In a Perfect World
September 5, 2010
Circa 1995, some of my son’s friends matched my daughter up with a date for a high school dance. I spent some time getting to know him. He was nice kid. He passed the “mom test” and I was comfortable sending Sarah off with him for a few hours. The dance came and went, and so did he. Their interests were different, he was a little older, and so it goes.
About ten years later, John and I made our first visit to the local butcher shop, and who do you suppose was standing behind the counter? Although I didn’t make the connection, he did, and came out from behind the counter to say hello and meet John. We quickly became regular customers and got to know the other good folks that work there, but his face is always the one I look for.
One morning, in the first part of 2009, my newspaper had an article about a crash involving two persons. The car had left the road and run into a tree. The driver had a blood alcohol level of .24 and was transported to the county jail after treatment for minor injuries at the local hospital. As it seems to go in accidents like this one, our young friend had to be extracted from the car, was airlifted to a Chicago hospital in critical condition with bleeding in his brain, fractures and other injuries. A month later the paper said he was still in intensive care and unable to speak.
The next time we went to the butcher shop, there was a picture of him taped up on the wall near the cash register with words written in black marker, asking customers to think of him in their prayers. Over the months, we heard updates with slow but gradual signs of improvement, more than often accompanied by “but it was a really bad accident”. At one point last fall, he had been moved to a rehabilitation center down south and the updates became fewer and far between.
Early this summer, the butcher shop opened a produce section in the rear of the building. John and I pulled the car around to the back and parked. Out of the corner of my eye I saw two men standing at the edge of the parking lot, in butcher’s garb. We made our way into the store and closed the door behind us. As I took my hand off of the door knob, it opened right back up and in walked our friend. He had seen us in the parking lot. I got a big hug and a smile.
As we talked, it became painfully apparent that he was having some troubles putting his thoughts together. His left eye was a little smaller and slightly drawn upward, but the sparkle was still the same. I told him it was so good to see him and that we thought about him often. I asked him how long he had been back. He looked at me, and then turned to his friend and asked how long he had been back. I found out I hadn’t seen him because he was working in the shop now a few hours at a time, instead of behind the counter. I told him it looked like he was doing well, and he took off his baseball cap, showed me the bare patch on top of his misshapen head, and said “Yeah and the guy that did this is in prison”. His friend reminded him that their break was over, took him by the arm, and they disappeared into the shop.
And we wept. We wept for our young friend, and we wept for someone at the butcher shop who has a heart of gold. Someone who found a place for him, when I have to think it would have been easier to close the door.
I have started this post several times, but the words wouldn’t come, so I just quit writing. And after all, why would you want to read yet another sad story about the leavins of a drunk driver? It happens all the time. There was a similar accident that happened this spring in a nearby town. The driver and one of his friends were banged up, and the other two were killed. All of them were just kids.
Then last week the driver and his parents released a video “to help other teens avoid what he, his parents and the community have experienced”. I watched it. It seemed sincere to me. But a mother of one of the fatalities objected to it. To her it was “inconsiderate”. This was not someone she wanted her younger daughters “to learn a lesson from”. Lives changed forever. And a mother lode of pain.
Yesterday we made our weekly trek to the butcher shop, and once again I rolled this story out in my mind. As I spit out the last few words, I can finally say that I’m angry. Oh sure, I’m angry at the driver. That’s expected. But I’m really angry at our young friend for making the decision to get in the car with a driver that was obviously drunk.
In a perfect world, there would be no drunk drivers. And if there were, they would be alone in the car.