Driving to the beach with my grandparents, I briefly marveled that they didn’t tap an address into a GPS. ‘Of course,’ I realized. They’ve been making the drive for forty years. They didn’t just know the roads and the turns, they knew the stories. When we got to the old mill where the water falls, my granddaddy remarked, “looks like they got a new coat of paint.” We drove past the abandoned farmer’s stand; he told a story of the meteorologist who passed away a few years ago. The weather man knew the place so well that when a tornado came, he told the people out at the local farmer’s stand to take cover for in two minutes, the storm would blow their fruit away.
We kept travelling through decades of stories. “Up at this gate, there’s one of those roadside memorials marking a place where someone died in a car accident. Only, this one’s been there since ’79. Huh. It’s not there anymore. Wonder if they sold the land.”
It was a last impression of something that marked a last impression.
Close friends of close friends—gone in an instant. Car crashes, waterfall missteps. Tragedies and college goodbyes make me consider last impressions. My last few weeks before graduation were filled with questions. Is this the last time I’ll ever see this stranger whose face I know, this classmate whose beliefs I know, this friend whose heart I once knew? It is so tempting to wonder how they will remember me.
We talk about first impressions because we do not yet know the end. Last impressions are less predictable and more difficult.
By May 12, I’d well considered the significance of last impressions. I’d said my goodbyes to professors and friends. I’d realized that constantly living in wait of a last impression is a dangerous thing to do to hope. And without hope, the last impression is truly a final.
On May 12, we drove to her birthday lunch extravaganza. “Nobody loves free stuff more than you,” a friend had told her. “You haven’t met my sister,” she replied—making me feel proud. So we ventured, coupons printed and chart drawn, to sample freedom in our new era of being sort of adults. We debated who would drive. I paused to grab a CD out of my car since Hannah decided to drive, a decision that would wreck her heart with guilt but potentially save our lives. We’ve probably been through that intersection 5000 times in eighteen years of living here. Following the rules we’ve been following together since our childhood days of “red light, green light” in the front yard, we obeyed the glowing green. My sister went, but so did a car turning left.
Hannah said “she’s not stopping,” blew her horn, and slammed her brakes, but it was all too late.
My eyes opened and I smelled something that reminded me of fire. Without thinking (because how can you think), I told Hannah to get out of the car. Then we got around to asking if we were ok. She was, I was. The other driver was. I walked around to Hannah’s side as witnesses ran to help. They called 911. I realized I was walking around with only one shoe on. My beautiful cup of tea was hanging out the edge of Hannah’s side. The glass was shattered, but the windshield wipers couldn’t be turned off. The car—totaled. Strangers held my elbow, held me up. Hannah, the beautiful birthday girl who had to stare at her broken car and call our mom to come, amazed me with calm courage.
Sixteen minutes after the crash, my heart still chose to beat 150 times in a minute. Outwardly shaken but trying to appear calm, it was like I needed to quickly make up for moments in which my heart might not have beat had Hannah not slowed down as fast. They—police officers, the fireman checking my heartrate, my mom and sister—kept asking if I was hurt. I looked down and there was strawberry red blood gluing my mint green skirt to my apparently broken flesh. The seat belt, in saving my life, made a lasting impression on me.
With blood and bruise and burn, it left its mark. The CT scan at the hospital confirmed the mark was deep. Our pastor called the next day. “God must not be finished with you yet. You must still have more work to do, a purpose.” I get the chance to make more first impressions, more last impressions. Will they bruise? Will they heal? Might they even save a life by pointing to the author of eternity?
“I think you girls fell asleep,” my grandfather remarks on the way home from the beach. “But I wanted you to know—they cut the grass. The little roadside cross from ’79 was still there, you just couldn’t see it from the way we were going.”