My brother and I raced up the steep hill. We were in a hurry because our friends were waiting for us. We’d spent a large amount of our last month of summer riding dirt bikes through the trails with our friends Robby and Mikey. Today, as we skid to a stop at their driveway a third person was with them. He was our age with light blond hair. Robby told us his name was Nick and he had moved into the neighborhood behind Otto. I noticed that Nick and my brother got along right from the start. It was nice to see. Together our little group of racers spent the rest of the summer on the trails, playing games and hanging out together. Despite not being at the same schools our neighborhood group spent most of our free time together. We took turns roaming from our woods, to the Vermillion’s, to the Eisele’s and the Welcher’s. We started out biking and playing tag type games. As we aged the games turned into kissing tag, capture the flag and tackle football. There are certain Van Halen and Def Leopard songs that when playing transport me to Nick’s house. And that Abracadabra song brings back graphic memories of Mikey dancing in his basement during one of our capture the flags games. As we aged into high school we began to drift into different groups. By the time the older kids were driving, our group no longer could call themselves a group anymore. We all still had a connection but maturity had packed it away into a treasured box keepsake. For many years I didn’t even think of Nick or our group. A few came out when Walter died, but the haze on that day keeps me from really remembering. I’ve heard from some since then that they didn’t even know about his death.
In 1998 my best friend from growing up was getting married. I was asked to be part of the wedding and I was partnered with Nick, the groom’s cousin. I hadn’t seen him in over 10 years and was a bit anxious. During the rehearsal I anxiously waited for him to come in. He was no longer the short, baby faced boy who teased us girls too much. He was tall and walked in with confidence. He smiled and walked right over to me and asked what we were supposed to be doing. Despite his insistence on being uninformed, he had a confidence and self assuredness that immediately put me at ease. When my parents first separated in 1983 Nick was one of the only people who would talk to me about it. We would sit in the tree fort and talk for hours. He asked the deep questions that others were too afraid to ask and he would listen to the answer. He was a true source of comfort during that time. It was this type of intensity he brought to the wedding. With his knowing eyes and earnest perception of who I really was it seemed very much like my brother was standing next to me again.
If I had known that the day of the wedding was going to be his last on earth I would have spent more time getting reacquainted. I would have tried harder to have one of those earnest talks we had as kids. But I didn’t know. It wasn’t until the next day that I found out that most of the wedding party had spent the wedding night into the following morning at the hospital where Nick was pronounced dead after a tragic car accident.
I remember the next day driving to the corner of Grand River Ave and Tecumseh River Drive. I remember seeing the etched tire tracks into the grass. I remember the broken glass. I had my wedding bouquet with me and placed it at the corner; creating a makeshift memorial. And I cried. I cried for the loss. And I cried for the loss of my brother, who wasn’t alive to watch his best friend get married. And I cried for two young men who grew up together and had their lives abruptly ended way before they should have.
Today, thirteen years later nothing is at the corner. The telephone pole sits askew but I couldn’t tell if it was from Nick’s accident or not. The neighborhood is perfectly quiet and peaceful; not knowing it holds the ghost of a tragic accident. My best friend and her husband still live on this street. Today they celebrate 13 years of marriage. Sometimes the streets of Lansing are an empty canvass that I explore anew. Sometimes, though, certain streets with the right seasons are pathways filled with decades of life, dreams, experiences and loss.
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