Wednesday, August 8, 2007


An anniversary is around the corner. It is not one of celebration, but one of reflection. It is an anniversary that affected my life, one that affected me that day and it is one that will affect me until the day I die. It was August of 1987. I was excited to be an up and coming high school senior in a few weeks. I was on my way home from a week’s vacation at the beach with my friend, Jenny. There was much anticipation of the beginning of a new school year. I was thinking about the new school materials I would need, the new clothes I would get and most importantly, I was thinking about the friends I would return to. I was anxious to talk to everyone, to hear about summer vacations. However, something happened, I received a phone call that changed my life. On the phone was anothre friend, Kelly....

“Leigh….Heather is dead. Heather was killed last night in a car accident. Ashleigh died too, so did Christie.”I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t talk. All I could do was listen…. “Leigh, are you there?”
“Why are you saying this? Why are you lying? What are you talking about”…

The next thing I knew, I was alone in my bathroom. I remember hearing a scream, a cry that I never knew could come from a human being. I can still hear it today. It scared me so immensely. It was me. I was banging on my bathroom mirror, oblivious to my surroundings. I do not know to this day how it withheld the slams of my fist. I was so angry, so confused. I wanted to wake up from this nightmare, but it had only begun.

Heather Hyde was my friend. We had been friends since we were elementary school. Heather had this way of making you smile at any situation. She was kind and she was humorous. I cannot recall a single moment that Heather could not make me laugh. We rode the bus together in middle school and saved seats for each other. She waited for me after my English class in high school; there we would swap notes before our next class. We confided in one another. We could tell each other things, our feelings about the world, and how it was treating us. At 17 years of age, the world of a teenager can be an unfair place. Little did I know how little I knew, and how unfair life would become.

On a clear hot summer night in August, Heather, Ashleigh, Susan, & Christie were driving with a young man from another school. They had spent the night at one another’s house and were carefree teenagers. They had not a care in the world. They loaded up in the car together for a night of “fun”. They traveled the road at a high rate of speed, hitting a culvert, flipped and crashed. Alcohol was a factor in the wreck. The lone survivor of the group was believed to be Susan. Susan and Christie, I had heard had become very close that summer. They closely resembled one another and often shared clothes and jewelry. Susan was transferred to a nearby hospital in critical condition. While many prayers went out to Susan and her family, we mourned the loss of the others. I was particularly impacted by Heather’s death. I walked around in a daze. I couldn’t imagine her not being a part of my life. The next several days were a blur. I felt as though the life had been sucked out of me the night Heather breathed her last breathe.

The funerals were tough. Students filed in to grieve with classmates and family members. At Christie’s funeral, something unbelievable happened. We had all gathered for the evening wake, including Scott, Susan’s older brother. I was touched at his strength and the support. He had left his sisters side to be with her deceased friends families. I can recall with distinction the hush that came over the funeral home that evening. Then, there was a lot of chatter, like an impending wave, more shocking news came crashing down. There, that night, it was discovered at the funeral home, that Christie was alive. Upon a final viewing of the body, it was found that Christie and Susan had swapped rings (this was the only way that they could be identified. Little did the families know that they had done this). Christie was now among the living, but like a hit in the gut, Susan was taken away from us. I didn’t know how to react, how to feel. No one did. There was chaos, confusion, tears. Susan’s brother, Scott, rushed from the funeral home to tell his parents that the child they were sitting with, willing to live, was not theirs……and that theirs had passed on that terrible night. Christie’s family was given the ultimate miracle. Their child, in essence had returned from the grave.

Christie underwent surgery for a fractured back, as well as mended from numerous other problems. She joined the senior class the later half of the year and walked with us (the senior class) for graduation. For many, many years, I carried Heather’s senior picture in my wallet. The portrait had been taken shortly before her death, and now it was all I had left to cling to. I was determined to keep her memory alive. I felt by having her photo close, I would never forget. I still haven’t. I never will. My heart still aches for Heather, Ashleigh, and Susan. Their memories live on in on all of us who lost-but we have not forgotten. As an adult, I have found that we can all learn from experiences, both good and bad. We discover that we are able to continue. That we shouldn’t feel guilt and wonder why. God has a plan for all of us. As a parent, I have used the loss of my friends to teach my children about drinking and driving and about automobile safety. They have seen how it has affected my life. They know this story well. I have shared it time and time again. The memories of my friends live on by the telling of this story.
I hope that no one is offended by me talking about this. I would not want to hurt anyone in the retelling of this sad story. But this story is not only theirs. It is also mine. It is one that I will carry always. By talking, we do not forget the past. We keep the memories alive.

From my diary, entry December 24, 1994

All of my teen years were taken from me that August night. They were buried with you. Suddenly I found myself having to grow up to fast. When I heard that you left this earthly world, I felt such an incredible pain. It was such a tragedy. The pain still perplexes me into asking all of the same questions…why? So young, innocent and free. Taken in the night.
Still, I know that you live on. You are happier, free, forever young and innocent. I know that one day I will meet you at the gate of the Lord’s garden. The garden where the Lord wanted you to continue to bloom. For here on this earthly world, Heather, you were a beautiful rosebud, only beginning to blossom. There, in Heaven, I know you bloom in full all your beauty, in all your glory that is Heather. Your memories live on and today I think of you, and I smile. Sometimes I laugh. You shined a light onto me that I will always feel and be warmed by at the thought of you. This is the gift your eternal spirit has left me.


Learn from the history of the past. Rejoice in our friendships. I count my blessings everyday of the roses that are my friends today. They have sprung up all around me in full bloom. I bask in the radiance and appreciate my garden of friendships.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That was a GREAT post! You are a gifted writer; I think you should write a book about your life and all your journeys.