Rain thuds against my windshield as I head home late the night of May 1, 2010. As I pull onto the exit that leads to my small, Kansas hometown, my phone rings. My friend Jessica starts relaying a series of events to me. My best friend Emily had been airlifted to the hospital after a bad car accident. As she is talking, two cop cars and an ambulance whiz by my pulled-over Mustang.
Panicked, I start to cry. Later, I will learn that two other people from my small high school had also wrecked their cars that night. Jessica tells me that people are already at the hospital; she wants to go, but I feel the need to check in with other people first, thinking that the more information I could get, the better prepared I would be.
I called my friend Kaleigh and she asked me to come to her house. After I stopped by my house to tell my parents what had happened and that I wouldn’t be home for a while, I drove to Kaleigh’s. When I got there, we heard that people were gathering at a local church to hold a vigil for Emily. We decided to go.
At the church, we lit candles and shared stories, all of us naïve that death could actually happen to our friend and peer. Our sheltered, small town lives had lead us to be more than optimistic. As large groups of people gathered to pray, I remember thinking that this had to be a dream. Finally, the people who had visited the hospital had come back with news of Emily’s condition. Things weren’t looking good, but we were all confident that things would turn around.
When a call from Emily’s parents was announced, the entire church went silent. Emily was pronounced brain dead and the doctors were going to keep her on life support so they could harvest her organs for donations. That was about all I heard, because the room became chaotic. I remember grabbing my friends and crying, sobbing. I just wanted to scream or puke or both. I wanted to wake up.
I was numb. All I could do was shake and cry. As I looked around at my friends and other acquaintances who were crying and screaming, I couldn’t help but feel like my entire life had collided with Hell.
As the sun started to rise, some of us took our sadness to a different church, not wanting to be alone. There, more stories were told and, in the more intimate setting, more tears were shed. I sat on a couch and clutched a pillow. When we finally left, it was after 7 a.m. on Sunday, May 2.
I will never forget what happened when I walked through the door of my house. My mom looked at me and asked, “How is she doing?” As I started to hyperventilate and stagger toward her, all I could say is, “no.” Somehow, she immediately knew what I meant. She held me as I cried, and then helped me get into bed. I slept until 10 a.m., but was restless the whole time, having nightmare after nightmare of the previous night’s events.
When I got out of bed, I couldn’t feel anything. My brain had shutdown, shock. My eyes were heavy, red and swollen. My body felt foreign and heavy, but my mind was weightless. I honestly hoped that I had woken up from a nightmare. Unfortunately, Emily’s death was my reality.
The school held a meeting for the senior class that Sunday. It was the first time my entire class had been in a room together, but alone, all of us holding on to different memories, clutching on to the one that would ease our pains just a little bit.
The counselor spoke to us about grief; those around us for the next few days would be grieving, too, she reminded us. She mentioned that everyone grieves in their own way, so not to get angry when we see people crying that we didn’t feel should be upset. I didn’t realized that this could possibly be an emotion, but it happened. She reminded us that younger people would also be looking to us for guidance and support.
I left that meeting feeling more lost than when I discovered my loss in the first place. All I knew for certain was that I wasn’t ready for school the next day…
Writer’s notes: This is the first of a two part short story about the same experience. All of this is based on my memories of what I saw, heard and experienced. If anything is inaccurate, my apologies. Also, only first names have been used out of respect for those mentioned in the story.