One bad choice...
I was reading the obits last night and came across one for a kid that I went to high school with. I was never friends with him, he was actually a year ahead of me. I always knew who he was, one of the cool kids, kind of cocky, you know who they are. Hell, maybe they were you. This particular high school elite was memorable to me, and the rest of our school, after one fateful night. This guy had spent the night drinking at some party and then decided he was perfectly capable to drive home at an obscene rate of speed. Unfortunately, high school kids are dumb and the drunk ones even dumber. He drove straight into a tree, totaling the car and permanently damaging his brain.
I can vividly remember girls crying in the hallway when they heard the news. Girls that never got the time of day from this guy were so upset they tried to leave class early, or not go at all. A few people thought he'd be back to school in few months. "He just needs some physical therapy." they said. Most of us knew better.
The reality was that this perfectly healthy, popular, 17 year old boy would be confined to a wheelchair. His brain damage so severe that he would be unable to return to school, or our world as teenagers, ever again. I remember the night that his parents decided to bring him to the school talent show, Avant Garde. It was many months after the accident and he hadn't been back to the school yet. The whispers started that Sean was here and everyone wanted to see him. I edged around the crowd to sneak a peek at him and I was pretty horrified at what I saw. He was sitting in a huge wheelchair with a head rest, his hands in fists at his chest and some sort of towel around his neck. It was a sobering image and must have particularly hard on those kids who had hung out with him. I walked away shocked. I had never seen anyone like that before.
High school went on after the accident. People forgot about Sean and the talk died down. When I was a senior I did a presentation on the dangers of drunken driving, citing Sean as an example. "It can happen to any of us," I said. "Actually, it already has."
So here I sit. Married, three kids and a cat. My life went on because I didn't make the same choices Sean did. I always saw him as older than me but he really was just a kid. I was just a kid. I made plenty of bad choices, just not extreme enough to take my life. Or mostly take it and leave the rest of me behind in a wheelchair. I look at kids that same age now and think about what babies they are. It's terribly sad that one cocky kid made a bad choice and paid for it the rest of his life. His short life. But, babies or not, we let our kids out in the world and let them make all the choices for themselves. They're going to get it wrong sometimes, it's impossible for them to always get it right. It just seems very unfair that a 17 year old should be able to get it that wrong. The only thing I can do as a parent is teach my children about making good choices and what the consequences are of the bad ones.
Then cross my fingers and let them go.