, you were already dead.
That night, the first night that your head never hit your pillow, a turbulent storm ripped across the southern states.
It was as if you stood up there, trying to beat back the heavens and the earth, to rejoin your soul with your body– but your body was obliterated. There was never any chance of revival.
All felt normal the next morning, for a little while, at least.
I got into the shower like any other morning. I used to take my old Google Nexus tablet into the bathroom with me; I don’t really remember why. All I remember is getting dressed, unlocking that screen, and seeing a facebook message from Abraham Fernandez.
Only, the message wasn’t from you, buddy. It was from your sister.
Your poor, sweet, grieving older sister, who just wanted Abraham’s friends to know that he passed away in a car accident the day before.
Upon reading the message, a lightning bolt shot through my heart. I swiftly tamped it down.
No, no, no. This is not real. This isn’t real. Can’t be.
He’s joking. Abraham is joking and I’m going to be pissed at him when he comes clean. I laugh now at the way I visualized myself calling him up and bitching at him for what I truly, but briefly, believed to be a stupid prank.
I think I almost did. I think I may have considered calling his phone. I waited it out instead. It would’ve gone straight to voicemail, and perhaps that would’ve been the last time I heard his voice, just like Jesse Pinkman calling Jane’s phone over and over again at night after she overdoses.
Don’t hate me too much for thinking that this was a joke– he used to joke with me a lot. As I wrote, about a week later, he really was a jokester. He got my attention in any way he knew how. It occasionally annoyed me, and in that moment, I was pissed as hell. (Also, yes, denial has been shown to be a VERY common reaction to a sudden traumatic event. It’s called the “normalcy bias”. I know I’m not alone in this!)
“You’re joking, right?” I shot back at poor Ingrid, whom I didn’t think was really Ingrid, just Abraham pretending.
Yes, I do feel terrible about that.
Because the next thing she sent was a link: an AJC news article. Teen and 8-year-old killed in I-575 crash.
I opened it.
Okay, how could he have fabricated that? I thought. It’s not real. Not real. Can’t be real. I mean, how could she have gotten into his Facebook account, anyway? This isn’t real.
This is a really well-planned joke.
Yet, as I finished getting ready for school, a dark gray cloud started to wind itself tightly over my heart.
In the ten-minute drive to North Cobb, I felt like my car was filling up with water. My hands shook. I forced my eyes to stay on the road.
Not real. Not real. This isn’t real. This is a dream. This is a joke. This is not real.
At school, I immediately met Jordan, my boyfriend at the time.
The thing is that you, Abraham, had graduated almost a year prior, and so there was no way for me to check my math, except to wait it out. No classroom to walk into, and check to see if you and your giant smile were still there.
Nobody to ask, and nobody to call.
So, I tried my hardest to go through the motions of what I normally said to Jordan every morning, all the while hardly even remembering how to say “good morning”. I couldn’t speak without my voice shaking. I don’t remember when, but at some point within those few minutes before we had to head to class, I looked at my phone… Probably hoping that you’d texted me to say, “Gotcha!”.
Instead, I saw a text from Camille. Another friend of Abraham’s. Asking me to meet her in Mr. Williams’ (our band teacher’s) office immediately.
The dark cloud strangled my windpipe.
No no no no no. This is not real. This can’t happen.
“We have to go to the band room, right now,” I told Jordan, barely holding back tears.
“Are you okay?” He asked.
I could barely manage a nod. I couldn’t say it. I couldn’t be the one to make it real.
Maybe Camille needed something from me. Maybe her text had nothing to do with that Facebook message I’d received that morning.
That was it: Mr. Williams needed me to do something. He’d caught Camille and asked her to text me. That was it.
“Just come with me, please,” I asked Jordan. He silently, yet confusedly, followed. My heart felt like an earthquake.
When we finally made it to the band room across campus, I could hardly carry my jelly legs across the threshold.
Camille walked out of Williams’ office just as we entered the room.
Upon connecting with her red eyes and tear stained cheeks, I felt my face go pale.
That was the moment that I knew:
This is fucking real.
I don’t remember, now, much of the conversation that ensued. I remember Jordan waiting outside, while I stood in Williams’ office with him, Camille, and Javar (I think). I described to the three of them what I’d read in the brief news article. I may have even sharply pinched my side at one point to make sure I wasn’t having a nightmare. Because this shit doesn’t happen in real life. This shit doesn’t happen. This shit cannot happen. This cannot be really fucking happening to us right now–
But it does happen. And it did.
