Close your eyes and picture this. It’s the beginning of June in the early nineties, seven in the morning and the air is warming up. Two kids — he twenty-two, she twenty-one, driving too fast in a red Lancia Delta, on a freeway toward the Mediterranean. One minute they’re singing out loud to a song on the radio, the next minute the car is upside-down on its roof. The boy’s skull is cracked open like a coconut fallen from too high a palm tree, the girl is standing there, her leg open from knee to ankle, staring at her Think Pink sweatshirt speckled with their blood and fragments of his brain.
Open your eyes now. That girl is me, twenty-two years ago almost to the day.
Even though the boy was the one driving, it took me years to get over the sense of guilt that came with having survived – he was an only child, my parents would have had my sibling. He knew what he wanted to do in life, I was still sorting things out.
I was angry, too. At myself, for having failed to prevent the accident—I knew he was driving too fast, we’d had that discussion many times before. At him for having, you know, abandoned me. How dared he.
Eventually the scars on my body began to fade, the ones inside, on some days, are still red and sore. A reminder of the things I lost that day and of the ones I learned. The nightmares, with time, have become fewer and farther in between. There has been, is, good coming out of this. Really.
The biggest lesson I learned is that you cannot rely on the knowledge that someone, anyone, will be there for you tomorrow. Or be there at all. Hell, you might even not be there in five minutes. And that, you see, puts you in charge of what happens in your life right now, holds you accountable for what doesn’t, too. Much as you cannot buy happiness, you cannot outsource it either. It’s your responsibility.
Responsibility is a big word, isn’t it? We are raised with the idea that we must, eventually, become responsible. And responsibility, in general, is directed outward, away from you. You owe it to others to be productive and reliable, available and willing. Smiling, patient, caring, kind. You must learn to recognize other people’s needs, preempt them even, and fulfill them because, you know, that’s what a good person does. You must conform to what’s expected of you, because that’s what a good member of society does. And because in the long run it’s easier, you do conform, and begin to confuse what’s expected of you with what you want. What you have, with what is essential to you.
But, you see, we’re only here for a moment. The long run might not be so long after all. And nothing, ever, is permanent or guaranteed.
You might not get a chance for a do-over, you know. You might not get to do all those things that you keep postponing until the time is just right. You might not get to say those words that right now seem so frightening, or explore those avenues that look so impractical.
You might not get to write that song, tell someone what they really mean to you, start that project, or just walk along the streets of that city.
Do it now. It’s scary, but close your eyes, take a deep breath and go for it. It’s your responsibility to yourself.
Your job will be there tomorrow, if not the one you have today, a different one. The car you drive doesn’t really matter, you can always take the bus. The clothes you wear, they all end up the same, worn out. Everything is replaceable, your life is not.
Just do it.