The Wreck That Saved My Life
In the startling, disembodied moments after impact I remember thinking, well, that wasn’t so bad. The next thing I remember was hitting the pavement. As I would woozily realize while people began appearing over me, asking one another whether I was okay, my body had been thrown into the air, where it sailed over the roof of the station wagon, and I had been too stunned to understand that I had not yet regained contact with the ground. When it came, this contact knocked the air from my lungs. I remember that as I struggled for air; my friend Seth, at 16 merely a year older than I but ever wise beyond his years, told the hovering adults to give me space.
The instinct to isolate specific moments in order to designate a “before” and “after” is almost certainly a reflection not of the inherent meaning of such moments but of one’s state of mind at the time of designation. But given this human tendency to compartmentalize, to structure the world by chapters, this wreck surely marked the beginning of my own personal anno Domini.
I met Seth B. in my freshman year of high school. None of my friends from middle school had chosen Franklin, a school south of downtown Seattle to which I had to be bused, and so my social life had once again become a blank slate — the third time in nearly as many years. I’d moved to Seattle from Maine as a fifth grader, then from grade school to middle school a year later, and then finally to begin eighth grade elsewhere still: all transitions that stripped me of whatever social capital I’d amassed. Perhaps like most kids through the turbulent years of adolescence, my approach to making friends had become highly malleable, or rather, I had become malleable, impressionable, eager to pick up on the habits of people who showed interest in me. I wanted to make that interest stick, and mimicking their likes and dislikes seemed like the quickest route.
Seth and I took the same bus to and from school, but would get on or off at different points, depending on the day. He was the first person I’d ever known whose parents were divorced; this fact was, to my eyes, exotic. It made him seem mature. Seth seemed more adult in other ways, too. He…