birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.


This is how it happened a long time ago in Tennessee.

I was at the wheel of my dad's coaching car - the coaches always got loaners from car dealerships in hopes of tickets. I got to drive to the Student Council Camp outside of Nashville - a whole three hours from Knoxville on 1-40.

I was sixteen.

I drove Jean and Cathy to the camp. We were really good girls. They were going to be sophomores and I was going to be a junior. We were off to learn about how to be good student leaders - a kind muddied down co-ed version of Girls State, although I never went.

How our parents agreed to let us drive three hours to Nashville from Knoxville I'll never know? I was the one driving. Cathy and Jean didn't have licenses yet.

At the end of the leadership camp, two kids, Janie George and her boyfriend, Nathan, wanted a ride back to Knoxville.

It would put five kids in the car instead of three and they were seniors - they were older. They said they would pay me five dollars each in gas money.

This seemed fair, and it would make the ride more interesting on the way home.

We were Catholic kids but Janie and Nathan went the public school.

Four girls and a boy, but Janie had claimed Nathan, and he was cute in that John-John Kennedy messy, not preppy, kind of way. He had no interest in me so it was easy to glance at him in the rear view mirror.

I glanced too often, and this was how it happened.

We pulled off in Crossville forgetting that Cookville was the land of Wendy's, McDonald's, and Burger King. Crossville was rolling farmlands, hay bales and empty country roads.

So all four said, "Turn around turn around - there is nothing here. We're hungry."

So I glanced in the rear view mirror at Nathan, because he was annoyingly handsome, and I pulled off the road carefully - it seemed to be such an empty road - and without thinking, I pulled out again to do a U-turn to go back to where there was food.

But what I didn't see or even look to see was a lady in pickup truck heading straight towards us. She smashed into the front left wheel of my dad's loaner coaching car.

She hit the front corner of the car so hard it knocked the wheel off its axle and rendered the car undrivable.

Miraculously, no one was hurt. Not a scratch. If she had hit us any sooner or later, one of us or more would have been terribly hurt.

I remember her crying. I scared her to death. She was blonde and driving a pickup. She looked like a mom.

After the accident, we divided into Catholic and Public camps. Me, Cathy, and Jean ignoring Janie and Nathan due to that wreck, which was my fault.

And I was filled me with such shame I didn't really care that Nathan was handsome in that offhand kind of way.

Amazingly, Cathy's dad had a wrecker service in Knoxville, so he drove over 100 miles to get us. We sat for hours in some parking lot in Crossville, waiting for him to come tow the car.

It was hot, and we were student leaders. I was the vice-president of the student body at Knoxville Catholic.

I had nearly gotten us killed - and no one had been drinking or smoking or anything. It was just dumb distraction.

My parents were so angry until they saw the car. They realized how close it had come to hurting all of us, and it was entirely my fault.

My mom made me get a job flipping hamburgers to pay the deductible. The day after the wreck, I found a five dollar bill in the mail box from Nathan. He'd left a note saying it was gas money.

And that was all.

Did I ever tell that lady in the pickup I was sorry? I can't remember. It seemed like she was too distraught, and I was too frozen in horror at what I'd done.

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