Car makers have created a “crumple zone” on modern vehicles that absorbs the impact of an accident. Typically, the crumple zone is located in the front of the car and acts to minimize the dangers of being in a collision.
“If the car wasn’t already so full I’d invite you to come. And you’d love it. You should see my mom try to ski dude… she moves like 2 miles per hour and screams the whole way. It’s hilarious” Peter said through curved lips. We walked back from class and he told me all about his upcoming trip to Vermont. His aunt from Poland was coming to visit and the whole family was going to hitting the slopes for a week straight. Already sick of the December weather, I assured him that I would be having the better time with my trip down South.
“Have fun with the cold, I’ll be thinking of you while I lay on warm beaches in Florida!” I yelled to him as we split off to our respected houses off campus.
Peter is one of my fraternity brothers, a member of the Geneseo swim team, and a swim coach. He’s also my “little” brother in the frat and has made me double over more than once with his many impersonations and spot-on accents. I remember the first time I saw his sideways grin and wispy blonde hair. He had had a little too much to drink and his otherwise pale cheeks were glowing a red that said “I could do Katy Perry karaoke for another 2 hours.” Pete is the kind of guy nobody has a problem spending time around, but I still chuckled to myself as I imagined him squeezed in the back seat with his two sisters while his parents and aunt crammed in the front. I was not envious of that six hour drive from Westchester.
Vacation, for many, is the one or two weeks a year where you can truly be free. It was beach visits and lobster rolls on the boat for me, and hot cocoa and ski slopes for Peter. However, only one of us had the luxury of relaxation and fun over that break. I woke up on my fifth morning to a continental breakfast. Seated oceanfront in our floral bathing suits, my father and I ate platefuls of eggs, sausage, and pancakes. My sister had forgotten to put sunscreen on the day before and was holed up in the hotel room applying aloe while my mother was already in her second hour of tanning. We were more than content with the tropical weather and seaside breezes that had become all too familiar during the first half of our vacation. It was as I finished my third pancake of the morning that I looked at my phone and saw an unusually long text from my fraternity president. I read through once and couldn’t believe my eyes. Two or three more readings and I still could not comprehend the words before me.
“JAKE!” My father snapped, clearly losing his patience “What could possibly be so important that you aren’t answering me?”
“Um…You know my fraternity little Peter? Well apparently he…uh… was in a car accident last night. An eighteen wheeler swerved across an ice patch and hit them head on. I- I think his parents are dead.”
I dialed his number four or five times only to get one ring and then an electronic voicemail recording. I sent texts to all my friends asking if they had heard updates, only to find them as lost as myself. Sitting by the pool that afternoon I searched the internet for any news I could find. Tuning out cannonball splashes and the overwhelming smell of coconut sunblock, I focused on countless dim google searches that turned up no news about the accident. As my mom and dad walked the beach looking for sea glass, my sister invited me to go get pizza in the hotel restaurant. She yammered on about the latest gossip and celebrity tid-bits but my mind kept circling back to Peter. Guilt and shame came over me whenever I remembered what he must be going though. How could I joke with my family or soak up the sun without a guilty conscience? The texts and google searches continued over the next days, but I never got the sense of closure that I was hoping for as more information unfolded.
Peter says he doesn’t remember much of the accident. He tells me he had no idea his mother was tossed through the window, or that his sister had been pinned in the backseat. He laid on the crimson stained stretcher en route to UVM Medical Center and said one thing before he blacked out: “If that son of a bitch killed my parents I’m going to murder him.” He didn’t care about the road conditions or that the driver of the 18-wheeler had been apologizing to the police for hours. He didn’t care about crumple zones or what their fucking purpose was. He cared about crowded car rides and the ones he’d never have again.