To highlight the importance of safety training for teen drivers and the impacts of losing someone to an accident, Managing Editor Julia Bennett writes an open letter to her childhood best friend, who died in a crash thirteen years ago today.
Today marks the beginning of my thirteenth year on this planet without you, the thirteenth year that the gaping hole of where you should be in my life screams out a reminder to my brain and my heart.
When we were kids, I never imagined that you wouldn’t be around for our adulthood together. It was incomprehensible to me when that thought first crossed my mind a few months after your death. It was like trying to wrap my mind around the concept of infinity. This first up-close experience with the loss of someone close to me, someone whom I had mapped out well into my future self’s life – it did not make any coherent sense. I took it for granted that you would be here.
Every October 19th, I’m transported back to the moment when my mother called me at college and told me that you’d died in a car crash. You had lost control of your car, and in an instant, you were gone. You didn’t know that it would happen; it was an accident. You didn’t realize how precarious your actions on the road could be, because you didn’t know then how fleeting life was for you, or for any of us – instead you lived every moment deeply, passionately, and at times, from a place of inexperience and miscalculated judgment, just like any teenager does.
As teens we thought we were invincible. The human body is a resilient machine, but it’s not invincible the way our minds convinced us it was at our tender age of 19. You were just beginning to embrace life, to ride the ups and downs, and to figure out who you really were for yourself and for others. But Ashley, you deserved to know what life could be at 29, 39, and beyond.
I’ve written you countless letters over the years, but this one feels more urgent, as I’m about to embark on a motherhood of sorts, as a stepmother to two teenagers who are learning and training to be responsible adults.
This year, we would have been in our early thirties together, the beginning of the decade that you promised to over-feed my hypothetical children chocolate cake and treats and make them love you more than me.
I wish you were here to do that. I’d give anything for my stepchildren and future children to love you more than me, for you to live next door like you promised, and for you to be Auntie Ash-wee.
I wonder, too, would you have had a family by now? Would you have a daughter that looks and acts just like you, who drives you nuts with her silliness and funny impressions like you did with your own parents? Would you have laugh lines, a job that fulfilled you, or have made it to Africa for the trip you always dreamed about?
I wish I knew. I wish a lot of things, actually.
Like that I could introduce you to the love of my life, to have him know you, and understand a part of me that only you did. That you and I could sit and chat late into the night about our nonsense, just more grown-up versions of it, grab cups of coffee together, and sit on the beach again to laugh until we cry. Or that I could listen to you complain about your day at work until my ears want to fall off, or to help clean your kitchen when you’re too sick and tired to take care of it yourself. Normal things. Little things. Big things. Life things.
I know anyone who you loved you feels the same. We all wish for our own moments with you, all of the ones that you should have been a part of. With you, away went so much light and happiness for the many people you touched. We loved you then and we still love you now. For all of us here, it doesn’t get any easier these days, really. Just more time passes from the last time we saw you, heard you laugh, and hugged you tightly.
Over more than a decade, I’ve waffled between feeling the incredulous grief of your loss and being furious with you for being gone, and then back to myself for being upset with you for inadvertently smashing your existence to smithereens. But it wasn’t your fault.
Today, 13 years to the day, I grieve you. And I want you to know that I tell people about the wonderful person that you were and how much you meant to me. I tell them about how you died, and how easy it is for a momentary and accidental loss of control to be deadly. How knowing that, it’s never worth it to do anything that can put your safety at additional risk if you can avoid it – to speed, to text and drive, drink and drive, or to let emotions affect you when you’re behind the wheel. Better to be slow, pull over, call a cab, or be late than be dead. Death is permanent, irreversible, and ultimate. When we’re not careful with ourselves and our safety, we’re unknowingly not careful with all of the love that others pour into us, because we risk hurting so many others if something happens to us.
Your life mattered, Ashley. Then, and now. All of our lives matter, even when we don’t realize it.
And, I miss you.
My love, always,