HBO is running a documentary called, "There's Something Wrong with Aunt Diane." The piece documents the story of the 2009 Taconic State Parkway accident in which Diane Schuler, 36, drove the wrong way on the parkway and ended up killing herself, her daughter, three nieces, and the three men in the SUV that she hit, head-on.
In the documentary, Schuler's husband, Daninel, and his sister-in-law are determined to find out what really happened to Diane. When the autopsy revealed through a toxicology report that she had what essentially amounts to 10 drinks inside her system, and high levels of THC (marijuana use), Daniel didn't want to believe that those indicators were the cause of the crash. He maintains that his wife would have never driven a minivan full of children under the influence of any kind of drug or alcohol. Daniel and his sister-in-law enlist the help of private parties to rerun the toxicology report which only reveal the same findings. No one wants to believe that Diane got in the car drunk and high. They don't find the answers they're looking for, and they probably never will. Big Red caught the end of the film with me, and we ended up talking about death, unanswered questions, and our shared belief that visiting the headstone of a loved one at a cemetery is useless.
In the summer of 2003, Big Red's younger brother, Mike, died in a car accident. We were living in California at the time, and I was the one home to get the phone call. I was also the one who had to tell Big Red that his brother was gone. In the days that followed, a blur of phone calls arranging plane tickets and buckets of tears, there seemed to be a number of lingering questions, specifically: how did this happen? As far as we know, Mike had been at a party the night before and got up early that Saturday morning to go home. The last thing he said to anyone was, "I got to go where I got to be." He got into his maroon Chevy Blazer and drove the winding roads he had driven for the past decade. Roads he knew like the back of his hand. So when he came to a bend, one that would lead him right and underneath railroad tracks, the underpass as familiar to him as any other bend, we were all left wondering why he never made the turn. Why did his car go straight into the cement wall?
His was a head-on collision, and he wasn't wearing his seat belt. The so-called black box recovered from his car showed that brakes were applied and that he was going no faster than 38 mph. What we were later told was that had he been wearing his seat belt, or had he hit another car, he probably would have been banged up, but he certainly would have survived. Because he hit a cement wall, the entire force of the impact was absorbed by his body, specifically his sternum and thus, his heart. It was just too much. Mike was airlifted, but arrived dead at the hospital. He was just 25.
The documentary brought up our dormant questions over Mike's car accident. We both expressed being frustrated at not knowing what happened, and how much we wish we could know. See perhaps, from a birds-eye view what went down. We also both agreed that going to the cemetery wasn't something either of us cared to do, ever again. It was not comforting to see a headstone with Mike's name and dates. It wasn't him. People talk about going to "visit Mike" and that's something we both don't understand. Mike isn't at the cemetery. He's not even in the ground. His bones are there, but he isn't. All the qualities that made Mike who he was aren't in the block of marble or the grass beneath our feet. His spirit, his life - those are gone. While we would never fault those who take comfort in cemeteries, Big Red and I agreed that we'd much rather remember Mike through stories and pictures, not as bones in the ground.
Mike sneaks up on me in quiet moments. There are times when the thought of him will pop into my head and I'll wonder what if he was still around? What would our lives be like? Would he visit us at our house a lot? Would he have been out to visit us while we still lived in California? The questions come like a barrage that can't be stopped. Sometimes I'll try and fill in the blanks and imagine the answers. I smile at my forged scenarios, but mostly it makes me sad. Not sad in a hysterical kind of way, those days have passed. Just a simple sadness, a twinge of wishing that luck/fate had been on his side that day.