have experienced loss before, none hit me so hard as when a friend of mine
was killed in a car accident one year ago, on December 4, 1997. We
were both 16 years old at the time. It was rainy that night, and
the car her friend was driving somehow went out of control, slamming into
a tree on the opposite side of the road. The car hit the tree on
the passenger side of the car, where my friend was. Though she was
wearing her seatbelt, she died from blunt trauma wounds. She was
about 7 weeks shy of her 17th birthday. The driver also suffered
injuries, but was eventually able to return to school.
Though I was not particularly close to my friend, the accident still shook me. We had been in the same Girl Scout troop for four years, and though we did not travel in the same social circles at school, we had become friends, if oddly matched. We spoke, and I suppose she found me a good listener because she would talk to me about he friends, her troubles, her family, whatever. I rarely speak about her, because most people would say I have no "right" to mourn because we were not close. I, along with every person who ever met my friend, have the right to grive as I see fit. This year, to mark the anniversary of her passing, I drove to the tree where my friend died and tucked a card into the ribbons that encircled it - evidence of other people's remembrances. I did not sign it, but I know she knows and understands.
Like most other 16-year-olds, I performed a rite of passage last December: I went for my driver's tests to obtain my licence. The test, which had been scheduled since October of last year, fell on December 11 -- one week exactly since my friend's death. I had managed to put it out of my mind during my practice sessions, but as I got into my car with the instructor, I could not stop thinking about the crash. Though I was able to put my sudden panic aside, to this day I still think about the accident as I drive. The memories are less frequent now, but they are still there. I don't think they will ever fully subside.
I went to my friend's wake, but not the funeral; I felt I did not belong among the rest of her school friends. I'm glad; the wake was closure enough for me. Her coffin contained her favorite navy and yellow Michigan jacket. Even now I can't see a blonde girl wearing a navy coat without doing a double-take. However, I try not to remember the wake. When I think of my friend, I remember her this way: sitting on a huge rock, looking down on the lake at camp, talking about a carnival she had attended the day before. I remember her at the ceremony where we received our Silver Awards, the second-highest award in Girl Scouting. I remember her coming late to our weekly meetings, hair disheveled because she had just come from her tae kwon do classes (she had a black belt). My favorite memory is when we were working on a Girl Scout project by helping a group of 6-year-olds earn badges. My friend was "tough"; she didn't take anything from anyone. However, this one little girl just completely melted my friend's heart. The tough exterior just melted away. That was the real her, not the face she showed everyone. I'm not sure how many other people besides me ever saw that side. I'm glad she chose to show it to me.
Though I will go to college in the fall, one of my first visits when I return home for Christmas will be to the tree where my friend lost her life. The bark has begun to grow back in the year since the accident, but it is symbolic of our grief: it heals, but the scar will always remain.