“You want to arrest the clocks, stop everything for half a second, give yourself a chance to do it over again, rewind the life, uncrash the car, run it backward, have her lift miraculously back into the windshield, unshatter the glass, go about your day untouched …”
— Colum McCann,“Let the Great World Spin”
Dear 15-Year-Old Daughter:
The other day you remarked, “You are going to write your next column about Adir, right?”
“No,” I responded. “I am not going to write about Adir.”
It is not that I didn’t consider writing about Adir. In fact, from the moment you told me you had read a Facebook post that an 11th-grader at your school had died in a car accident, the writer in me automatically took mental notes of the events that transpired after his death.
I sympathized with Rabbi David Vorspan — New Community Jewish High School’s rabbi in residence — whose job title meant he had the unfortunate task of drafting the e-mail sent to the school community to advise us “that it is with deep sadness that I inform you of a terrible loss our school community has experienced with the death, last night, of Adir Vered. …”
I read the news on KTLA.com matter-of-factly reporting that a 17-year-old boy, who had his head sticking out of a car window and who was not wearing a seatbelt, was killed when the 16-year-old driver of that car crashed into a parked vehicle in a residential neighborhood in Porter Ranch.
I listened to the song that a classmate wrote in his memory, I admired the painting that your friend made of him for his family, and I registered the pain expressed by friends and classmates on the RIP Adir Vered Facebook page.
I empathized with Adir’s teachers and his classmates, who would have to spend the rest of the school year continually reminded of his loss by his empty chair.
And I thought a lot about the kid who was driving the car that night, who, in an instant, lost both a friend and his peace of mind.
I watched Hal Eisner, the Fox News reporter, interview Adir’s friends who flocked to the scene of his death. One distraught girl noted, “Sometimes he did reckless things, but you knew he was going to go far in life.”
Another choked-up student cried, “He brought something incredible to our lives. Going to school on Wednesday is not going to be the same for us because he is not going to be there.” And another student summed up what a lot of adults felt, but political correctness prevented us from saying out loud: “I’m just shocked and a little angry that he let it happen, that they all let it happen. It was just pure stupidity that killed him.”
Your father and I dropped you off at Adir’s crowded funeral less than 48 hours after his death, hoping you would come away with two things: that you are part of a community that supports its members through life’s triumphs and tragedies, and that there are no do-overs when it comes to death.
We wanted you to come home from your first (and I pray your last) funeral of a peer realizing that Adir inadvertently made a bad deal: He traded the chance to kiss his girlfriend, go to school, tease his sister, play ball with his brother, argue with his parents and to have a future for a brief moment of fun sticking his head out of a car window. Some trade.
All mothers strike an unspoken bargain with our children when they are born. We agree to change your diapers, have our stomachs marred by pregnancy stretch marks and breasts deflated from nursing, wash spit-up out of our hair, comfort you five times a night when you are cutting teeth, sing “Old McDonald Had a Farm” a trillion times, cook dozens of servings of pasta with butter, attend every play performance and school talent show (and provide courtesy applause when the other kids take the stage), suffer through the mean-girl phase, then the mean-boy phase, stay up with you until 1 a.m. because you “just remembered” you had a paper due the next day and spend tens of thousands of dollars to send you to college. And in exchange, we ask just one thing: Let yourself grow up.
We say there are other things — do your homework, clean your room, stop biting your nails — but really, when it comes down to it, we just want you to survive the teenage years.
So we beg you not to send text messages when you are walking across a parking lot, because we want you looking out for the teenage (and adult) drivers who are also texting. We tell you not to do drugs or drink, not because we actually care if you do it once or twice, but because there is no way of knowing whether you will be the kid who stops at once or twice, or the kid who doesn’t and then dies of alcohol poising or a drug overdose.
We advise you not to speed, to look both ways before you cross the street, to wear a helmet when you ride a bike and to wear your seat belt because we know we could never endure the “we regret to inform you” call that Adir’s parents received.
The reason I am not going to write this month’s column about Adir is because there is not much to say about a teenager who paid a staggering price for doing nothing more or less than what other teenagers often do:
He treated his life as though it were made of concrete and steel rather than the impossibly fragile thing that life is — a little bit of soul held together by a few heartbeats and a couple of breaths.
So instead, I am writing this letter to you with the hope that now that you are a witness to the potential consequences of one careless mistake, you won’t make a similar one of your own. And that while you are traveling down your own teenage road you will always remember our deal: I will continue to do all of the mom things for you. All you need to do is grow up.
Wendy Jaffe welcomes comments at email@example.com.