By Alex Blade
It wasn't until my friend Zach screamed that I realized what was going on.
It was Halloween night, 2005. On a backcountry road about an hour north of Seattle my yellow 2005 Monte Carlo SS was sliding out of control around a corner. The next five seconds feel like five minutes when I remember them. But what still haunts me are the choices I made that led to that situation.
I had just dropped off another friend, David, at his house, and Zach was still in the passenger seat. As was usual when it was just the two of us, my driving was nowhere near safe or responsible. As we joked around and blared music from the speakers, I pushed my sports car to higher and higher speeds. I thought it would be good to call my mom to let her know I was almost home, so I picked up my phone.
Then all hell broke loose. It wasn't until the third cuss word Zach shrieked in my ear that I grasped that I had taken a corner way too fast. We were going sideways. As a relatively inexperienced driver, I panicked. I overcorrected, and the car ended up traveling backwards down the road, and then off the side. Since we had been speeding so much, we had almost enough momentum to clear the ditch. Almost. My wheels clipped the top of it, and my car ended up on its roof in the adjoining grassy field. Zach and I were left hanging upside down by our seatbelts. My $25,000 baby was totaled. Every window was shattered, the hood was cracked in two, the spoiler had been ripped off, and the axle had snapped.
I thank God to this day that neither Zach nor I were hurt in the crash. He doesn't normally wear a seatbelt, but did that night. If David had still been in the car, he would have been in the backseat, right where the trunk lid flipped up and smashed in the back window. Chances are he would have been seriously hurt, or worse. I remember the nausea I felt when I realized how it could have turned out. My friends' lives had been put at risk; it sickened me to think about it.
I was never punished as much as I deserved for what had happened. My Dad didn't kill me as I had feared he would. I didn't go to jail. My insurance rates didn't even go up. I lost my car and paid a $250 ticket. But even at the time I realized that was not nearly enough of a penalty.
Becoming a safer driver is far from the most important thing that I took from that night. Yes, I am more cautious behind the wheel now, especially when there are other people in the car. But beyond that, the crash forced me to take responsibility for my actions, something I had always avoided before that. I knew that from then on I had to be accountable for everything I did, and it is a lesson I have learned well. These days, I no longer try to wiggle out of situations, but instead try to own up to what I do and take whatever comes with it.
Another lesson I learned that night far outweighed the others. That night, a 17-year-old boy grew up. I know without a doubt that God allowed that night to happen because I was headed for disaster and needed a shock to wake up. I could no longer live life like a kid, carefree and with the single goal of having as much fun as possible. Being grown up meant behaving like one, and that night for the first time I learned what that means.
Today, I do my best to live by what I learned from that crash. My actions don't affect just one person, but everyone around me. The people whom I care about are touched and influenced by everything that I do, and so caution has to be exercised. I am no longer the rash, impulsive teenager who cares only for himself. I strive every day to put myself second. And I am careful with what is entrusted to me, especially when it involves the lives of other people.
I will never forget Zach's scream, or the events in the few seconds that followed. Together, they changed my life forever. And they marked the moment I grew up.