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Monday, January 24, 2011

Young Death~A Tribute.

My tears fall so easily tonight, emotions that have been dormant for so many years have been rekindled. One week ago there was a tragic accident in our county. Four young, handsome, grabbing-life-head-on boys died when their car lost control on a small knob along a country road. They were all on the same football team. Just starting to live. Tonight there was a memorial service at a nearby church with more then 2,300 people in attendance. These boys were loved by many. They have brought together an entire town, an entire county for that matter. So young. I have no words.

However, I have a heart that understands and remembers so well the pain of young death. It was a sunny, September morning as I drove to school. A fresh 16 and the world was at my feet. The beginning of our Sophomore year, a whole year ahead of us. Passing an accident only a minute after it happened I said a prayer and couldn't get the picture of the wreckage out of my minds eye. A car smashed against a small four foot cement wall. No other vehicles.

Several hours later news began to travel through the school that our dear friend Anthony had been in an accident. We, his friends gathered together, prayed, cried, hoped. A few of us went to the hospital that night and fewer still got to see him. When I close my eyes even now, 16 years later, here at my kitchen table I can picture the room. I can hear the incessant beeping, see his Mom holding his hand, see the huge softball size welt on his forehead and one tiny scratch on his hand. I can see him seated upright in the hospital bed. I can see myself walking over to him and saying, "he looks good"....and he did. Nothing wrong from the outside looking in. He looked so peaceful, he looked so much like himself. Quickly we were ushered out of the room, left to cry alone in the elevator going down. The next morning he was gone. So many internal injuries, too many.

(Back in the days of 35 mm film. I only have a few pictures of him.
This was taken when a group of us went to the beach the Summer before he died).

He was born on my Dad's birthday, June 24th.
I met him when I was just a little girl wearing leg warmers and a matching headband. I was in 4th grade at a new school and walking down the hall came my first love....strutting was more like it!! Every Spring from 4th-8th grade we were the item. Of course, since Kirk Cameron was too far out of my league, I would have to settle for Anthony! Oh, the "check yes" notes we passed....too many to count! And then one day at recess he asked me if I liked him and I just stopped him in his tracks and laid a big one on first kiss behind the snack bar next to the softball diamond. I was 13. "I guess that's a yes" he replied!

(Claiming our seat next to one another for some random track and field picture. First row, far right, both in white t-shirts, you'll notice my lovely white hightops).

In high school we remained close friends, our options expanded and thus our love life as well. We still spent countless times together with so many mutual friends; hiking, camping, cliff/bridge jumping, (into water), playing soccer, dance parties, late night bonfires, roof top talks, you know, all that delicious stuff that makes up those fleeting high school years.

(Roaring fire atop Chickie's Rock with plenty of Turkey Hill Iced Tea of course)!

Except with him, it was only one glorious year. He turned 16 on my Dad's birthday and 3 months later he had died. He was so proud of his yellow Volkswagen Golf. And when I look back to those moments of passing his car accident, I can see the hand of God blinding my eyes to his one-of-a-kind vehicle. All I saw was a man, (later realizing it was his Dad who was following him to school) run up to the freshly crashed vehicle, slowly lift a limp head from the steering wheel and call out for help. And that is why the image stuck with me all morning long.....such desperation and sadness. I still cannot believe I didn't know it was him. I'm so thankful I didn't know it was him.

(8th grade. The front row jokers, Jon Hash and Anthony holding a flower)

He died the day before my Mother's birthday, September 7th. Four days later he was buried. Many of us met at my parents home and we walked together to the church, just a short stroll down a back country road. A sad procession of young, black clothed mourners.

(The first boys soccer game shortly after he had died with one player missing. We released yellow and black balloons from the middle of the field and all the players from both teams wore black wristbands in his honor. We made a HUGE sign that had been signed by all his friends. We celebrated that night with zeal and passion, just as he had lived life).

The days and nights that followed were filled with so many questions, some were found at the bottom of a bottle or the end of a joint, but mine were found during quiet nights at his graveside. For years I could see his grave stone from my bedroom window. The church where he is buried was that close to my home. Sometimes the moon would look like it was shining down a single ray on his grave and on those nights, if it was warm enough, I would walk up there and lay beside his grave in the moonlight. Sounds creepy. It wasn't. It was the closest I could get to him. I would close my eyes and just remember.

(Chilling in our tree along Zook Road~far right. For some reason a yearly tradition started, parties at Janelle's house. The entire class would come over and we'd play all day; eat hot ham and cheese sandwiches wrapped in tin foil, make our own ice cream sundaes, my Dad would give us a candy scramble and we'd just be kids. This happened every year of our elementary time together and even into high school. Throwing parties is still one of my favorite things to do).

For MANY years I would have very vivid dreams of him on that exact date, September 7th. My most favorite and deeply moving was the one where we were cliff jumping. There was a group of us taking turns. We would jump, swim to shore and then watch the others jump. When all of us had come to shore, it was his turn. He had his hat on backward, typical Anthony style. He backed up, ran with such force, speed and vigor. Out he went, away from the cliff wall, but he didn't fall into the water. He went up. Waving all the way.

