At the twenty- and thirty-year reunions, heart attacks and cancer, sometimes even suicide, become the major culprits. But at the ten-year reunion it's overwhelmingly car crashes that have taken young, unformed lives, swiftly and brutally.
I clearly remember seeing the face of a girl named Marcy, a member of my graduating class at White Station High School in Memphis, Tennessee, posted on a table at my ten-year reunion. Marcy was wry and funny, a contender for class clown. When I asked friends who still lived in Memphis how she died, they related an absurdly tragic story: Driving home down Perkins Avenue, a busy street near the school, Marcy apparently had raised her paper cup of Coke for a swig and momentarily let the car swerve across the center line, directly into an approaching car. She died instantly.
As we grow older and hear our friends' stories about car crashes they've survived, we count ourselves lucky and store away bucketloads of anxiety, saved up for the day when our children become drivers. For me, it has been an unending, quiet nightmare to watch my children drive away onto mean streets where one false move can end or maim a life.
Ironically, and I'm horrified to admit this, I am far more anxious over the idea of my 18-year-old son driving back and forth to Boulder on I-25 than I am about my 20-year-old son currently serving with the Army Reserves in Iraq. Of course, my perception is warped. I don't know what dangers my son is facing in Iraq, but every day, going to and from work on a two-mile route, I see at least one car crash, sometimes two. I immediately scan the scene for a silver-blue 1986 Volvo, a tank for sure, my son's car.
I count myself lucky that of my four children who have reached driving age, only two are active drivers. One lives in New York City and relies on trains to get around. Another opted out of driving because he also planned to live in a city where he would not need a car. Next year he'll head for college in New York City and will become another creature of public transportation. Do I wallow in anxiety over the thought of two of my children navigating the streets of a city of 8 million people? No, I breathe a sigh of relief that they will not be navigating the busy streets of the Big Apple in cars.
My other two sons are drivers and the unfortunate recipients of my pent-up anxiety.
Last night, a gorgeous, breezy summer evening, two of my sons took off in the silver-blue Volvo for a friend's house nearby. Instead of looking up from the flowerbed I was watering and offering a lighthearted "Have a good time!" I launched into a litany of warnings.
"It's summer," I reminded the impatient driver, straining toward the car. "There are more people out walking and on bicycles, so watch out for them."
As he edged behind the steering wheel, I hurled my usual final warning: "And remember, there are always stupid people out there on the road. Be careful."
Of course, I count my sons and myself among those stupid drivers.
A moment of inattentiveness, a second of lapsed judgment, a driver asleep at the wheel or impaired by liquor, mechanical failure -- they all lurk in my anxiety-fueled mind.
A few nights ago, a neighbor, who also was one of my son's teachers in high school, came knocking on the door in the early evening. His voice and face were stricken with grief. He brought news that a close friend of my son's, returning home from college, had been killed that afternoon in a head-on collision on a Colorado highway, conditions unknown. I e-mailed my son in Iraq the awful news.
His friend left behind a brother and devastated parents. His life was short but impacted all who knew him. Some of his closest friends, scattered across the globe, wouldn't be here for the memorial service and would have to say their goodbyes alone, from far away. He will go missing at the ten-year high school reunion.
It happens. It's reason enough to become a world-class worrier. It's the road paved with anxiety, poorly lighted, leading to a destination unknown, our children at the wheel.