A lesson from a painful memory

“Memories are not shackles, Franklin, they are garlands,” Alan Bennett.

Newspaper clips of the news of Daniel's death
Newspaper clips of the news of Daniel’s death

Today I’m 15 years old again. I’m wearing a plaid shirt. My hair is in a ponytail. I just said happy birthday to my friend and left school. I’m outside now, walking home.

But now I’m frozen, my legs anchored to the sand beneath me.

Why, of all memories, is this the one I remember so clearly?

Of all the magnificent sounds I’ve heard in my lifetime — songbirds, praise, prayers — why is the sound of that pickup slamming into his body the one I still hear the loudest?

His gruesome death — the details too gory to burden you with — to this day is the clearest vision in my mind. I can still see the unnatural way his legs landed and the way his head hit the sidewalk, filling the gutter with blood. I know exactly where his fingers landed, and his shoe. I remember how quickly his face drained of its color.

My neighbor, my classmate, died not 10 feet from me. It was exactly 15 years ago today.

On this date every year I stop and reflect on this tragic event. I dig out the newspaper clippings, the depositions the court dragged me through (since I was the only witness besides the driver), the letters I exchanged with Daniel’s family and the poetry I wrote.

I think of Daniel every time I cross a street, every time I hear a noise similar to the noise I heard that day, and every time I see a movie where someone gets hit by a car — which is pretty much most movies, it seems.

For years I wished I could forget Jan. 14, 1998, particularly all the vivid details. But I’ve come to learn there’s a reason that day plays like a movie in my head. It’s a constant reminder not to take life for granted, to be thankful for today. Seems so simple doesn’ it? If he had stopped in the hallway to say happy birthday to someone that day, instead of me, then I could have easily been the first one to cross the street, and he could have been the one watching me die.

But I’m here, and the 15-year pain from that memory is fuel to continue giving my all at everything I do, and to do those things with the right intention.