I was a very good kid growing up. Dangerously good, actually. In high school I earned good grades, never missed curfew, and I had mostly nice friends who, like me, couldn’t wait to get into college and start our "real lives". BAHAHAHAHA. Oh, how I would love to go back to the "Real Life" that was college. But towards the end of my Senior Year, shortly after I turned 17, all hell broke loose.
One of the things I decided to stop doing was going to class regularly. Calculus and Government -- who needed them? I had sent in my college applications, Senior-itis had officially settled in, and I felt like I should be able to come and go as I pleased since I was (almost) an adult, DAMMIT. (Feel free, again, to insert hysterical laughter here.) I had a good friend who was totally with me on this, so we spent a number of mornings leaving the school parking lot to go hang out over breakfast at Dennys, or to drive down to the local Starbucks (where we both worked at the time) to flaunt just exactly how Too Cool For School we were to our fellow co-workers, who were sooooo lucky to be in Junior College, we thought.
You can imagine how thrilled my parents were each day when they would get a call from the attendance secretary wondering where I was in 5th period. Our house was full of arguments during those days and I am certain I have ordered up an extra large portion of Shitty Kid Karma for my behavior during those few months alone. One day during the height of all of the turmoil, instead of receiving a phone call from the attendance secretary, my parents received a call from a hospital in a town 45 minutes away. We had decided to skip school altogether and hit up a big mall a few towns over, and after a day of shopping we headed back home to be right on time to act like we had spent the day studying as we had both promised our parents the night before. But due to the rainy afternoon, a bit of road construction, and being inexperienced teenagers behind the wheel, we didn’t actually make it home.
It is the worst car accident I have been in as a passenger, to date. We crossed 4 lanes of traffic, hit a few other cars, and proceeded to roll down an embankment into a ditch in a 1989 Volkswagen Fox. The feeling of fear that surrounds you when you topple down a hill to await your fate would wake me up in the middle of the night for years afterward. We were taken to the hospital, and as you can imagine the medical bills were steep. But my parents didn’t think one lick about this when they came to pick me up -- they were in that mixed emotional state of being so happy I was okay, and so pissed that I had skipped school with this friend, AGAIN.
My "good friend" began to be a bit evasive after the accident, and it turned out to be because she had been driving without insurance. Things began to get a little ugly with her family when those medical bills started rolling in and so my dad ended up contacting an old friend who was an attorney. All I remember at the ripe old “adult” age of 17, is being so relieved that my parents and their friend swept me up and took care of everything. The lawsuit was settled as it should have been, and there were few ramifications on our end.
That high school friend of my parents was a gentleman by the name of Pat Tillman Sr. In 1996 when he came in and righted all of the wrongs that I had wrapped myself up in with my irresponsible youthful ignorance, I was eternally grateful. In 2004, my heart would be filled with a much different emotion as I watched the events unfold around the death of his son Pat Tillman Jr.
Because I wanted to avoid my government class, Pat Tillman Sr. helped bail my parents out of situation that could have had ugly ramifications. I think of him every year on this date, the anniversary of his son's death, and wish that someone could sweep in and save his family from their awful situation that has turned into an enormous eye opening tragedy. It is a story that still seems to be unraveling, and one that I watch closely with a heavy heart. There are times when I watch the news and feel so overwhelmed with the world that I have to turn it off. But every once in a while a story hits so close to home and I am forced to acknowledge that the world is so small that it hurts.
I'm thinking of the Tillman family today.
*If you are interested, A foundation has been set up in Pat Tillman's name to provide resources and educational scholarship support to veterans, active servicemembers, and their dependants. If you have been touched in any way by Pat's story, head over and see how you can contribute to his legacy.