It was a Saturday in May, almost 5 years ago now. Courtney had moved to Texas with her boyfriend and secretly married him so she could live on base with him during basic training; she’d driven back home the night before to surprise her family with a visit and we’d made plans to drive several more hours out to visit a mutual friend that afternoon. But I was pregnant with Evelyn, still in the throes of morning sickness. And I bailed. With how much I’d been throwing up I couldn’t imagine being confined in a car for 4 hours (plus all the time spent pulling over to throw up) and being away from home all day with how easily exhausted I was. I texted her, apologizing for being such an awful friend, and having such lame excuses, but I just couldn’t make myself do it.
I don’t remember the last thing she texted me. I saved our text messages for a long time, even transferred them when I upgraded phones – but then that phone broke and they said there was no way to retrieve them at the time. I still have that phone in a drawer, to be fixed, someday.
Our friend called me later that afternoon, I ignored the call, knowing she was probably just calling to chastise me for not coming. She called again, I ignored again. She called again, I finally gave in, realizing she wasn’t going to stop calling until I answered…she was crying – but I thought she was faking, I thought she was trying to hold back laughter – she said Courtney had been in an accident; it was about the time Courtney should have been getting there to meet her and I thought she was joking. I thought they were “mad” I bailed so they were calling me, acting like something horrible had happened to make me feel bad for not coming. Because that’s something they’d do. I distinctly remember saying “yeah right, no she wasn’t” as I started to realize that maybe she was actually crying. She was gasping for breath, repeating “she’s gone, she’s dead”. I still wasn’t convinced it wasn’t just a prank. She said Courtney hadn’t shown up, she had stopped answering her texts, and she wasn’t answering her phone. And then, finally, someone else did.
No one talks about the details. But I know she was speeding, she’d been texting and driving, telling our friend she was going “like 100 miles an hour because I can’t wait to see you”. There was construction, traffic was coming to a standstill, and she made no attempt to brake. She slammed into the back of a tractor trailer; DOA.
Would things have been different had I been there? I am generally a voice of reason (to others at least), would I have been able to slow her down? I for sure wouldn’t have let her text and drive. Would she have still been distracted by something else? Would I have noticed the traffic and been able to alert her in time to come to a stop safely? Would we have stopped so many times for me to puke that we wouldn’t have even been in the situation to have to brake quickly? Or, was it an inevitable accident? If I’d been with her, would I be dead too? And my daughter? Or was it just “not my time”? would we ALL still be here.
Death is such a hard concept. Does death come to us when it’s our time, wherever we are? Or is it chance.
I tell myself it comes to us. Mostly to avoid the guilt. But it also means that, if you’re still here, there is a reason. And that’s comforting.