September 1, 2011
County Rd 64

There is a place on the drive between his house and hers where the road curves while mounting a slight hill. It is poorly lit, and fenced by forest on either side. To the right, on the inside of the turn, are two oaks, separated by an empty ten feet. The most astounding thing about the accident will be how their car shot so neatly through the gap, streaking forty feet into the forest beyond without so much as losing a mirror on the way.

First responders to the accident will assume that it is the result of drunk driving. They will be right, but not entirely: the driver’s blood alcohol level will turn out to be hardly more than the legal limit. This is of course unsafe, but as the medical examiner knows, if everyone who drove on four beers had accidents like this…there’s no way to guess how many times over the number of drunk driving deaths would multiply. Five, maybe. The boy should not have been driving. But there was something else that caused him to misjudge the turn.

The girl’s parents will want to blame the boy, as girls’ parents will. When they learn that she, too, could not legally drive, they will naturally manipulate their anger. It will be she that knew better than to get behind the wheel. They will compartmentalize facts and theories. One night, amidst a never-ending stream of sleepless ones, her father will remember a time in high school when he and his girlfriend drank stolen beer in a grocery store parking lot. He will remember how she reached across as he drove, toying at his zipper, twisting her hair back over her shoulders as she leaned forward…

The boy’s parents will be silent. They will avert their eyes when they meet the girl’s parents in the hospital. They will be unable to escape the simple fact that it was their son who was driving. His mother will cry, heavily, before turning irate. She will make assumptions. She will think of the tattoo the girl had: a set of three waves across the bridge of her foot, small, in black. She will remember a girl she knew in college with a tiny horseshoe behind her ankle. The horseshoe girl wore thick eyeliner and ripped jeans. She was trash.

A month will pass, after the accident, the wakes, the funerals, the public mourning and vigils at school, and then the rumors will start. They will be ordinary and of average meanness. One will say the girl was pregnant; another, that she was cheating on the boy (with the soccer captain, with a senior at the local college; worst of all, with his father). Another yet will say that he was the jealous type, and might have done it on purpose – how else could the car have flown so neatly between those trees? Another rumor will speculate he wanted to get back together with his ex-girlfriend. It will turn out, of course, that she started this one. There will be a rumor they were both into drugs. The most hurtful rumor will be that they were drag racing, and the other car bolted; this rumor will be unfair, because for some time both sets of parents waste months believing another set of families are to blame.

Kind people – family members, close friends – will venture advice and lend helping hands. More than one person will suggest a simple truth: bad things do happen to good people with ordinary lives. High school seniors make mistakes, against the best advice of their well-meaning parents. Someone will struggle for words, and mistakenly land upon unlucky.

The boy’s father will take to driving past the trees between his house and hers. Sometimes, he will ease off the wheel, allowing the car to float over the middle line. He will do this again and again, testing the angles, searching for the one that aims between the gap. He will find it impossible, frustratingly. What kind of luck, he’ll wonder – what kind of luck is that?

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