TW: themes of suicide, child loss, grief, swearing.
Dear Avery Family,
There are no words How are you? I’m sorry It has been 1,819 days since both of our lives were shattered. This is the last letter I will ever write, and I am writing it to you.
I am writing to you because I need you to know that Andrew did not kill your son.
I have carried this guilt around with me for nearly five years, and now with the anniversary approaching, I can feel the energy building up again. Every year I am ripped apart by grief and guilt, and this year it has finally reached a tipping point.
This will be my last letter, and I am writing it to you, Mr. and Mrs. Avery, because I have thought of you every single day for the last 1,820 days. I suppose I should have written you earlier, and I am sorry for that, but I think we can both agree, if this letter had come any sooner, it would have been too soon for us all. It still might be too soon.
Does grief ever lose its potency?
With these words being my last, I won’t leave any
unsaid unwritten. I have envisioned myself coming to you in person with these words many times – it has become my new recurring daydream, which has been a welcome reprieve from the previous nightmarish ones – but when you have made the kind of life-altering mistake that I have made, guilt holds your tongue firm, and fear roots your feet deeply. And so, as cowardly as it may be, I am hiding behind pen and paper, hoping I make it through this without smearing the ink.
I know you think Oliver’s death was Andrew’s fault. (I want you to know I have always referred to him by name, and ensured everyone who talked about the accident knew it. I never let anyone forget him). Andrew was the one driving, and so it would seem a logical deduction to put the blame on him. And over the years I have done little to refute this.
Can you blame me? No one wants to be responsible for something as horrible as this. It is time that I clear his name and tell you the truth: it was not entirely his fault, and I’ve let his name be tarnished for too long.
There were a lot of things that had gone wrong that night, but it started with my silence.
My silence is what killed your son. And my Andrew.
I should have said something. I want you to know that I know that. I knew it then, and I know it now, and I’ve spent the last five years of my life regretting the words I kept to myself. Sometimes we fool ourselves into thinking that words are hurtful or embarrassing or simply unnecessary. That words left unsaid are better than choosing the wrong ones. But I know now that a stifled comment can be destructive and violent and murderous…It can be life-changing.
I imagine you might not remember me, as I was not the main offender of your story as Andrew was, nor was I the source of your loss, your beautiful child, Oliver. I was merely a piece in this fucked up puzzle, a domino tipping over the tile before the final collapse. It would have been easy to remain a shadow in this tragic story, but soon I will be a ghost and have no need for a shadow.
am was Andrew’s girlfriend fiancé. My name is Amanda. We met once that night, and I attended Oliver's memorial service. But I hid in the back, unsure if I would be welcome. I wouldn't blame you if you don't remember me.
When people remember the accident, they talk about Oliver. The tragedy of his death. He was too young. He did nothing wrong. You were in the wrong place at the wrong time. They remember his talent for soccer, his dreams of becoming a professional race car driver, his honesty and loyalty to his friends, his straight A report cards, the bright future ahead of him.
Of course, they do. You raised a beautiful and smart and good person.
But do you know what they say about Andrew when they remember the accident? The night it’d happened, there were so many whispered slurs: Drunk asshole; piece of shit; idiot kid; got what he deserved; murderer.
Did you know that I am the only one who replenishes his flowers at the memorial site?
People had apologized for my loss to my face and then turned around and slandered it. My grief was silenced before I had a chance to realize it. Before the doctors even told me he hadn’t made it.
I do not mean to make myself the victim; maybe I got what I deserved. I don’t mean to suggest that my grief compares to yours in any way. That’s not what I’m meaning to do, here, I promise. What I mean to say is neither of us deserved to lose anybody that night, Mr. and Mrs. Avery. And Andrew didn’t deserve to be remembered as someone he wasn’t. As a monster.
Andrew was a good person. Just like your Oliver.
