I’ll never forget that night, although for years it’s all I prayed for: to forget, until life or God or the devil made me see that those kinds of prayers don’t work. There is nothing and no one that can erase what’s been done—like mowing down a young boy on a bike on the night of your high school graduation.

I grew up in a small town in “fly-over country.” My graduating class had 33 people in it. It made for a short ceremony and an impossible dating life. I wasn’t the best student, so the fact that I managed to graduate was a huge deal. The day started out sunny, but by the time the ceremony was over and the BBQ back at our house was done, it was misting. My buddy Bobby had organized a late-night party at a local quarry. So, I hugged my mom, promised my dad I’d be safe, and hopped into my Jeep.

I can still see the scene in my mind as if I’m watching it. There was a curve in the road, which was kind of desolate. I came around it as I always did, only this time there was a dark figure in the path. I slammed into him before I knew it was a person. His bike folded like a hanger and got tangled in my front axle. I couldn’t tell what he looked like, because he was swollen and bleeding so badly, but I could see he was small, like my younger brother. I bent down beside him and started shaking and then screaming, “Help!” at the top of my lungs.

I was going to run to the only light I could see down the road, but my knees were wobbling so badly I wasn’t sure I could. Then a truck came around the corner, slamming its breaks and swerving when it saw us. A guy jumped out and ran over to help. But he was back at his truck before I could say anything. I could hear him on a walkie-talkie shouting out where we were. When the police came, they tried to pull me away, but I couldn’t stop staring at the boy’s lifeless body. I kept telling myself this wasn’t happening, that I was still me and not a killer. But the black bag they put him in said otherwise.

I was a nobody—just some nondescript kid from some nondescript town with a nondescript life—but it was a good life, in a good town, and I was a good kid. Only I wasn’t anymore. Even though the accident was ruled not my fault, I still couldn’t escape the reality that I took someone’s life—an eleven-year-old boy’s at that, one who was visiting his grandparents from out of town…grandparents my family and I knew, everyone in my town knew. I mean, how do you live with that? How do look all your neighbors in the eye anymore? How do you wake up the next day and make coffee as if everything’s the same? The routine of normal life felt like an insult to the boy’s memory—and not punishment enough for me. Just because the law says you’re off the hook (which it did for me in this case), doesn’t mean inside you are.

I joined the Marines soon after. I figured at least there I’d be with others who had “legally” killed. I saw a lot of killing in Afghanistan and Iraq after 3 deployments—the worst of what human beings do to each other. And I was a part of it. Sometimes I struggle to get my head around those memories, but the one my mind won’t let me stop seeing is that of the little boy and the bike. I don’t know which is worse: continuing to see it or forgetting it?

Next Vignette: Twilight

Read Here