|In a way, I was born a loner. My parents were older, in their forties when I came along. My mom didn’t think she could have any children. There was always distance there. They really couldn’t relate to a child anymore. They never seemed to have the energy to try, either. My whole life I have had only a few friends, usually only one or two at a time. There are good reasons for that. I’m an odd person by any standard. I’m a total geek. Recently I was diagnosed with autism, but didn’t have a clue why I was so different back then. I liked spending time by myself. I liked to read a lot. I could do eye contact, parties, crowds, but none of that was fun for me. It was hard work. More often than not, dealing with more than a couple people at one time exhausted me, and still does.
My first good friend, Jessica, was a lot like me in a lot of ways. She wasn’t popular at our school either, but unlike me she wanted to be. She liked to read too, just not as much as I did. She had psoriasis. People tended to assume she was contagious somehow. There were always rumors that she had leprosy. She told me once she felt gross all the time because of her skin. Her condition didn’t put me off at all because I’d read about it and knew it wouldn’t affect anyone else but her. So I told people off when they taunted her about it or when they made comments behind her back. As a result, she decided we needed to be best friends and spend weekends over at each other’s houses. I really didn’t want any of that at first but my mother was all for it. I think it frightened her that I liked being alone so much. So I caved to their combined pressure and eventually was glad I did.
My parents had a nice house, mortgage free. It was a four bedroom, two story, big gardens, but looked like a shack compared to Jessica’s family’s mansion. Her mom was a magazine editor. Her dad was a very successful lawyer. They had old family money on both sides. They lived on the ocean. Their boathouse was bigger than our whole house. Jessica was their only child. She used to say I was the twin sister she always wanted.
Since her parents worked a lot, even when they were at home, they pretty much left us to our own devices when I was over. We used to sleep out on her dock a lot when it was warm enough. We would talk way into the night and fall asleep under the stars listening to the lapping of the waves. One night while we were camped out on her dock, we woke to a terrible crash and went running up to the road that separated the dock from their front gate. A 28 year old man on a motorcycle had crashed into a tree. He was still alive, but was terribly hurt. There were bones sticking out and blood everywhere. I stayed with him while Jessica ran inside to call an ambulance. I was telling him that help was coming, that he would be okay, even though I knew with absolute dread that he wouldn’t make it. He said he couldn’t feel much. I don’t know if that was because of spinal injury, drugs, or because he had been drinking. He smelled very strongly of alcohol. He had a boyish face but a really long mustache. It was the late seventies by the way.
I was sort of aware of people running toward us from the house when the man asked if I believed in God. I said yes even though I didn’t then. He said, “If you believe, don’t you go with Angie and her cousin.” Then he just died before Jessica’s dad reached us. I had never seen anyone die before even though I knew people who had died, like both of my grandmothers. Her dad had brought a blanket out for the man. He put it over my shoulders instead.
When the ambulance got there, they wanted to put me in it. They thought I’d been on the back of the bike because I had so much of his blood on me. They thought I was in shock because of the blanket. I don’t think I was exactly, but it was all a lot to process. The police came and took statements. Through all of this, I didn’t tell anyone what the man said to me. It didn’t make any sense to me but felt important. I knew it wouldn’t make any difference to any of them. I didn’t think it was anyone’s business. His blood had cemented my tee shirt, shorts, and underwear to my body by the time they left with his body, I had to get into the shower in their pool house just to pry those clothes off.
I think her parents were worried because technically the man died and I was traumatized all on their property, rather than on the easement. I told them my parents wouldn’t sue them because they’d never sued anybody and never would start now. They were WW2 era. They didn’t believe in lawsuits.
Everyone wanted me to talk about it. Jessica’s dad offered to pay for me to see “someone” so I could talk about it. Maybe that was a legal thing or maybe he just cared. My parents didn’t believe in therapy either though, but both my parents did ask me about the incident, a lot over the next few months. Kids in our class wanted to hear all about it. For some reason I didn’t want to talk about it to anyone. It was too private. I never told another living soul, until now, what the man said to me.
A couple years later when I was 13, my father got a big promotion. We moved away from my childhood home. I never kept in touch with Jessica even though she wanted me to try very badly. I just didn’t have it in me to make her that kind of promise. I never know what other people want to read when I have to write a personal letter. I knew my parents wouldn’t let me talk on the phone long distance even if Jessica’s parents were paying. It seems a little unfeeling now, but I realized then that our friendship always meant more to her than to me. Maybe part of that is because at heart I am a loner. Maybe part is due to my autism. I always liked her, enjoyed her company, and spending time with her, but when that was ending, I just wanted to move on to a fresh start.
We moved on to a much larger city a few hundred miles down the east coast. I went from a small private school to a large public one. Freshman year, I met a girl named Angie in my English class. Honestly, I don’t know if we became friends solely because of her name or not. She was the first Angie I met in my life, as far as I’m aware. As soon as she introduced herself, what that dying man had said to me echoed around in my head. We were naturally compatible, too. She liked to sit in the front of classes just like I did. We both excelled in school. She was a speed reader- just like me. We were the other’s only serious academic competition in every class we ever had together. She hated organized sports even more than I did- which is saying something. She had read Beowulf and the Silmarillion before high school. I had never met another girl my age who had read both those purely for fun.
We were the best of friends from the beginning of freshman year to the summer after junior year when out of the blue she informed me that her cousin was in town and had agreed to pick me up (though my house was completely in the opposite direction) to go to the beach with them. Her cousin was a freshman in college who had her own convertible. They would drive by and pick me up. We’d spend all day on the beach, then stay overnight at Angie’s house. Wasn’t that a great idea?
I said that I thought it was a very bad idea. We had a big test in Trig tomorrow. We both needed to study. Maybe they should come over at my house instead. Her cousin could watch music videos on MTV while we studied for the test. Isn’t that an even better idea? Angie hated that idea. We debated our itinerary back and forth. I finally told her that I just had a bad gut feeling about going to the beach. She asked why, why, why, but I couldn’t tell her. It would have sounded crazy. I asked her to stay at my house and promised we didn’t have to study at all. We could all watch movies and MTV together and order a pizza. That made her really angry with me. She said I was making up excuses because I really didn’t want to meet her cousin because I’m always weird about people. If I didn’t want to go to the beach with them, fine, I didn’t have to go. Then she hung up on me. It was the first real argument we ever had.
I wished I had called her back. I wished I’d told her about what the dying man had said- not right then, but way back in freshman year when we first met. I wished I had tried harder to talk her out of going to the beach with her cousin.
I got a call about seven o’clock that night from a guy in our year at school. I didn’t know him well at all because he was a jock. I didn’t get many calls from boys back then and none at all from jocks. He said his older brother was a paramedic called to the scene of a car accident and that Angie was involved. His brother told him one of the girls was dead but wasn’t sure which one. He told me to call hospitals and say I was her sister. It turned out that the girl who died was Angie. Her neck was broken on impact. Her cousin sustained a serious head injury and suffered brain damage. She recovered some of what she lost but never returned to college. They were on their way back from the beach when a drunk driver on a motorcycle tried to pass another car. Other drivers reported that he was coming right at them in their lane. Her cousin swerved to avoid him and hit a tree instead. It happened on one of those ocean drives where the boat houses are separated by a road from the mansions on the other side.
Submitted by Brenda MacCarty
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