Matt Mitchell

May 1997


On Sunday, April 20, 1997, a life ended. A 17-year-old girl -- a star of the school basketball team, a friend to many -- died in a car wreck as she was riding home from a party. The driver had been drinking; he is currently in the hospital in serious condition. Another passenger had been drinking; he suffered minor injuries, the most serious of which was a badly bruised hip. They say that she was sober. They say that she had buckled her seatbelt. I say it wasn't enough.

I was blitzed by this news as I returned from visiting colleges this weekend. As I prepared to step into the future, one of my classmates took her last step -- a step into a car; a step into her grave.

Today -- Tuesday -- was my first day in school this week. During third period, we had a special assembly in her memory. Her friends, aided by tissues and amplification, tried to put their grief into words. I sat in the audience, my mind churning. Someone prepared a slide show and a collection of video clips for display on the projection screen. There was music playing, but all I heard was crying -- cries of sadness, of loss, of desperate attempts to understand. Why Kate? they cried. I say, why not?

A friend of mine was quoted on television. He commented that this happens every year, and that no one ever learns. He's right.

It's ironic that people spend their entire lives trying to avoid death, and yet when death comes, it is the living that bear the burden of remembrance.

This column will take three different directions. (Not all of them at once, like I usually do.)

- - -

The crying session in the school auditorium was rather impressive. The amount of energy that must have gone into that slide show/film is mind-boggling considering the circumstances and the time frame. Watching and listening, I started to put myself in Kate's place: what if I had fucked up like she did? Would there be a teary assembly with a film and music? No. Did this bother me? You bet. It makes me regret all of these years I've spent keeping to myself, never venturing out to make contact with any number of people. If I had died, no one would have been able to stand up and say, "I knew him well." No one. Would there have been dozens of people in hysterics? No. Would we have even had an assembly to memorialize me? No. I am saddened to say that I have done little with my life so far, and even less that people know about. All I do is think. I suppose I try to do everyone else's thinking for them. That's actually a pretty accurate description of me -- I substitute my stupidity for that of others. We're all pretty stupid, anyway.

- - -

The other emotion that overcame me as I learned of this tragedy was that of anger. I am angry at the people who would have Kate blameless and perfect; they would idolize her in memory of her moment of greatest weakness. Whether or not she was drinking (she likely was), whether or not she had her seat belt buckled (she likely didn't), she was stupid enough to get into a drunk person's car. Sometimes being stupid will cost you. There are some times you just don't get to call, "do over!" Fucking up once can cost you your life.

- - -

And when are we going to get out of the 17th century and realize that forbidding alcohol consumption by minors only makes these tragedies more frequent? Were kids not required to sneak around with booze, they wouldn't be driving around drunk at 2:30am; they would be either in a public place, in the relative safety of company, or perhaps at home, safe, or in a social situation where they were (first) experienced with the effects of alcohol and (second) not pressured by peers to get totally fucked up -- why get drunk? Alcohol ceases to become a "big deal" the moment that everyone has it. Prohibition of alcohol is foolish, unfair, unconstitutional, and counterproductive. It's a shame that the people in charge are so blind and/or jaded that they can't recognize this. It is like turning kids loose in cars without any driving experience whatsoever (which, incidentally, they do here in America), and scratching your head when they get in accidents far more frequently than experienced or trained drivers. It's quite simple: end the age restriction on alcohol. Make the driving age 18.

I guess being stupid costs us all.

Spinal Tap, standing in front of Elvis' grave:

Derek: "This really puts things in perspective."
David: "Too much! Too much fucking perspective!"

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