I still cry thinking about it. That was him. Leaving in the middle of an adventure. He spent his one life well. He loved his Mom. He hugged generously. His older brother Mike was his hero. He didn't hold grudges. He could throw a mean punch. His Dad was his friend. He had the most precious birth mark on his cheek, that was huge when we were in 4th grade, (in my eyes), but by 10th grade had become much smaller and quite endearing. I sent letters to his parents for years, every September. Just to let them know I had not forgotten him. I've lost touch with them, much to my sadness. I think they moved down South. If you read this someday Phil and Sue, he's still alive in my heart, just as he is in yours.

(See that cutie in the middle? His name was Chris Cox. He's the one responsible for jacking up that picture of Anthony! Somehow I got placed next to these guys in the yearbook. {And for the record that hairdo took me 30 minutes to get right and it still looked crooked. Oh, the days of bangs!} Chris also lived a very short life and at his viewing, peeking out of his shirt pocket, was a picture of his best friend Anthony. They are together now. More on Chris's life someday).

I've wanted to write about Anthony for years now, but never found the right time. His life meant so much to me, still does. And even though the last time I saw him he was lying in a casket with a baseball cap and cowboy boots, he didn't stay there in my mind. He stayed in the memories; in the sunshine and candy scrambles, in the kickball games and the hidden-back-of-the-bus kisses, in the bike rides during the Summertime, (we lived only a few miles from one another and would meet up underneath the evergreen trees at the edge of our property~~not to DO anything, just to say we met up).

He remains fast on the soccer field and fearless through the forest trails, brave to those bigger then him and kind to the underdog. He remains in my sons eyes because I don't know how long I have them on this side. We are not guaranteed a long life and this I have learned the hard way. He remains in the crackle of firelight and the thump of cowboy boots, in a good country song and a muddy, dirty jeep. He remains clad in a weathered red baseball cap, faded cut off jeans, shirtless and sitting on a mountain bike flying down Zook Road, he remains.

Anthony Mark Freed
June 24th, 1979-September 7th, 1995

And this was not the beginning of young death for us, over the next 5 years I lost 5 more friends to tragic accidents. And they will each have their own post at some point in time. It's the least I can do.

"And now I'm glad I didn't know
The way it all would end the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance I could have missed the pain
But I'd of had to miss the dance."
~Garth Brooks, "The Dance" this song was played at his funeral~


Bess said...

OH Janelle...what a loss. :o(

Yes, the death of those boys stirs up a lot of emotions and memories of life gone too early. The childhood friend who died to drugs when I was in high aunt who died in a car accident almost six years ago and another aunt to a sudden heart attack. We've been to more funerals than we should be at our age, but how we love and learn and grow from all of this.

Love ya girl!!!

clarita said...

This is so touching, Janelle... Brings tears to my eyes reading this. Young death is such a tragic loss...

Lindsay said...

it would be cool to sit and talk to you some time about all of your friends who aren't on the earth anymore. i know you've had to say a lot of goodbyes... not wanted ones. thankfully i haven't had too many. but it would be good to hear and talk about their lives cause thats the whole point. they lived.

AmyK said...

Thanks for posting this, Janelle. I didn't know Anthony well, but I have a few very clear memories of him, of the day we'd heard he was in an accident, and of his viewing as well.

I remember noticing him a few random times in the hallway a couple of days before his accident: once by himself and once with Angie. I didn't usually notice him, but that week, for "some" reason, I did.

I often think of those guys from our class who died young.

Fan said...

I remember.

Esther@fleurcottage said...

...death too soon! and yet, is it? life is hard but God is good - even in our losses & the holes that never completely close, the memories that never go away. *hugs!*

chad said...

I remember that September morning like it was yesterday... 1st period personal finance class, where my good buddy Anthony had been occupying a seat right next to me for the first few weeks of the new school year... he wasn't here today... huh? my mind began to scramble all the pieces together... a slight panic hit me... it all began to click and I remembered now passing the scene of the accident... could it have been... naa... well maybe?? was that his car? why didn't I stop at the scene? maybe I could have helped?... and then, I can't remember if it was an announcement over the loud speaker that shocked us all or if word had just begun to spread throughout the school, of the news that it was Anthony who had been in an accident... he wasn't doing well... it was bad....
The days that followed where the saddest days I can remember in my young life. it wasn't like we were best friends, but close enough that I realized I had just lost someone very special in my life and it was really hard to understand why God had chosen to take him away from us at such a young age?? Wasn't there so much more that God could have accomplished though him by sparing his life?? Many of these same questions and emotions haunted me again just over a year ago when Jeff passed away at the age of 20, and although we'll never fully understand why God does things the way He does. We continue to trust in His Sovereignty and know that His mercy, strength, grace, peace, etc... will carry us though!

Thanks for the post Janelle. I loved the stories about your lives growing up together. It's because of a post like this we'll never forget about the ones that we've loved, even as the years past us by and our memories begin to fade (in our old age) ha ha!