The worst night of your lives started out as the best night of ours. That evening, we were celebrating. Andrew had just received his acceptance letter into medical school. And after having taken a year off from school, he was elated to finally be setting his future on its path. He was just a summer away from attending John Hopkins.
But that wasn’t the only thing we were celebrating that night. With Andrew’s future finally aligning, and with our first drink already warming our skin, he’d proposed. We were going to get married.
We’d spent the evening painting our future together, toasting to every goalpost we’d planted in our future: I’d move out with him to Baltimore when I graduated; we’d buy a house, adopt a dog. We wanted children… We’d picked out names. Charlie, for a boy. Charlotte, for a girl.
So, when we left the restaurant that night, it wasn’t that we weren’t thinking of the future. We were. We just weren’t thinking about anyone else’s. We were love-drunk, enamored by the events in our lives that were to come, high on the idea that our future was absolute. Or what we’d thought were to come. We felt invincible. It never occurred to us life would happen so differently.
The last kiss Andrew ever gave me was on the sidewalk outside The Gathering Post – did you ever take Oliver there? – beneath the tiki lights and moonlight. When his lips touched mine, I’d smelt the rum heavy on his tongue, and when he’d whispered, I love you, Future Mrs. Andrew Wilson, I’d heard the slurry of his slippery words.
The keys were already in his hand. I know, because they’d dug into my palm when I reached out to hold his chilled hand. All I had to do was hold onto that ring of brass metal. I’ll drive, could have been the words to save your son’s life. And my future husband’s… But I’d held onto them, instead of the keys. I’d ignored the little pinch in my stomach that told me to think twice, numb by my love for a man whom I did not think capable of what was to come, even in his condition.
So many things could have been different. Had Andrew applied a year earlier like most people did, he might’ve been in Baltimore that evening, far away from you and your family. Had that evening been years in the future, Andrew might’ve been a doctor that could have saved your son… Had we stayed out a little later, or gone home a little earlier…. Had I insisted on driving or getting an Uber… Had he not sped up a little to make the yellow light three blocks further up the road… Had I asked him to pull over after he’d swerved a little too far into the next lane… Had we not decided to take the long way home… We’d thought it would be safer; we thought we’d avoid police, but maybe the police was what we’d all needed. There were so many things that could have gone differently, and I have gone through the details of that night over and over and over again, willing time to turn back so I could influence the past.
But those are all just excuses. It was me; it was my fault. I know this now. If I had said something, just two words, both of our lives would be different. We’d be whole and thriving people, rather than the ghosts of the people we once were, a hollow bodysuit of someone we don’t even recognize anymore.
Is that how you feel, too?
As the anniversary of the accident approaches, I am driven mad by those words: I’ll drive. They play over in my head like a scratched CD, before they’re erupted by that god-awful sound of metal clashing and glass breaking. I don’t even remember the sound of my own scream, just the clatter of the impact and the screeching of tires. I’ve tried everything, turning up music to max volume, sleeping with noise machines, screaming until my lungs hurt. Still…
I’ll drive, I’ll drive, I’ll drive, I’ll drive, I’ll drive…
I won’t be haunted by these words anymore.
What’s the point of surviving a tragedy like that only to be tormented forever? But before I go, I needed you to know the truth; I needed to confess to you, so that maybe one day you can think of Andrew without blaming him. And I needed you to understand the power of your words. If there is anything for any of us to learn here, it is this:
Use your words, Mr. and Mrs. Avery. Don’t second guess yourself, or convince yourself you are being silly, or there will be another time for them. Say what you need to say, all of it, all of the time.
You could save a life.
I didn't use my words when the two people we loved the most needed them,
and I hate myself for it. so I'm leaving you with three pages of words that I know cannot make up for the ones I didn't say. And while these aren't the two words I should have said, and they have no power to change anything, these are the only ones I have left:
I'm sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Avery. I'm the reason your son died that night, and I'm so sorry.
And when I see Oliver, I’ll be sure to tell him, too.