"An 18-year-old Orlando man was struck and killed while he was walking in the road Saturday morning.
The Florida Highway Patrol said Brian Atkins was walking in the outside lane of Edgewater Drive near Thistledown Avenue when he was hit by a northbound SUV.
Troopers said the crash happened at 4:45 a.m.
They said Atkins was wearing dark clothing and there is limited lighting in the area.
The crash remains under investigation."
The life and death of someone I had once known were summed up in a few terse sentences.
I had heard the news about an old high school classmate via friends on Facebook last night, and had visited a local news website in hopes of finding more details about what had happened. Obviously, I didn't get them. This left me simply wondering about the circumstances surrounding the tragedy and sitting in shock about what I had just discovered. When an old, sick person passes away, this is sad, of course, but not exactly unexpected. But when a person who was a year younger than you is taken so suddenly, the sadness seems even greater thanks to the shock. It made me realize that any of us could die at any moment. Technically, we all know this, deep down, but I think we all have this hope that it couldn't happen to us, we are young, we are healthy, and we do not deserve that. That may be true, but the universe doesn't care.
I met him through drama club when I was a sophomore in high school; he was a freshman and had just joined. Truthfully, we were never close on a personal level, but we did share memories of plays and rehearsals. Being in a show together creates an inexplicable bond between people. Even someone you don't like becomes your family. This is what we had, even though I barely knew him. He was always known for being a nice kid, if not the smartest or most talented.
Towards the end of his junior year, when I was getting ready to graduate, though, something changed in him. It was such a cliché story, something straight out of a fear-driven public service announcement. He started hanging out with the wrong people. He started using marijuana; at first, just casually, as many people in our school did, but then it got serious. When he did show up to class, his grades were terrible. The "nice kid" we used to know may have been there deep down, but it didn't show any more. When he was arrested for possession (at school, no less), I thought maybe it would be an incentive to get his life back on track, but I was wrong. The day after they released him, he was back at school doing the same thing. At this point, I suspected he may have been involved in other drugs too, but I never knew for sure.
I graduated high school a year and a half ago, and I had heard almost nothing about him in that time, until last night. I do believe that drugs may have had a part in his death. Edgewater drive has sidewalks; why was he in the road? At night? Wearing dark colors?
Teenagers as they are, tend to think they are invincible. Old age seems so far off, we feel immortal. We gamble with our lives because we don't yet realize how easily we can lose them. Add in drugs and alcohol, and this tendency is magnified.
So, to anyone who may be reading this, please make a promise to me. Please promise that you will never take your life for granted. As it is, life is short. Don't bet that the most important thing you have, your life, will always be there for you. Being alive and on earth is a gift, and you don't even have to be religious to know that. It is the best gift anyone can receive, don't throw it away! If you had a diamond necklace worth millions of dollars, you wouldn't just let it hang out all over the place where it could be damaged. A human life is worth more than all the diamonds on earth.
And promise me another thing. The same way you have respect for yourself and your life, respect the lives of others. If you are the one driving the SUV, don't forget the power you hold. Pay attention to the road! Put the drink down, get off the phone, and for fuck's sake, stop texting. Don't you EVER drive when you have been drinking. Don't take that chance. It isn't worth it. I don't know if the person who hit him was doing any of that stuff, but I do know that someone's life was ended because of them, and I can't imagine the guilt they feel. It was an accident, and legally, they could be blameless, but they will still have to live with that moment for the rest of their lives.
Today, I am saying a prayer for one we have lost, and his family, who are grieving much more than me. I also say a prayer thanking the universe that I am still here, and my family and close friends. Death can be a tragic thing, but it gives us an opportunity to appreciate life more than we could the day before.
Rest in peace. #Troupe 557 forever.