By Jarrett Standridge, JMC 3023
Nothing too eventful ever happens in Bridge Creek, Oklahoma, but when something does, everyone knows about it. Our town is a quiet one. The only stop light blinks above the crosswalk at the school. The roads are riddled with potholes the county can’t afford to fill. Everyone knows everyone, and you always get a wave when you pass someone. To have fun around here, you either go to the city, go fishing or do things you probably should not be. For my friend Jack and some of his buddies, the latter was exactly what they chose that night.
It was a warm June evening when our little community echoed with the sounds of sirens.
I remember it like it was yesterday. I was sixteen years old. School had been out for a couple of weeks. Many of my classmates had recently gotten their driver’s licenses, so there were plenty of new drivers out on the bumpy roads around town. It was warm but a nice breeze would blow here and there. My brothers and I were out in the front yard, throwing a baseball around. My parents sat on the porch, watching us and talking about their days. Our night was going about like every night before. All of a sudden, my brothers and I heard sirens. Their wails were faint at first but grew louder and louder. I looked at my brother Chandler and he shrugged.We thought EMS was going to the house of the elderly lady who lived up the street. But in minutes, it seemed like an army of emergency vehicles were converging right down the road.
“Man,” I looked at my parents and said, “that must’ve been a bad one!”
It was clear to me that somebody might’ve gone a little too fast over “Butterfly Hill.” The hill is less than a mile from my house. It seems like your typical rolling Oklahoma hill. From either side of it, you can’t tell how steep it is. However, you quickly realize the danger of Butterfly Hill when you reach the top and head down. I’ve grown used to it over the years, but for many, their stomach still drops. It almost feels like going over the top of a roller-coaster. Most of the time, the wrecks there were never serious, nothing more than a wake-up call for a careless teenage driver. But that night was more.
As my family and I went back inside for dinner, I looked back one last time in the direction of the hill. I noticed a medi-flight helicopter was landing in the field north of the road.
Just after we finished our meal, my dad’s phone rang. He looked down at the number, puzzled and went into the other room to answer it. I didn’t think much of it and went about my chores, putting up dishes and whistling some country song. My dad called me into the other room, closed the door and sat on the bed. I vividly remember the tears in my father’s eyes as he told me that my friend Jack had been the one who wrecked down the road. He and few other guys I played ball with were bored and went for a drive. One they would never forget.
I had seen my dad cry only one time before. That was when my Grandpa Doug, his dad, passed out behind the wheel and hit an oncoming semi head-on (Thankfully, he lived). To him, tears don’t fix anything. When I saw him crying, I knew he wasn’t making this story up. I didn’t know what to do. I stared at the ground in disbelief for what seemed like forever. I had never dealt with news like that before. My mind was running through various scenarios of what might have happened.
My dad explained to me that Jack and the others were on their way to the hospital, but no one knew how bad it really was. In minutes, it seemed as though the whole town had heard the news. My phone was buzzing with texts from friends, asking about what had happened and what to do next. My parents’ phones were constantly ringing. Word spread like wildfire.
My friends Tyler, Levi, Hunter and I piled into the car and drove to the hospital, not knowing what we would find out. The first thing I saw when I got there were familiar faces weeping in one another’s arms. I distinctly remember locking eyes with Scoots Hames, my little league football and baseball coach, as we weaved through the crowd. He made a beeline for us as soon he spotted us. The flashing red and blue lights lit up his face as he tried to round up as many of us athletes as he could. Scoots had coached us all the way up to the beginning of middle school. He was like a second father to most of us. We trusted him, so we asked him for more information about the accident. We dreaded it, but we needed to know.
We soon found out that Jack had died at the scene and the other two, Tristan and Johnny, were being treated for their injuries. They were left with some cuts and bruises, and the horrific memory of that day. Like Jack, Tristan had grown up playing ball with us. We weren’t necessarily friends but we got along fine. Johnny had just moved to Bridge Creek a couple of months prior and I had never talked to him. The story was that they wanted to jump Butterfly Hill. When they reached the top, another car was waiting for them. The two vehicles hit head on, shattering parts in every direction.
Jack was driving and didn’t make it.
His life was taken too soon by a poor choice many had made before him. Plenty of people had jumped the hill and lived to brag about it. The name of the hill was coined by bored, adrenaline seeking highschoolers just like my friend. Our community was stunned at the death of a neighbor, a classmate, a son. As I lay in bed that night, all I could think of was how this whole situation could’ve been avoided, how one phone call could’ve maybe saved my friend.
I had known Jack since kindergarten. Bridge Creek was, and still is, a small school. Growing up, we had always played sports with and against each other. As we reached middle school, we became friends. We didn’t hangout much outside of school or athletics, but we goofed around in class and practice together. He was energetic, funny, and lit up any room he was in. He had a great heart, though he’d never let you know that. He was a fantastic athlete with a bright future. His home life wasn’t the greatest, but my parents and friends’ parents always made sure he got to the games or practices and that he always had what he needed. I can’t think of anyone who disliked him. I remember it seeming like the entire town attended Jack’s funeral. The captains of the football team walked to the coin flip of every game with his jersey held proudly. The baseball team wore his number on the back of our hats and had a sign hung on the fence to honor our late teammate. His little brother, Ethan, became the whole town’s little brother. Our community bonded over the loss.
Toward the end of the school year before his accident, Jack started making some choices that weren’t really like him. He started to get himself into trouble and hanging with some people he shouldn’t have. This is typical highschool behavior, so most of us shrugged it off. He’d grow out of it, we thought.
Deep down, I always had this feeling that I needed to sit down with him and try to help get him back on the right path. I never did. I didn’t want my friend to think that I was some goodie two-shoes who believed I was better than him.
That will always be the biggest regret in my life.
Every day as I pass that bare, scarred earth underneath that tree, black from the fire of my friend’s truck, I think about Jack. About how I could’ve reached out to him, maybe persuaded him that his future was more important than partying and making dumb decisions all the time. I think about how much he impacted our town in the short time he was here. Above all, I think about my own cowardice. How I let my fear of what my friend might think of me keep me from trying.
When I pass the cross made of busted baseball bats, surrounded by flowers and pictures of Jack, my stomach drops. I remember how fast things can change. I remember that we never know when someone will be gone. I remember to reach out, to try.
You never know when you could make a difference by just sitting someone down and listening. I’d like to think that I’ve become a better friend since then, though it should’ve never taken such a tragedy.