Aimee Ross published Permanent Marker: A Memoir in 2018, and in the following excerpt, Aimee writes an open letter to the intoxicated young man who crashed into Aimee’s car, nearly killing her and her young passengers.
An Open Letter to the Young Man Who Almost Killed Me and My Daughters
I’m writing this letter to you because I feel like I have to, even though I don’t know you, and I never will. I can only know my version of you, an idea in my head, and to be honest, it’s not a good one.
I know you were the driver of the red Mini Cooper who plowed recklessly into the side of my 2008 gray Saturn Aura, oblivious to the stop sign that warm July night.
I know you were only nineteen, and not one of my former students.
I know you died the next day in a room across from mine in the Trauma Center after doctors declared you “brain dead.” The impact of crunching, crushing metal had launched you through the sunroof of your father’s car and onto the road. After the accident, visitors told me rumors about you. They knew people you partied with. My two teenage daughters knew people you were friends with. They warned me of a Facebook memorial page.
I looked too soon.
You—the party boy with swag—were loved, and by many. They called you Zach. I wish that throwing bangers, getting baked, and blowing smoke at the camera didn’t consume those posted memories and fuzzy photos.
A friend of your mother’s told me you had been in trouble with the law, and I know your driver’s license was suspended at least twice. At only 19, that’s two times in less than three years. Now I wonder if other rumors I heard were true. That you spent time in a detention home. That you and your buddies played a very dangerous game earning points for traffic violations.
And then there’s your family. Good people, I heard. I know you had dinner at home with them that evening. You asked your dad for the car, the one titled to him but given to you, so you could go to a friend’s house. You were on your way when you crashed into us. I wonder if you brushed your mother’s cheek with a goodbye kiss, yelled, “Later, Dad!” and hopped through the front door, your older sister rolling her eyes at you one last time.
I know your family loved you.
My brother told me your father and sister hugged him, moments after finding out you had passed, crying, hoping I would pull through. I imagine that your mother was broken in a corner, lost in her own sea of tears. They had just been asked about donating your organs.
I know your parents—an older, more settled couple—adopted you and your sister from another country far away. Maybe they couldn’t have their own children. Now they can’t even have you.
The most devastating thing I know about you, however, isn’t that you ran a stop sign that night. It isn’t that you were most likely speeding, either. What devastates me is that you were driving under the influence. The highway patrol officer who came to inform me I was the “victim of a crime” told me. They don’t know how fast you were going, but they do know about the marijuana and benzodiazepine in your bloodstream.
Why did you do that, Zach? Why?
Did you smoke pot and do drugs so often you drove stoned all the time?
Did you forget you had family and friends who loved you, a whole life ahead of you?
Did you think you were invincible, maybe even above the law?
Three beautiful girls, teenagers on the dance team I advised, were riding with me on the way back from dance camp that evening. I couldn’t protect them from you. You could have killed them. You almost killed me. Four more lives could have been lost. I believed my daughter, also on the team, had left ahead of us, but in fact, she was only moments behind in a different car. You could have killed her that night. The thought makes me sick.
I love her, just like your parents loved you. Our worst fear as parents happened to them: You didn’t come home. They must miss you desperately. I imagine they didn’t know about your regular drug use. I wonder if they were shocked, horrified maybe, to find out. Perhaps they have forgiven you by now. You were their only son.
But I am finding it difficult to do.
We all make mistakes and poor choices. I know this. And if you had lived through the accident, maybe you would have apologized. You probably would have been sorry, too. If you had lived through the accident, maybe you even would have changed. You probably would have stopped being reckless, too.
But maybe your life ended because of how you chose to live it. Maybe change would not have been possible for you even if you had lived. I don’t know.
I changed, but not by choice.
I am a different person today. Body, heart, and spirit.
I wonder what I would be like if it never happened. But that’s silly to consider, because it did.
You crashed into me.
I don’t want to hate you. And I don’t want to be so angry, still.
I even want to try to forgive you.
But I just can’t yet.
Aimee, the woman whose life you changed