I’m writing this now on the advice of my therapist who thinks I have unresolved issues relating to several friends deaths in my teens. He thinks writing it all down will help with my anxiety attacks. Sharing it publicly is my choice.
August 15, 1989 started out like any normal summer day. We had a few weeks until school started, all my friends were turning 16 and getting our licenses and life was generally good.
Michelle and I worked together at the Whataburger on 35 and Toepperwein and spent most of our free time together that summer. Michelle had turned 16 the day before and gotten her license. Her father was giving her a car for her birthday that day and they picked up the 1981 Brown Ford Escort at noon. We were planning a drive to Devine with Nathan Wallace to see her boyfriend Bowen Wallace. Unfortunately our boss would not let both of us take the day off, so I stayed behind.
That evening as I was sitting in my room I heard my mother call out to me from her bedroom. The 10 o’clock news had just started. I ran to my mother’s room and she asked me what Michelle’s first name was because she knew it was an unusual name and that Michelle went by her middle name. I responded “Chloe” and my mother blurted out that she was dead while pointing at the television.
I turned in time to see the EMT’s rolling a gurney towards an ambulance and saw an image that still haunts my dreams to this day. Michelle had a pair of Keds that she loved and wore all the time. They were decorated with billiard balls. The gurney was covered with a yellow blanket, but on one end a single foot stuck out from under the blanket bouncing as the EMT rolled the gurney to the ambulance, the foot had on a Ked decorated with billiard balls. That’s when I lost it!
Everywhere I looked around my house I saw Michelle. She had only been there the night before. The hardest part for me was my cat Prissy. She was all white and adored Michelle. She would jump in Michelle’s lap everytime she came over and Michelle would kiss the top of her head. Prissy had a pink stain on the top of her head from Michelle’s lip gloss and everytime I saw her I started crying all over again. Finally my mother gave me a Valium and called our manager at Whataburger Angela to ask if I could stay with her for the night. I really don’t remember much after that of the next 24 hours. Michelle was pronounced dead at the scene at 4:44 PM, just short of 5 hours after picking up her car. The story was all over the news the next day, “Girl, 16 killed 5 hours after receiving car for birthday”.
This was my first experience with a death that was so close to me. It took a long time for me to be able to think about Michelle without crying and to this day, 20 years later, when I think of her I feel an ache in my heart. I keep her name tag from Whataburger in my jewelry box along with a barette, that’s all I have of her.
The night of her funeral, August 18, was the first (of many) times my best friend Kris snuck into my room in the middle of the night and held me as I cried myself to sleep. He was there for me when I didn’t feel anyone else was and I credit him with giving me the strength I needed to make it through.
For a poem written about Michelle, click here
The verse used for her services was an abbreviated version of Safely Home:
I am home in heaven, dear ones;
Oh so happy and so bright!
There is perfect joy and beauty
In this everlasting light.
All the pain and grief is over,
Every restless tossing passed;
I am now at peace forever,
Safely home in heaven at last.
There is work still waiting for you,
So you must not idly stand;
Do it now, while life remains,
You shall rest in God’s own land.
When that work is all completed,
He will gently call you home;
Oh, the rapture of that meeting,
Oh, the joy to see you come!