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  • When you're young, summer means many things. To me as a child, summer was spending time outside. Playing with my friends on the street. Every day a different group of us, depending on which parent insisted on being accompanied on various boring pursuits. But from the time I got up, until to the time the street lights came on, the day was spent outside, rain or shine. As a teenager it meant other things. The freedom of time spent away from the constraints and eyes of adults. The ability to explore the other sex in different settings. The sweet thrill of hand-holding on a summer evening as the fireflies would begin to flash their silent song of lights. The sitting in a dark car with someone while the lightning flickered in the sky. Wanting something so badly, and not knowing quite what that was.

    Summer has a smell to it. A tang, that no other season does. Even as an adult, the thought of summer brings an expectation. A lightness. A thought of freedom.

    Yet there was one summer that was different. The summer of 1990. We met on July 4th. It was the afternoon. We passed by each other walking near our old high school, of where we had not been friends. We chatted, and neither having plans, decided to go to the fireworks together. And so it began.

    It should never have been. You were getting over your first relationship, and I was lost, adrift, and hurting in ways I still cannot explain. We came together not as strong individuals, but as two weak and unhealthy souls looking to cling to another. It was wrong.

    Our dysfunction continued, and things built up between us. I could not deal with a certain habit of yours, in spite of having a habit of my own. When I finally reached my limit, we were on the way to the movies. Arguing. Because spending time with me without being high was not enough for you anymore. As I drove us down a country road, our argument escalated. I pulled off the road on a long driveway, under a street light, far enough off the road for safety. Then we made our mistake. We walked back to the side of the country road, and stood under the street light to argue, and see each other's faces.

    It was a dark, starless night, and a deserted road. I heard the motor to my left, and looked. I absently noticed two headlights coming towards us, and directed myself immediately back to our argument, and the fact that I thought we needed to make a decision. The headlights made it for us.

    I'll never forget that sound. That sound of the van hitting you. That's the last thing I remember, until I woke up in the ditch. It was no more than a second, but it seemed a lifetime, and I could not fathom why I was in a ditch. Under a streetlight. In the dark. Alone.

    Then it hit me, and I scrambled up to the road to find you. You were gone. One shoe. Those stupid slipper shoes you thought were so cool, and I thought were so stupid. Just one of them left in the spot where you had just been standing. Arguing with me. As I stood and watched the red lights of the minivan receding on the right, my mind reeled, as all I could think of was, where are you, and what will be left of you? Then I realized there wasn't anyone but me, and I couldn't run from what I would see. And I went looking for you.

    I found you in a field. Broken inside into pieces, but alive. Conscious. Not aware of why your neck hurt, and why you couldn't move it. That summer night was a whirl of ambulances, police, parents, doctors, and admissions. Admissions we made to other people, but not to ourselves. Apparently.

    Our life changed after that. Day in, day out at the hospital with you. Surgeries, bolts, and steel plates. Blood, pain, and tears. And ultimately luck and miracles, that they could repair your neck broken in so many spots. As you were tied to your bed, you became sober, as you had no choice. I became sober as well. I thought it would work. Freshly begun at college, I dropped out. I started working again. For us. We were happy as you healed. So I thought.

    Then, all put back together by a team of amazing people, you went back to drugs. This time there was no minivan to interrupt our argument. I said I wouldn't stand for it anymore, not after all that, and you told me to go. So I left.

    I still cannot walk down the side of a road. It doesn't matter if the headlights are coming towards me, or are behind me. I will always cringe in anticipation of that whoosh of air, and the impact of the van hitting your body. And feel myself lying in the scratchy grass of a ditch.

    I don't know where you are these days. I hope you are happy, but honestly, that's all in your hands. If that minivan hadn't come along, who knows what would have happened. Maybe I would have stayed in school. But it doesn't matter. Somehow, that minivan and that terrible night led me to where I am now. And it's a very good place. But I will never forget that summer, or those headlights, coming towards us so quickly. Not knowing the impact those headlights would have on our lives. That hot and twisted summer evening.
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