A lesson from a painful memory

“Memories are not shackles, Franklin, they are garlands,” Alan Bennett.

Newspaper clips of the news of Daniel's death
Newspaper clips of the news of Daniel’s death

Today I’m 15 years old again. I’m wearing a plaid shirt. My hair is in a ponytail. I just said happy birthday to my friend and left school. I’m outside now, walking home.

But now I’m frozen, my legs anchored to the sand beneath me.

Why, of all memories, is this the one I remember so clearly?

Of all the magnificent sounds I’ve heard in my lifetime — songbirds, praise, prayers — why is the sound of that pickup slamming into his body the one I still hear the loudest?

His gruesome death — the details too gory to burden you with — to this day is the clearest vision in my mind. I can still see the unnatural way his legs landed and the way his head hit the sidewalk, filling the gutter with blood. I know exactly where his fingers landed, and his shoe. I remember how quickly his face drained of its color.

My neighbor, my classmate, died not 10 feet from me. It was exactly 15 years ago today.

On this date every year I stop and reflect on this tragic event. I dig out the newspaper clippings, the depositions the court dragged me through (since I was the only witness besides the driver), the letters I exchanged with Daniel’s family and the poetry I wrote.

I think of Daniel every time I cross a street, every time I hear a noise similar to the noise I heard that day, and every time I see a movie where someone gets hit by a car — which is pretty much most movies, it seems.

For years I wished I could forget Jan. 14, 1998, particularly all the vivid details. But I’ve come to learn there’s a reason that day plays like a movie in my head. It’s a constant reminder not to take life for granted, to be thankful for today. Seems so simple doesn' it? If he had stopped in the hallway to say happy birthday to someone that day, instead of me, then I could have easily been the first one to cross the street, and he could have been the one watching me die.

But I’m here, and the 15-year pain from that memory is fuel to continue giving my all at everything I do, and to do those things with the right intention.

About Tracy Simmons

Tracy Simmons is an award winning journalist specializing in religion reporting, digital entrepreneurship and social journalism. In her 15 years on the religion beat, Simmons has tucked a notepad in her pocket and found some of her favorite stories aboard cargo ships in New Jersey, on a police chase in Albuquerque, in dusty Texas church bell towers, on the streets of New York and in tent cities in Haiti.
Simmons has worked as a multimedia journalist for newspapers across New Mexico, Texas and Connecticut. Currently she serves as the executive director of SpokaneFAVS.com, a digital journalism start-up covering religion news and commentary in Spokane, Wash. She is also a Scholarly Assistant Professor at Washington State University.

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  1. We don’t have the power to prevent much in life but we have all the power needed to choose what to do with what happened.

    You do well girl.

  2. Thanks Eric 🙂

  3. What an amazing story.

  4. Thanks for sharing this … powerful writing, Tracy. I found myself holding my breath right up to your resolve to letting it empower you to be you! So glad our paths have crossed … may the Holy One hold you through this day and this memory, drawing you evermore into your journey! Peace…

  5. Thank you for sharing such a powerful story Tracy. My thoughts are with you and Daniel’s family today.

  6. Thanks everyone, appreciate your thoughts

  7. Tracy,

    This writing was very powerful. I’m sitting here with tears rolling down my face. Tammy and I thank God for your presence at that event. We are sorry that you have to live with those memories, but you seem to have a great ability to take it and learn from it. We are glad that Daniel’s life has touched you in a positive way. May God Bless You for the rest of your days, and I pray that you will always stay in some kind of contact with us. We are proud of you.

    Dan & Tammy Sisneros
    (Daniel’s Parents)

  8. Your tender heart is a treasure that makes this theologian a bit less jaded.

  9. Dan and Tammy – what an honor to hear from you. Thank you for your kind words. The kindhearted way you approached this tragedy 15 years ago has been a huge influence on my life.

  10. Oh my goodness! Another wonderfully written piece, Tracy. I’ll definitely share this with our readers.

  11. Tracy, and Daniel’s parents, this is truly moving. I also have tears. I do not know you, but thank you for your courage.

  12. This is incredibly touching, Tracy. You evoked so many emotions here. It is a story that will stay with me. What an honor to read it.

  13. What a painful memory, and what a vivid portrait you paint. For someone who has seen a fair amount of sorrow in your life, you sure have found a way to spread sunshine everywhere you go. May you continue to do so.

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