This is a personal experience of mine, which occurred just a month and a half ago. It was a paper I had turned in for my English class. Most of the school read it and related to it. Even the driver of the car had the chance to read it.
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There are unique bonds that connect the people of a small town. As children, we grew up together. I can remember every field trip and bus ride, every middle school dance and birthday party. Then we progressed to the uncharted realm of high school. At first we were timid and hesitant, unsure of our place in our new surroundings. Eventually, however, we gained the confidence and courage to break out and make new friends. Inevitably, we began to lose touch with each other.
It took a heart-wrenching tragedy on August 18, 2006, to bridge the gap between the people of Dacusville once more.
The Easley vs. Pickens Varsity football game was attended by over a thousand people. We cheered and screamed, laughed with friends, catcalling the opposing team. Nothing else mattered except winning that game.
At two AM, I was still lying awake in the bed, reliving the finer points of the game; our losing score flickered mockingly before my eyes.
All of a sudden, my bedroom door swung open and my stepsister stood in the doorway. Even in the darkness I could see that her face was pale and shocked.
"What's up?" I asked, my concern mounting as she continued to stare at me. "Brittany, what's wrong?"
She glanced at me. "I-I just got a phone call. From Alex Tate. . . ."
My stomach clenched painfully-instinctively, I knew that something was terribly wrong.
"What happened?" I demanded sharply; my hands were trembling.
"Jerry Helton's been in a car accident," she stammered. "Joe Graft and Tyler Durham were in the car. . . ."
The peculiarity of these words clicked for a moment: Tyler was not even good friends with Jerry. Why would he be in the car with him?
The blood was slowly receding from my face. "Are-are they okay?"
The room began swimming as images flashed through my head: pool parties, baseball games, Brittany and Tyler holding hands in the eighth grade-all this spun through my thoughts until my head was reeling and my vision blurred.
I shook my head free of this dizziness and realized that Brittany had gone. I swallowed-pushing down that horrid lump with incredible difficulty-and reached for my cell phone.
By the early morning, the whole community of Dacusville was aware of Tyler's death. It was around noon, after my stepfather returned from a trip to the garbage dump, that I discovered the wreck site was located at the end of my very own street.
By the late afternoon, we had begun spray painting the road, leaving Tyler messages across the worn asphalt. In the grass off to the side, among the pieces of glass and headlights, people were leaving flowers, crosses, and letters; some had even left baseballs and football jerseys. Brittany, my stepbrother Zack, and I gathered up our closest friends-some that we hadn't talked to in ages-and spent the rest of the day at the end of the road, remembering the wonderful person we had all known.
The funeral services were held the following week; it seemed as though half the school had gotten out early to go.
As we had expected, the funeral home was packed with people. Some of us had never liked each other, had barely spoken two words to each other, and now we were throwing our arms around each other, sharing the grief and loss that we couldn't express in words.
We preceded into the viewing room, where his family had put up boards covered in pictures: Tyler's baby photos, seemingly unimportant moments from his childhood and later years that had been captured on a mere whim. Tears were streaming from every face in that room; our hearts were breaking in anguished tandem.
As we moved into the chapel for the memorial, I gazed around at the faces around me. It occurred to me that there would not be enough room for everyone to have a seat. There were so many people showing up to say their goodbyes that this small chapel would never hold them all. My eyes lingered a moment longer on my friends and family. I wanted to go to each of them, hold them and tell them how much I loved them, make sure they knew I cared for them. And at the same time, I was angry, furious that it took something as horrible as this to bring everyone together again.
My thoughts drifted to the car. What if Tyler had sat in the other end of the backseat? What if he had decided to get in the front passenger seat? Would Joe be laying in the coffin instead of him?
What if we would've never had to have a funeral? Would we be sitting in class, talking and joking around, not giving any thought to each other's careless driving and disregard for our friends' safety? Was it better that Tyler had died, so that each and every one of us could learn from this? I once heard that people have to die so that life seems important. Was this true?
I wasn't sure if I wanted an answer.
Before his great aunt stood up to give the eulogy, the front doors opened, and the pallbearers carried in Tyler's coffin. It was like signal: every person in that chapel, myself included, lost it.
His great aunt was talking about his smile, how it was so contagious that one could not help but smile back. And as I listened, I was smiling through my tears. In that moment, as I remembered his cheerful, friendly smile, and his ringing laughter, a great weight lifted from my heart. I knew, though I can't explain how, that Tyler was happy.
He is in heaven now, flirting with the girls, laughing at us as we blunder our way through our lives. He is doing what he did best-playing baseball to his heart's content.
Maybe he'll let me play on his team one day.