It was the best of times: it was the worst of times. It had started out as the best of them anyway. Year twelve was everything I’d expected and everything I’d been told but didn’t believe. Now, it was the one thing I hadn’t anticipated. Over. We all pretended we wouldn’t miss it, but we would. So now, we would go get drunk and we’d dance, and we’d party and then we’d sleep all the next day. We had our whole lives ahead of us. Graduation wasn’t the end. It was the beginning. Right? Wrong. You’d expect something in a valedictorian’s speech to be smart. Or at least factually correct. But in our case, it couldn’t have been more wrong.
We’d sped along the road, through the twisting gorge, doing at least twice the speed limit. Our driver was the only person still sober, but in a car full of drunk teenagers, like that matters. We were headed to a well known place for campouts, our own personal ‘schoolies.’ It had to be safer than going to VictorHarbour and causing five million dollars worth of damage, surely. We got there, just before midnight, and the party began before we even got out the car. It had been Cruisers and Bacardi Breezer’s up until now, with the boys in the back assuring us we couldn’t possibly get drunk off “lolly water”. Now, that wasn’t cutting the mustard. Before the ignition was off, our driver had a shot in his hand. Before I’d opened my door, the guy next to me had downed three. We got out the car, and the next pulled up beside us. Their’s hadn’t even stopped moving before the doors opened. We were all excited for something to happen. Exams were over, TER’s were final. There was nothing we could do now. Except get drunk and live up the last of our days as kids. And oh, how we planned to. We had so many plans.
Two hours after our arrival, five people had thrown up, and alcohol was running low. I couldn’t find my friends and there was a massive bon fire in the middle of our ‘campsite.’ Wasn’t much of a campsite, really. We didn’t have tents or anything. We had ourselves, our cars, our cars stereo systems and alcohol. We didn’t need anything else. I did another 360 degree spin in a vague search for my best friend and when that turned up negative, I sat down where I stood. I don’t know what the drink in my hand was. It could have been laced with arsenic, I wouldn’t have known. I think the dude who lit the fire gave it to me. It was only three quarters full when I got it. I looked at it briefly, shrugged and skulled the rest, tossing away the empty bottle. By now, my vision was blurred and my head pounded in time with the music. Someone sat down next to me, but I don’t know who they were. They said something to me and grabbed my arm. I looked at them blankly. They had long black hair and beautiful eyes. I smiled. I knew everyone in my senior class, but this guy was new. He smiled back and leant closer to my ear.
“Do you want to get out of here? It’s going to get pretty crazy soon. The crashers are coming.”
His voice was velvet and smooth, without a hint of slur. I laughed at him.
“Crashers? This party isn’t invite only. They can’t crash it.”
He shook his head and it made me dizzy to watch. I felt like I was going to throw up.
Four hours after that, I did throw up. I was amazed at my own stamina. How had I lasted that long? I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand and stumbled back toward the bon fire. I hadn’t drunk anything in the two hours and my mind was letting me take in details, slowly. My reaction time still wasn’t much better than road kill though. I pushed back my hair, sat down and stared into the flames. The bass of the white Holden Utes sub woofers was vibrating the ground beneath me. I worried for a bit that he’d rattle his number plate off. I think I dozed off then.
I don’t know how much later I woke up to the sound of brakes squealing and tyres spinning. My head hurt like hell, and the small amount of light coming over the horizon was enough to have my eyes streaming. I looked around, confused. Cars were taking off in all directions. Boys were howling their tyres with their best mate’s girlfriends in the passenger seats, drunk as skunks. I remember thinking how well that was going to go down on Monday at school. But I wouldn’t have school on Monday! This confused my slow mind and upset me deeply. A boy dropped down beside me and asked if I wanted a ride home. It was the same boy from earlier that night. I smiled at him smugly.
“Did your crashers come?” I slurred. I doubt he understood me.
He shook his head and I laughed, and then regretted it. Ouch.
He held out a hand and I took it. There weren’t many cars left and the fire was nearly out. I was desperate for a shower. Or at least a decent bed. He half dragged half walked me to his car. One arm holding me up, he yanked open the passenger door. He tossed me in as gently as possible and I momentarily wondered if I should be scared. I didn’t know this boy, after all. He shut my door and the noise echoed in my head. I clutched it and sobbed drily. Why had we taken so much alcohol?
We were driving really slowly back up the road we’d come down before. My head was slumped off the head rest and every few minutes we’d hit a bump and I’d consider putting it up on the head rest. I never did though. Too much work. I think he was driving so slowly to compensate for how fast we’d gone earlier on. He was very quiet. I was about to ask him why he was so quiet when everything went wrong, really fast. I tilted my head back slightly to look at him and saw his expression change, incredibly fast. He slammed on the brakes and my head snapped back against the seat. My seat belt was probably the only thing that saved me from getting intimate with the windshield. And possibly the bonnet of his car. His quick braking was useless though and any steering skill he had would only make matters worse on roads this slow. I looked out the windshield, my mind slowly gearing up and realising what was happening. A car was sliding toward us, sideways. In about three seconds, it would slam into the front of his car, and then we would go sideways too. Off the side of the road and into the winding river below. I closed my eyes and the heard him swear beside me. He yanked on the steering wheel, but I don’t know which direction he was turning it. The car slammed into the front of ours, and my head was snapped back and forth again. Glass shattered and fell like rain on us, from all angles. The car didn’t stop when it hit us, of course not. It kept going, taking us with it.
Our teachers had been wrong. Our graduation wasn’t the beginning of an exciting and thrilling journey to the ultimate career choice. It wasn’t the start of endless hangovers and hard work. The driver, who saved me, would never open his eyes again. He wouldn’t be around next year to save poor unsuspecting graduates. I was lucky I could open mine, they told me all the time. It didn’t seem like luck though.. After I graduated I moved out. Not into a claustrophobic one bedroom apartment in the big city. I moved into a hospital bed in ward E. I didn’t attend lectures, or visit my family on weekends. My family visited me, from 4pm til 8pm and I attended physio therapy twice a week. I never found out how I did on my final exams. It didn’t seem to matter when the biggest opportunity I would ever get would be operating my own wheelchair. But even that was more than what the others had gotten out of that night. The car that slammed into us that night, had no survivors. Died on the scene, all of them. I’m the only one left to tell their tale, the only one left to regret. And I would never forgive myself for it.