Today is an important day. Today – February 26, 2011 – marks the ten year anniversary of a tragic day that changed my life, and the lives of many others in Hickory, NC.
In order to convey this with any sort of clarity, I need to back up and give some history. My freshman year of high school was mostly similar to that of all other high school students. Not surprisingly, music was a huge part of my life. I sang in my mom’s youth chorus with lots of great friends – Cole, Sarah, Kelly, Madeline, Katie Perry, Katie Fritz, Leehe, etc. The music, the academics, the friends, the drama, the obsession with boys…all normal parts of most high school students’ lives. (OK…my obsession with boys was perhaps on the abnormal side of the spectrum…) What was atypical of my freshman year of high school was my newfound love for France. In the fall of my freshman year, Perrine, an exchange student from France came to live with my family in NC. And beginning January 1, 2001, at the age of 14, I moved to France for a semester abroad. This was a private exchange which occurred mostly because I was mildly interested and my mom got really excited about it. In the end, it was perhaps the best thing I ever did.
Saying goodbye to my friends as a 14-year-old girl was not easy. One of the hardest goodbyes was with my friend Cole – my best guy friend, and wannabe lover of sorts! Cole and I talked on the phone every night. We sang in youth chorus together and hung out and played piano duets together. There’s a great story about us “making out” on the tour bus, though as is typical in my life, I’ll argue your definition of making out to say that I didn’t do anything! We never dated, but we sure did talk a lot about it. He came over the night before I left for France and we had a wonderful goodbye. What I didn’t know at that time is that I would be saying goodbye forever.
My time in France was floating along joyously. As far as I was concerned, southern France was waaaaay better than Hickory. I was growing up fast, I could sense it! On February 26, 2001, I grew up a whole lot more. I got on the computer to check my email around 11pm (5pm, East Coast time), and my friend Chris Neal sent me an instant message. Chris was the first, then Kelly and Sarah the second and third, to tell me that an hour ago, 5 of our friends were in a car wreck, and 4 had died. Cole was driving and didn’t make it. Robin, Kelly’s cousin was in the car, as well as Ashley and Keona. Madeline, a friend of ours from youth chorus, was thrown from the car and survived. I have never in my life felt more alone than the next several hours, even days. It was all so hard to believe. I had just chatted on instant messenger the day before with Cole. He had said, “I miss you so MUCH! I pick up the phone to call you all the time, then I remember you’re not home.” And a few days before that, when we had chatted, he said, “It’s so weird. I don’t remember anything from the night before you left. I don’t remember what you were wearing, what you smelled like, what music you were playing. But I remember the last duet we played.”
It’s hard to believe that 10 years have passed. I think of Robin, Ashley, Cole, and Keona (RACK) almost every day! It was hard to make sense of that car wreck then, and it’s hard to make sense of it now. But I do know that it has largely informed the way I live and the way I love today, and for that, I’m eternally grateful. I grew up much more than I anticipated during those 6 months in France. That time of my life directed me on the path that I believe I’m still walking today. I am so full of love and thanksgiving for everyone that has accompanied me on that path, no matter how short or how long!
Lots of prayers go out today to the families and friends of Robin, Ashley, Cole, Keona, and Madeline. Prayers for courage and strength to continue on, and prayers of thanksgiving for such beautiful lives!
I have a million photos that I’ll have to scan one day and upload. For now, I’ll leave you with a poem that I wrote during a massive rainstorm just a few months after the wreck:
(May 24th, 2001, written in France – 14 yrs. old)
My science teacher taught us
The water cycle yesterday.
She said the hot sun dries up
The rain that fell the other day.
She says “evaporation”
Is what we are supposed to say.
“…And then comes ‘condensation’ –
The forming of rain in the sky;
It’s what the clouds are made of,
While earth below is turning dry.
The clouds, at last, are heavy –
Too heavy – that it rains”, she lies.
That rain – “precipitation” –
Turns holes to puddles on the ground.
Once more, evaporation –
The cycle turns around and round.
The class is so gullible,
Believing what she thinks she found.
But I will not be lied to –
I saw the rain fall yesterday.
I cried the day before –
For four friends died the other day.
Is what we ARE supposed to say,
But it was God who, that day,
“Evaporated” all our tears,
And, perhaps, “condensated”
In heaven with our friends, so dear.
And last, “precipitated”
Letting tears return but not our fears,
For with our tears
He nurtures the earth;
Our tears for the dead
Give others new birth.
Written by akw, in memory of RACK