Tyler’s Story

The other day I was going through random piles of junk in my room when I found one of my old songbooks under my keyboard. Upon opening it, I revisited the stories behind so many lyrics I had written between the ages of twelve and seventeen. (I have not written any songs on my piano in several years, but I think if I really searched for it, the instinct might still be there.)

Anyway, as I was flipping through this notebook, I came across the lyrics of a number I had named, “Tyler’s Song”. And in a flash his story came back to me. It is one that I have carried with me for years and one I will not forget until my dying day. Above all, I think it is one worth sharing – if anything else, perhaps it will serve as a lesson to those who read this.

OOO

Just before I turned fifteen, my family and I moved from California to Bradenton, Florida, a little city on the west coast that is roughly ten miles north of Sarasota. I attended Lakewood Ranch High School. Maybe the awful experiences I had at that school (and in Florida in general) made what happened even worse in my mind, I don’t know. Either way, telling Tyler’s story always brings back feelings of deep, deep sadness and regret.

One November day when I was in my seventh period chorus class, an announcement came on over the intercom system telling all teachers to immediately turn their TVs to the school channel. (LRHS had its own news channel within the school that was run by students; that’s how we got our announcements in the mornings.) So my teacher flipped on the TV and we saw my principal sitting behind his desk, looking at the camera with a very serious look on his face. Immediately the mood in my class sank; we knew something was wrong.

Our principal began to speak. He told us how that morning, two students had left campus without permission: Tyler and Amanda, he said, were their names. Tyler, a sophomore, had been driving and Amanda, a junior, was in the passenger seat. To this day it is not exactly clear why they left campus before school ended.

Less than a mile down the road that led away from the high school, our principal went on, Tyler lost control of the car. He hit the median in the road and the car swerved to the right. It rolled over several times and crashed on the driver’s side on the side of the road.

Amanda had been wearing her seat belt, and walked away with no major injuries. Tyler had not… and he was killed on impact.

Our principal paused for a moment after saying these words, as though the weight of them had made him physically unable to speak. “I cannot stress how important it is that you kids always, always wear your seat belts,” he said, choking a bit as he spoke. The rest of his words were a blur. He went on to say something about how there would be grief councilors at school in the morning to speak to us, and said a few words I can’t recall about always remembering Tyler. Then he was done, and my teacher wordlessly reached and turned the off TV.

The memory of the stunned silence that followed the end of the broadcast has not left me to this day. I remember only murmuring an explanation to the girl next to me who didn’t speak English very well and was confused as to what had happened. Besides that, everything was silent. We were horrified. We’d heard about deaths from car accidents all the time. Certainly they happen in the news all the time. But the idea that this time, this time the one who had been killed was one of us, somebody our own age, taken from us not a mile from the school where we sat…it was so much. So much to take in.

I was in shock for at least a week. My mom wouldn’t let me go to school the day following the accident; she said the atmosphere of the school would have been too grief-stricken for me to handle. I objected but she insisted so much I got a feeling that maybe she just wanted to keep me close to her out of gratitude that she – unlike Tyler’s mom – was not a mourning parent. So I sat in my room with my textbooks instead, trying to read but thinking of nothing else but what had happened.

I had seen Tyler walking around school every now and then. He was always surrounded by friends. He looked happy. The idea that he was dead because he hadn’t put on a seatbelt, the idea that his life was taken away in less than sixty seconds because of a stupid mistake, was mystifying to me. I just couldn’t understand it. I still can’t.

They say during the grieving process, people need to have some sort of closure, some way of remembering the ones they’ve lost in order to start moving on. I wouldn’t describe my reaction to Tyler’s death as “grieving”, but I certainly felt I needed to do something. I needed to honor this poor boy in some way. And so I did the only thing I felt I could do – I sat down at my piano and wrote him a song. It only took me an hour. Of all my songs it was probably the easiest to write. It helped a little bit. But I could not forget Tyler and how his life was tragically cut short. I still haven’t, and never will.

It has always been a habit of mine to put my seatbelt on the second I step into a car. But ever since the day Tyler was killed, I always think of him whenever I pull that seatbelt over my lap and click it into place. There have been a few times since I got my license where I’ve had friends in the car that simply refused to put their seatbelts on when I was driving them places. I’d remember Tyler every time. I’d put the car in park and refuse to drive until they did as I asked. And as we drove, eventually, I’d tell them his story.

Tyler’s death was tragic. But if anything good can come out of what happened, it’ll be the fact that those who knew him will be sure to put their seatbelts on in the future. As my principle said in an article written after the crash that you can read here, “”We always have to look for any good that can come out of any tragedy. If it’s for Tyler that you will put your seat belt on every time you get into a car, then that’s what good will come of it.”

We are not immortal. We are fragile, vulnerable beings and vehicles have the potential to be dangerous. So the next time, reader, you want to skip putting on a seatbelt while driving or being driven somewhere, think of the thousands of people who have died needlessly in car wrecks because they didn’t take the few seconds to put their seatbelts on. Think of Tyler, a poor boy who needlessly died at sixteen and left those who loved him forever grieving. Put your seatbelt on for him, if for nothing else.

OOO

Tyler’s Song

Sometimes we make mistakes

Ones that we can’t retake

in this whirlwind we call life

Often our faults can break…break us

We never think these errors can take us

~

He was a boy, and she was a girl.

Both of them lived in a normal world.

Then one November day

one of their lives was taken away . . .

~

Chorus

Never knew seconds could be enough,

never knew God could take someone so young.

Sometimes I wonder, I question fate:

Was it meant to be or was it a mistake?

The rest of the world will go on and on

acting like nothing was ever wrong

Our lives are paved but we just don’t know

For now it’s a broken road

~

He was going too fast

Thought that his speed would last

But it turns out he was wrong

One quick turn and his car was in the grass

And onto its roof they crashed…he was gone on impact

~

He was a boy, and she was a girl

Both of them lived in a normal world

She wore her seatbelt that day

He did not…and she walked away…

~

Chorus

Never knew seconds could be enough

Never knew God could take someone so young

Sometimes I wonder, I question fate

Was it meant to be or was it a mistake?

The rest of the world will go on and on

Acting like nothing was ever wrong

Our lives are paved but we just don’t know

For now it’s a broken road

~

How can it be?

Losing your life when you’re only sixteen

I never knew him but to this day

I can’t understand how he was taken away

~

Chorus

Never knew seconds could be enough

Never knew God could take someone so young

Sometimes I wonder, I question fate

Was it meant to be or was it a mistake?

And the rest of the world will go on and on

Acting like nothing was ever wrong

Our lives are paved but we just don’t know

For now it’s a broken road

~

Sometimes we make mistakes…

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