This is what comes of having too much time on my hands. I was idly Facebook-stalking old acquaintances, as you do, and I ran out of my own friends so I thought I’d try a few of my brother’s and see what they’re up to now.
My brother was killed in a car accident when he was seventeen and I was twenty-three. The driver was Tim, his friend since mud-pie days, and it was his fault. At the time I really wanted to be angry with Tim but I couldn’t. For one thing my mother told me not to be, and she certainly wasn’t – she had watched Tim grow up too, after all. Also, Tim’s actions fell squarely into the category of careless, partly the result of inexperience, rather than the more serious legal classifications of reckless or dangerous. I started paying much closer attention to my own driving and found that frequently enough I would have my eyes off the road for a few seconds as I read a billboard or changed a tape and the only difference between me and Tim was blind bad luck. So I couldn’t justify pointing the finger because there but for the grace of God. And anyway, it was impossible to feel anger at such a broken child.
When the first policeman arrived on the scene Tim had a broken neck, no pulse and wasn’t breathing. The cop evaluated the scene and ignoring the conscious injured, the one beyond help and the uninjured hysterical (there was another carload of friends who’d seen the whole thing) focussed on the person in real need and saved Tim’s life. The police come under fire for various reasons regularly enough but you’ll never hear me criticising because I’ve seen them at their finest. I next saw Tim in a coma in ICU then later in court. He was pale and scared and his head was screwed onto his body with a wire frame thing as he admitted causing the death of his best friend on a night which he could not remember. They had been at a youth group friend’s house, supervised by her parents, watching ‘Titanic’ and drinking Coke. They were driving legally. It would be difficult to imagine a more innocent situation and, watching Tim on the stand in front of the judge as the technical description of what went wrong was read out in horrific detail, I wondered briefly if maybe my family really were getting the better end of the deal because at least we knew my brother hadn’t had time to suffer. So no, anger didn’t really work for me back then.
Then I found Tim’s Facebook page. There’s a picture of him skydiving and descriptions of his many interests and hobbies. At one point he says he loves driving fast cars and that took me a while to get past. There are travel photos and mentions of how close his large family is. He talks about his career in IT. He has a life.
He has a life. A big life with lots of friends, family, destinations, experiences, adventure. He does not yet have a family of his own but it will come.
When we lost my brother he was still in high school. We lost him and who he was at the time but it wasn’t a big life yet because he was young and just working up to that. He hadn’t branched out into making his own choices and having the whole world at his doorstep. But now, fifteen years later, the loss is even greater because by now he would have been living the big life, like Tim, and we have lost that too. We do not get to see him have an interesting career and visit places we’ve never visited. We do not get a 21st, an engagement, a wedding. We do not get emails from far away and skydiving photos. We don’t get txts or Skype or Facebook posts of him having adventures with his friends. I will never have a sister-in-law, nieces or nephews, and my children will never have cousins. When he died he was one person but now we are missing an entire branch that’s been lopped off the family tree.
What was I looking for on Tim’s Facebook page? Did I really expect to see a profile photo of him holding up a sign saying ‘I killed someone and I’m really sorry?’ Maybe not, but I think I was secretly hoping for something, some little sign, some acknowledgement that he realises he has taken from somebody else the chance to have this big life and he feels bad about it. His loss was of one friend out of many all that time ago, but our loss grows with the years as our family should have grown and never will.
We do not put the bad stuff on Facebook, of course. We share only the parts of our lives that we’re happy for the world to see. It’s not fair of me to hold anything against Tim because of what he puts on social media because that’s never going to be the full story. I get that.
But when I see how big his life has become in the years since I last saw my brother I know that although I still have sympathy for him and I wish him well, I do not forgive what he has taken from me and mine. It is too much. Too much.
Simon Trevor Veen
22 September 1981- 5 October 1998