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Topic: Peer Pressure (07/05/04)
TITLE: I Dream of 16
By Brenda Kern
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It's not surprising, really--I have this dream all the time.]
I'm 16, and it's the night of the big Homecoming Game. I'm in the band, and we had practiced for weeks on the halftime routine, which looked like shifting shapes from the stands. It went off well, and we all felt like celebrating-no more frigid practices before 9 in the morning...in Kansas...in November. Freedom!
[I stir slightly in my sleep as the dream moves from the stands to the parking lot behind the optimistically named "stadium." My forehead burrows into a frown, because I am helpless to do anything more than witness the replaying of the same dream, the same memory.]
"The Burger Zone, everybody?" Rex boomed.
I remember glancing at Stacy, my best friend. Since my car was in the shop, she was my ride for the evening. She nodded with a grin, as I knew she would. She had been nursing a crush on Rex for two years now, and if she had knowledge of where he'd be, she would show up there, too. And I wanted to go, anyway-it sounded like a lot of fun.
The Burger Zone didn't offer "seating," so you would walk back to your car with your paper-bagged purchases and eat in the parking lot, radios all set to the one pop music station we could receive in our small town, all blaring.
The new guy, Tim, and Rex were conspiring about something, obviously, then Rex made an announcement with exaggerated flair. "This evening, ladies and gentlemen, we are pleased to provide extra special...refreshments for all!" With that, Tim opened the trunk of his car to reveal several cases of beer. Nearly the whole gathering whooped and surged forward...including Stacy.
I caught her eye and looked at her doubtfully-she was only 16, too, and I knew she didn't drink. She retrieved a can and said to me quietly, "I'll only open the can and act like I'm drinking it. Don't worry."
Someone suggested that the party move to the rock quarry at the edge of town, where we could go skinny dipping, if we dared. I trusted Stacy, and I walked to her car without worry.
[My dreaming, adult self is muttering now: "No, don't. Not the car. Not tonight. Don't!"]
The sixteen-year-old girl I was should have worried, should have hesitated. At some point during the evening, I guess while I was in the bathroom or distracted in some way, Stacy did indeed drink some beer, two or three cans. That, plus her super-petite five-foot frame, plus the fact that she hadn't eaten all day (a new crash diet she was trying) added together to disaster.
As Stacy's compact car crested a hill, she saw the two vehicles already tangled up in front of us, but she was going too fast to stop in time. She did manage to swerve and almost completely miss the wreckage, but the slight impact with the heavy pickup's rear bumper, combined with our speed and the loose gravel in the shoulder, made our accident inevitable.
The car first pitched over onto the passenger side, then its roof, then back to the passenger side again before righting itself and coming to a stop near the bottom of the roadside embankment.
I was "lucky," I guess you could say, because I stayed inside the vehicle. Stacy became a human projectile, and I lost my best friend that night.
[As always, at this point in the dream, I shed a few more tears of mourning for Stacy.
And for myself.]
Mercifully, the dream blurs, as reality did that night, and I sleep through the rest of the night without incident.
Upon waking, with two hours of strenuous effort and with help, I am up, dressed, have cared for my hygiene needs, and am seated in my wheelchair for the day.
The steps I took to Stacy's car twenty years ago were the last I ever took, or ever will take, in all likelihood. Of course, the news was devastating, but my faith and the many prayers for me combined to bring me through the darkest days immediately after the accident.
The terrible irony about my story is that I didn't experience my injury because of so-called "peer pressure"-Stacy wasn't "pressured" to drink at all, in the classic sense.
But she gave in, just a little...
July 8, 2004