There are moments in life that define you; moments that form your character and chisel you from the concrete slab. Moments that reveal the real you, show you your real name. It is a test, a trial and the beginning of new life and perspective. I have had such a moment. It came my second semester freshman year in the spring of 2008. It was when I was hit by a drunk driver. It was when Annie McLeod passed away.
I was taking a study break. There was an anthropology test on Monday night, and I had six chapters to cover. My roommates were going to a small get-together for someone's cousin's after-prom party. I had no desire to go, but my friends promised it would be fun. My eyes tired from blank stares at the tiny print, so I reluctantly agreed. I volunteered to drive.
Because my Wrangler was too small and because there was no gas, Sarah offered her car. She drove a brand new Acura; I did not object. We drove from campus to Cape Cottages where Sarah's friend Annie, the hostess, lived. I remember that it was raining. When we arrived, all of the proper introductions took place. I met Annie McLeod, a bright 22-year-old with a welcoming smile. After just minutes we had become friends. A friendship, I am sad to say, that was cut too short.
It wasn't long until I heard someone say, "That kid is sick."
"That guy should go home."
"Where does he live?" Annie asked.
"Just down the street."
"Who can take him?"
"Tyler can, he drove us here," offered Sarah.
"I'll drive him home in his car. Tyler, just follow and pick me up from his house," said Annie.
We were talking about something on the way back to Cape Cottages: Sarah, Annie and me. Something about writing for magazines, I think. We were almost at the light just before the bridge to College Road. I turned on my indicator.
Then there was nothing.
I woke up under a bright light. Nurses were cutting off my clothes. My loafers were filled with blood. Someone put a phone to my ear, and my parents' voices were on the other end. I couldn't tell them what happened; I simply didn't know. But I was alive. At least I could tell them that. Then all was dark.
I awoke a few hours later after surgery. My family and some of my fraternity brothers were sitting around the room. My friend Justin was giving me water with a wet sponge. My roommate Lotan was sitting in the corner. My parents were at the foot of the bed. They all smiled as I lifted my eyes, but the moment was fleeting and sadness returned to their faces. I asked them what happened. They told me.
We had been hit by a drunk driver. His car had hydroplaned as he crossed the bridge over Market Street. The car slid through the median at 60 mph and hit the Acura head on. I had a severe compound fracture on my right leg. Sarah had one as well. She also had a broken jaw. Annie, they told me, had died on the way to the hospital.
Kelvin Cardwell was 22-years old, the same age as Annie. He is the father of two small children. That night, on March 30, 2008, Cardwell decided to drive home after a few drinks at the bar. Mind you, he did not have a license. Now he is in jail, serving a five year sentence for death by motor vehicle.
I sat behind him with my lawyer during his sentencing. Annie's family sat on the other side of the row. There can be no sense of justice. The five years Cardwell received was nothing in comparison to the bright life he took. He apologized to her family before leaving in chains.
Afterwards, they all came up to me and asked me how I was. I was doing OK, but I could see that our wounds would take time to heal. Her parents were resolute. They make sure that their daughter's life continues to affect those in the Wilmington community.
I am now Annie and Kelvin's age. I think a lot about who they were at that time. How different their lives were. How different my life is now because of them. Why was it our fate to meet on that night? What forces brought us to that critical moment that would forever change our lives? That, I cannot answer.
And what if Annie had survived? I think of all of the great things she might have accomplished. She would have graduated from UNCW. She would have continued to be a positive influence in the lives of her friends and family. Maybe she would be married now or well into a successful career. It is not so. But I am here, and should I attest to live a life that Annie would be proud of is the basis of my daily actions.
The first time I met Annie's mother was outside of the Student Union by the spirit rock that Annie's sorority sisters had painted in her memory. We stood there talking about Annie and the wreck. I could find no words. What do you say to a grieving mother who just lost their child? I was so much younger then, so inexperienced with words and emotions.
If I could go back to that moment I would tell her how sorry I was and that the memory of her daughter lives on each day in my heart. I would tell her that because of Annie, my life had been changed. It was that moment that showed me who I was and taught me the value of being the best possible person I could be. Annie was that kind of person, and for that, I am eternally grateful.