The Guilt and Fear that Follow Death

I stopped talking to my friend Erin Myers because I was embarrassed of her.

We were going to the mall together, and she wore a sleeveless denim jacket and a hat decorated with a large sunflower. This was also the year she played trumpet in the band, a fact that significantly lowered her social status at Petal High. I was terrified of being seen with her.

Somehow Erin detected it.

This particular afternoon when I asked her to stop at my mom’s work for just a minute, she let me out and drove off. I was confused and figured she must’ve misunderstood. We didn’t have cell phones back then, so I had to wait for a couple of hours before I called her. When she answered the phone, I asked what happened.

“If you’re ashamed to hang out with me, I don’t want you around me,” she said.

“Okay,” I said, and I hung up on her.

It was the easy-out I’d been looking for. Now I didn’t even have to feel guilty for not wanting to be friends — she was practically the one who cut it off. Phew.

One month later, Erin was driving with a friend and pulled in front of an 18-wheeler, dying on impact. The next day the newspaper published a photo of her in a band uniform with the headline “Teens’ deaths sting deeply.” I remember looking at the paper, trying to read it in a way that would mean Erin was still alive.

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