I soon apologized to Ingrid, but nothing I can do will ever be enough. No amount of visualizing exactly what I believe your last moments were like will ever change their outcome. Yet it’s hard to stop myself from doing so.
You were driving your 8-year-old nephew down I-575 in a red Chrysler around 2 pm. That must have been when the rain started.
And in a slim section of highway which contained no median barrier, you lost control.
What happened? Did you start sliding? Did you swerve or have to brake quickly and start to spin? I’ll never know. Honest mistake. It literally could have happened to any one of us.
The Chrysler slid across the median, and spun into oncoming traffic, where a semi truck collided with your driver’s side.
I still think about the sound that the truck driver must have heard: a nuclear explosion in a screaming rain of metal and glass.
You, though, likely heard nothing at all.
The impact had to have been so horrifically explosive that you instantly lost your life. When a semi truck going 70 slams into your driver’s side door, there’s not even an instant of suffering.
Not a second to wait, immobilized, in your demolished car, wondering if the paramedics will arrive before you’re gone. Not a minute to lie with your head strapped onto an ambulance bed, bruised, broken, and bleeding, while EMTs try to stitch your life back together. No hours to linger in pain, waiting for your inevitable death to come, watching your family cry by your side. No days on life support in a medically induced coma. No decision to pull the plug.
The last seconds of your life went quicker than you could stop it:
Panic, panic, panic, gone.
And I wish you’d have slid a minute later and hit those flimsy trees in the median instead. Maybe bruised. Maybe critically injured, scarred and traumatized. But alive.
I wish you’d not left the house at all that day.
I wish I’d somehow had some premonition upon entering the cafeteria earlier that afternoon. I wish that I had, for no conceivable reason, decided to break the rules, skip fourth period, and have a two-hour-long phone call with you in my car. And then I wish I’d have begged you, for no conceivable reason, to stay right where you were until morning.
Sure, it doesn’t exactly help to imagine these things. But so often, we can’t help but imagine these things.
I wish both you and Felipe were still alive. If we had to lose you, though, I’m glad that it happened quickly and painlessly. If we had to see you go, I’m glad you didn’t even know what hit you.
All things considered, yes, I wish that your family and friends could have said goodbye. Perhaps if you’d become horribly mangled, only to die a couple of days later, we could have done so. And maybe, then, you could have died knowing with absolute certainty how much you meant to us. I’m not sure what’s worse, to die slowly, or to die without saying goodbye… but there’s nothing I can do now.
So, all things considered, I’m glad you didn’t suffer. I hope you know, now, just how deeply we cherished you. And I’m sorry for not telling you that before that day. I’m sorry for anything I ever did wrong to you as an imperfect, mentally hurting teenager.
Knowing you, though, you were probably never mad about a damn thing in the first place.
Later that day, March 19, 2013, I sat in class and wrote atop a piece of blank loose leaf paper:
“It’s a beautiful day. But he can’t see it.”
The sun beamed across a clear blue sky that afternoon; that was the first since December of 1993 that the Earth had turned without your existence. I sat there that day and thought about how you’d never see the sky again.
I thought about how your body would forever lie in a room with no windows.
I wondered whether you, your soul, was trapped in a dark room, forever suffocated.
What to think? What to believe? We so want to believe exactly what our parents believe, or what our friends believe, until it actually fucking happens to us. And then, we lie awake at night, sensing that our dear lost friend is standing there by our side, but feeling too crazy to say so.
It’s been eight years. I’m almost 26 years old, and I’m thinking that maybe, I get to claim my own beliefs now.
Now, it’s 2021, and I look up at the curtains of sunlight that fall through the clouds across a pink sunset… And I see you in it.
Now, the thought, “he will never see the sun again” doesn’t seem to fit.
Because you are the sunset. You are the sky. You are the clouds, and the rain, and the Earth, and everything.
That fatal moment on March 18th violently demolished your body just like the Chrysler you died in, sending your soul flying out into the Universe, like a rogue firework streaking sideways through the sky before exploding in flames.
But you, though, are timeless. You’ve become that unnameable essence of beauty that exists in all things, both big and small.
You’re not trapped in a room with no windows.
And I see you, sweet friend. I see you.