July 20, 1997

It was early in the morning when Mom woke me up. The summer sun was shining through the thin curtains giving the room an orange glow. The birds were singing and things seemed normal in my 5-year-old world. We would spend the day down at the lake with the family after going to brunch for my great-grandparents' 60th wedding anniversary. I turned away from the wooden cabin wall to face Mom. That's when I knew that something was wrong.

"Sweetheart, something happened," Mom whispered.

Sitting up, I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, not fully understanding what was going on. I could see Mom struggling to form what she was going to tell me.

What happened to make her like this?

"There was an accident..."

She stroked my hair softly as she told me that there was a car accident. My cousins, Shelly Calhoun, 14, and Luke Wilson, 16, had passed away while Shaun Calhoun, 18, was in critical care in the hospital. They had stolen my great aunt's car to go out and party. Fueled by alcohol and marijuana, they sped down the unlit road. They had missed a single curve in the road and then smashed into a tree.

The sound of the car hitting the tree along with Shaun's moans of pain could be heard over the lake's smooth surface. My Uncle Tom, who was down at the dock heard, everything. My great cousin, Buddy, was the first one of my family at the scene. He was out jogging and saw the ambulance. He thought nothing of it until he saw the license plate.

I didn't get the full story, all I was told at the time was that they crashed and Shaun was the sole survivor.

I could feel something inside me break.

Tears filled my eyes and it hurt to breathe. Passing away, death, these are words that I didn't yet understand.

Leaving my cozy little room, I could see the full extent of what my mom had told me. My great-grandmother was rocking in her old wooden rocking chair keening. Those errie wailings still huant my dreams today. Shelly and Shaun's father was on the phone with his ex-wife, telling her what happened to their children.

"Brenda, maybe this is the only way God could answer my prayer. Dying may have been the only way for her to be saved," he said of the stop to Shelly's defiant behavior.

My grandma was trying to keep herself busy by entertaining some longtime family friends. Luke's parents were nowhere to be seen.

My great-granddaddy was on the phone, "This is Paul Calhoun. We need to cancel our brunch. Two of our party are dead. Just dead."

Everyone was acting inconsolable.

"Where did they go?"

I couldn't wrap my innocent mind around what I was being told. How could someone simply not come home? I had just seen them that night. They wouldn't just leave us.

Shelly wouldn't leave me. She was my best friend. We were going to build sand castles, color pictures for the family, and she was going to read to me after dinner. Luke still needed to teach me his fishing tricks.

I was starting to become overwhelmed. A question burned in my mind.

"What are they going to do with their stuff?"

They didn't bring it with them. They left forever and they didn't bring anything with them. They need clothes, books, their fishing poles, the pictures I made for them. I don't understand.

"Why couldn't I say good-bye?"

That question caused everyone around me to break.

It was in that moment when I realized that adults didn't have all the answers. They were just as filled with grief and pain as I was. We were all struggling with a simple fact.

They had died.

Soon the stress became too much for me to handle. A small group, including Mom, took me to McDonald's for food and to get away from the darkness that hung over the family. As we walked under the golden arches into the warm comforting restaurant, the small sad group tried to act as though nothing happened. They talked about small meaningless things that were chased by strained laughter. As we ate, the stress and misery of the day turned into a haunting numbness. The rest of the day became a blur.

A few days after the crash, most of my family went to the curve where it happened. Luke's parents hung wind chimes above the gash in the tree while Shelly and Shaun's parents lit three candles. My great-grandaddy, who was a minister at the time, lead us all in prayer.

Once our vacation that was filled with heartbreak had ended, I found a beanie baby while Mom and I waited for the plane. It was a little black lab with a checkered bow around it's neck that I wouldn't release from my grieving clutches. My mom bought it for me just wanting to see me smile again.

As we were sitting on the plane waiting to take off, my mom asked, "What's his name?"

"Luke," I answered looking on the inside of the heart shaped tag for the first time.

I could see Mom's demeanor change. Her shoulders slumped and she tilted her head as she stared at me. Her jaw hung open as she took my new favorite toy from me, looking it over.

"What is it Mom?"

"Your cousin Luke... had a black lab," she choked as tears welled in her brown eyes.

When we got home, back to the now bare reality outside of vacation, things were different. That day changed my entire family. We no longer when to church every Sunday. I woke up crying most nights, talking about "the bad place." Meals with the entire family were fewer and tense. Shaun, the accident's sole survivor, left the family, feeling the guilt of losing his little sister. His parents tried to help him get through it, but he refused.

Family, no matter how tough the times get, will always be there for each other. We still try to connect with Shaun, these attempts have showed that we still love him. Everyone makes mistakes, his lead to death. Drinking while intoxicated can only lead to pain and suffering.

Fifteen years later, there are still scars left from that fatal car accident. Death cut pieces from our lives that will never be restored.