You know that Sarah McLachlan song "Angel"? The one they play on the radio every other second? Don't you hate that? It's a perfectly good song, and then one of Denver's hideous radio stations plays it every other minute, and you're sick of it. Or it's a song that is the worst thing ever to happen to music, like Joe Walsh's "Rocky Mountain Way," which sucks rocks but gets played ALL the time because we live in Denver? Ugh.
But I heard "Angel" in the car today, for the billionth time, and I started to cry a little, which I do every time I hear it, and I wanted to write about the memory associated with it, because it seems important to remember.
A few years back, pre-Eric, a boyfriend Pete and I were driving from L.A. up to Idaho to see my folks. On the way, somewhere in Northern California--maybe outside Bishop?--we passed a car accident. It was a bad one, and it had happened seconds before we passed it, on a two-lane highway. We pulled over to see if we could help. Pete had just become an EMT and was training to become a firefighter, so we were hoping that he might be able to do some good if anybody was hurt.
There was a van, I think, that had a family in it. I didn't go over there. I have a memory that some of the family members were thrown from the car, but I don't remember if some died or not. I vaguely remember looking in the papers for a report on the accident and learning that a little girl was thrown into a field and died, but I can't be sure. The second car, the car in front, had been some young kids, maybe in their 20s, Australians who had been on vacation in the U.S. They had pulled out in front of the van and had borne the brunt of the impact, I think. The rear of their car was pulverized. The van in back had flipped on its side.
Two of the people in that front car were brothers. The first brother, the driver, was sitting by the side of the road, in shock. I remember sitting with him while Pete talked to another motorist who had pulled over to help. He just kept asking about his brother, who had been sitting in the passenger's side, and who was there still, very erect, belted into the car.
Pete finished talking to the other motorist and then spent a long time bent over the brother still in the car. He was taking his pulse, first in his neck, then his wrist, then his neck again. The brother sitting with me kept asking me if his brother was alright, and all I could do was hold his hand and tell him everything would be okay.
Which it was not. Pete, who had only been an EMT for a matter of days, called the brother's time of death that day, to the paramedics who arrived several minutes later in the screeching ambulance. There was nothing that could be done for him--he was killed on impact. The ambulance loaded up both brothers, and we took off, unable to do anything else, and feeling helpless that we were just leaving the scene, that there was nothing else to be done.
The next few hours of the drive were quiet for us; I can imagine it was probably terrifying for Pete, who had to make the decision to call the death rather than try some sort of heroic measures, when he was so newly trained. And I couldn't stop thinking about the immediacy of it. One moment you are on vacation with your brother, chewing sunflower seeds, your barefeet tapping on the dashboard, the Grateful Dead whining on the stereo. The next you are separated forever, left alone in a strange place and not understanding what had happened.
McLachlan's "Angel" came on at least twice on the remainder of that drive to Idaho, and each time I thought about that boy, wondering what it meant to be "in the arms of the angels," if indeed such a thought would provide any solace to his brother, his parents.
And then again, once we had reached McCall, a little mountain town, which is one of the most beautiful places in the world, a magical, touched place, we were walking in the woods, secluded and quiet, shrouded in the silence of the King's Pines, and the song came wafting through the woods, eery and calm. We reached a small lake, and a cabin across the lake was projecting the music out across it, out through the woods, and into us. It was clearly that boy's song, I decided. That song was meant to remind us how life is precious.
Lord, aren't I new-agey? Do you just want to barf? But that's how I feel when I hear that silly, over-played song. I think of that boy, and his memory is in me, and I don't think that's silly or nauseating at all, I suppose. Just human, and frail. And some small, uncynical part of me hopes that, indeed, he has found some comfort, and that his family has, too.