Smokers in the Valley said...

What a touching post. I remember it all so well too. Anthony was the first boy I held hands with (haha). The other day when you posted on facebook all the others that had passed away I didn't even know about all of them. So sad. Two summers ago I had a good friend, a boy who was 17 that I'd met at work, pass away. He had a special place in my heart. It brings a new persepctive when you see life end when it was really just beginning...

Anonymous said...

beautiful written J!
isn't it amazing what can be learned through one's DEATH almost more then one's LIFE!
death is so hard, but yet we learn so much and it causes us to grow.

well spoken words on life & loss.

Anonymous said...

Janelle, thanks for sharing these memories. I am sitting here crying like I haven't cried in years about this. You have a powerful way of writing and capturing the emotions of it all, his amazing life, the way he touched all of us as his friends.
I vividly remember walking to his viewing from your house. I remember we walked slowly and silently, not really wanting to get there.
Love to you Janelle~

Anonymous said...

So very very sad and touching. I've never experienced the death of someone very close. (My Grandpa at 84 was the closest.)Sometime I fear going through the loss of a dear loved one, but I know there will be grace too. Melissa

Anonymous said...

I cannot believe the emotions your posting brought up- it has been years....My heart and prayers go out to the teens who are facing these emotions afresh! Thanks for sharing Janelle!

Angie M said...

Thank you for posting this and for the message you sent me the other day. You write so well and I do not:) But b/c this is so close to my heart I decided to attempt to convay my feeling/thoughts in this written format.
I too feel so deeply for the friends and family of the four boys who where killed, especially for the girlfriends and the parents. After my first child was born I thought of Anthony's death and wondered how Phil and Sue survived loosing their child!
I don't want to remember back to the exact day of Anthony's death because it still hurts too much.
I don't think you ever really recover from a death of someone you love, you learn to live life differently, life in the absence of them.
Anthony's life and death has had a huge impact on me, how I see the world and who I am today. He was my first love. Being with him was so fun!! He loved life! He also had a serious side that challenged me to view the world in a less black and white way (which is my natural tendency) and to see that there are some gray areas in life and to be less judgemental.
I am finally in a place where I can ask God "what" instead of "why". I know I will never understand why bad things happen but I can say "Ok God what are you going to do in this situation" I can look back now and see how He carried me through that dark time and how he surrounded me with amazing friends who I am still close with today. Through Anthony's death I have learned that it is ok to be angry with God, He can handle it, I have learned even when I don't see God He is there, and most of all I have learned He loves me deeper then I will ever know or understand. And I thank God for Anthony's life and for reveling Himself to me in Anthony's death.
I do have a funny memory of you and me making a baked good for Phil and Sue after Anthony died. We decided to make something we had never heard of before--biscotti. We followed the directions exactly and we were so disappointed when it came out hard and dry (we expected it to be more like cookies). We still took it to them and appologized for it being over cooked. They looked at us like we were crazy (apparently they knew what biscotti was:) Anyway, all that to say every time I see biscotti I think of you:) Thanks for being you!
PS Jen, Julie, Kristen and I were inspired by your dinner club and are starting one of our own in March!

elaine said...

Such a touching post!Thanks for sharing your experience.

Shar said...

A time in our lives that I will never forget...I love you.

Size5Jeanes said...

Thank you for posting this. I was wandering if I was the only one who cried a lot of tears this past week. This accident stirred up emotions and memories that I haven't thought of in a long time. It was a painful time. Not one that I enjoy remembering, yet that time period somehow shaped who I am today...I could go on for a long time....
I am so thankful for the wonderful friends that I had during that time.
thanks janelle.


Mark Buckwalter said...

thanks for your post.
As a mom, the reality of what happened seems so much more painful now than it even did in high school. After reading your post I had to go and squeeze each one and again say "I trust you God" with their futures.
thanks for reminding me again of his life..Anthony had actually come to my mind recently.

Mark Buckwalter said...

I did not feel i expressed myself very well the first time...
i think as a young teenager who did not know Anthony that well I experienced his death to a certain level but today as I thought of it from a mother's perspective there was a whole new reality that struck me. that was what I was feeling...the mother's loss of her son. and it hit me hard.
that is all...

Jill Stoltzfoos said...

Janelle- I came across your blog through Kara. I wasn't expecting to remember Anthony today! I too remember those days all too well, hearing the news,the hospital,the soccer game, his empty seat in Chemistry...a Sept 7th doesn't go by when I don't stop to remember Anthony,he was always so full of life. Thanks for writing about him and keeping his memory alive!

Krista K. said...

What a lovely tribute Janelle! I remember that time pretty vividly. I also passed his car shortly after the accident and spent the whole drive to school trying to figure out why I felt so terrible. Even though I didn't know Anthony that well, I still grieved like crazy for him, and everyone who loved & knew him. Also less than a year previous, I had lost my dear 7 yr old cousin Josh to a car accident. Needless to say the whole thing with Anthony that September brought all of that back.