Adolescence can be a dangerous place. I am reminded of this whenever I make it back to my childhood home to place flowers on my family's resting place. As I turn away from the well-groomed graves of the old cemetery to gaze out over a nearby lake, I always see the smiling, fresh face of a blue-eyed blonde staring back at me from a nearby headstone.
Tracey Mott was my friend and teammate in school. Feisty and irreverent, the cross country runner and track star was a very pretty and popular sophomore girl. She had the world at her feet, winning state races and dating cute boys. But as the potential superstar reveled in the myopic world of high school, partying with peers became the major extracurricular activity - for many kids.
In small, quiet rural towns, time passes slowly and there are precious few distractions to keep restless kids busy. Growing up there, drinking-and-driving was casually referred to as country cruising.
Tracey died in the middle of the night in a car accident on a dark and winding country road. She was returning from a concert in "the city," riding shotgun in the cab of a pickup truck along with a couple of friends. The driver, drunk, lost control, they crashed and flipped, and she was pinned between truck and tree. She was 16. And that's it. Her story ends there, in 1986.
Now I am a much older, graying mother with creaky joints and children of my own. As I stared into the image of that naive face from my childhood, those unblinking, forever-sparkling eyes and frozen smile, I pondered just how much everything had changed since then. For her, there was no exploring the world beyond the boundaries of childhood.
No prom, no college, no marriage, nor any children to inherit her baby blue eyes - nothing but silent repose for decades. How much my friend has missed.
But some things never change. Today, somewhere, teenagers are drinking alcohol, and every day, a drunk driver kills someone. This also remains the same: Tracey's young body still lies under that gravestone, likely in the exact same position at this very moment as it was laid to rest 25 years ago, and she is still, forever, just 16 years old.
Teens who see their parents drunk will drink more often, and are more likely to get drunk themselves, than teens who don't witness their parents inebriated. Please warn your teenagers against drinking and driving. It may save their lives, or the life of someone else's child.
John Miles of the Alan Parsons Project said it best in the song, There But for The Grace of God, with the words, "No one is an island." If you need help, call the local chapter located in Maplewood's Sunnen Business Park.