Thursday, May 13, 2010

Every 15 Minutes

Trying to put this into words is difficult, yet I have SO much to say on the topic of driving under the influence.  As my husband tells his students, the worst day of his life was sitting across from me and telling me my sister was dead.  That has to also be the worst day in my life, hearing those words.  I was 4 months pregnant with my own daughter at the time, my first, my baby.   When she entered high school and heard about the Every 15 Minutes program, she knew she wanted to be a part of the solution with her passion of educating people about the effects of alcohol and driving.  Today, was special, in many ways.  Ariel took on spearheading Every 15 Minutes as her Senior Project.  Since this is only offered to the Seniors and Juniors to witness, every other year, we were blessed with her involvement.  Amid her busy schedule between church, school, being editor of the yearbook, track, and being a teenager, she took on coordinating meetings, attending city council meetings, designing the t-shirt logos for Every 15, passing out fliers, talking to parents of students that will be involved, and seeking support from local public officials, the schedule of events,....  It's obviously a HUGE undertaking and it has to be done right because you hope everyone is affected emotionally.

A few weeks ago, she came home with the mock 911 tape they recorded with law enforcement officials.  I don't know the girl on the tape that called with a terrifying plea for help, but the voice could be any one of our children.  And I hope NONE of our kids ever have to really go through that real scenario.  I listened and cried.  And cried some more later.  I showed up at the school early and waited in the office while they set up the crash scene.  I looked out the windows of my husband's office and could see the tow trucks taking cars that were involved in real life collisions down to the staging area.  We were waiting for Mr. D to give the go ahead for his secretary to air the recording over the school's PA system in every classroom.  I headed down just before he gave the go ahead to show up and find kids already staged in the cars, photographers were there, many emergency personnel were already there, parents, friends, neighbors, the committee and administrators, and a few students.

The go ahead was given and I heard that scared voice again over the loud speakers.  The kids started trickling down, it wasn't a surprise, but they met the scene somber and quiet.  It wasn't fun.  It wasn't a game.  It was fake, but it was sad to think about how it could be real.  How it IS real.  How this happens every 15 minutes, at least.

I wanted to scream at this point.  I wanted to yell at all of the kids, "DO YOU SEE WHAT YOUR SELFISHNESS CAN DO!"  This drill was providing the necessary emotion, even better than anything I could say.  Just then my lips started to tremble, I felt the tears rolling down my face, my hands were shaking, and I even felt my heart go from cold to hot, to cold and hot again.  I felt flushed and I wanted to run but even my legs were trembling.  But I also couldn't take my eyes off of the kids.  They were being respectful and drawn in as well by the scene. 

The sirens were getting louder and the police were the first to show up on scene.  The accident was a head on collision with a truck and sedan.  In the truck was Alex(the driver), his female passenger next to him, and Brendan who had gone through the front windshield.  He was face down and his arms stretched out.  The emergency personnel didn't pay any attention yet, because they were focusing on the girl and another passenger in the other car that they might be able to save.   Their attention was on the sedan.  This car was also full of students.  The firemen pulled out their jaws of life to try to save them.  The grim reaper kept a quiet profile in the background.  There were crime scene investigators taking pictures of the dead boy and the scene.  The paramedics gave another Alex, the girl in the sedan that they pulled out CPR, and loaded her into the ambulance.  After the two students in the sedan were taken away with sirens, the coroner came for  Brendan.  His limp body was pulled back to reveal critical wounds and he was placed on the gurney.  Just before they pulled his body from the truck, I saw the coroner tearfully retrieve the gurney and blue velvet blanket they use to cover him.

Alex was submitting to a sobriety test on the side and arrested and taken away in the back of the squad car.  Alex possibly had the hardest role to play in this mock accident.  As the kids started to come down, I saw him start to really fall apart and wondered if he'd be able to carry out his role.  Imagine being a real murderer.  Insert some real honesty here:  IF you participate in or witness this program and still choose to drink and drive you SHOULD be charged with murder if you kill someone.   If Alex happens upon my blog, thank you for playing such an awful person.

The personnel dispersed and left the scene as Mr. D started to address the students.  He told them of his worst day, of my worst day.  He charged them with understanding their actions have consequences that they have no control over.  He talked about Alex and Brendan.  Brendan is a big guy, a football player, and he has a tattoo on his arm.  He asked the students that knew him, "What does it say?"  It seemed like half the students responded, "Family."  Family.

Everyone is then sent back to go about their business, which is difficult.  The school has counselors in the office to speak to students if they so need.  The rest of the day is usually much more somber and they're reminded as every 15 minutes the grim reaper will come and take a student out of class.  Tonight is a retreat for those students that have "died", and tomorrow will be a funeral to bring a close to the program.  The parents have been asked to write obituaries for their sons and daughters and read them.  This has been no easy task!

I headed back to my car to pick up Mr. D's black suit for the funeral at the cleaners.  On my way there and back, I was processing.  Processing a lot.  The sadness, the anger, and a few thoughts I have for a fellow alumni of mine that was recently arrested for DUI, and for classmates of my late sister that seem to still have much growing up to do.  I thought how easy it is for some people to get behind the wheel, yet, they would never "unfriend" someone on Facebook for fear of hurting their feelings.  Yet, they're gambling "unfriending" people permanently each time they get behind the wheel while intoxicated.  Never downplay ANY drinking and driving.  It IS a big deal.  It IS playing Russian Roulette.  I had wiped my face and cleaned up enough to head into the post office.  I was shipping off the last of Ariel's graduation announcements, and thinking just how proud I am of her hard work.  Grateful for the community that supports this program.  Grateful for the parents that teach their children not to drink and drive, and even better yet, not to drink at all.  Grateful for the leaders that fund raise for schools and kids programs and have the class to NOT involve wine and alcohol in their events.  Grateful to the drivers that phone in possible drunk drivers.  Grateful for the emergency personnel that respond to these scenes, VERY grateful.  Grateful for the 17 years, 362 days I had my sister here on earth.  And grateful for my husband and children and all of their love.


Denise said...

Jenne, that is an amazing project, and this is an amazing post. Absolutely beautiful.

Jeannie said...

I'm very touched by this program and the beautiful way you wrote about it. I'm involved in an alcohol/drug awareness program for our school district. It's at the hospital and lasts all day. Groups from all high schools in the area come 1-2 times a week all through the school year. Would love to share details with you sometime.