A Participant’s Experience of Every 15 Minutes

Guest Photographer Michael Gribble

Maura Fennelly, Co-Editor-In-Chief

During fourth period on Monday, March 31st, I died after being struck by a drunk driver. The news of my passing was given to my fellow classmates by two police officers and a priest who read an obituary written by my mom. After learning my fate, I received my “living-dead” face. Doused in white and black makeup, I was instructed to place my senior picture that labeled my lifespan of 1996- 2014 on my locker. During lunch, the two dozen or so other dead students and I ate together in the gymnasium. The looks I received from other students as I walked to my first afternoon class varied dramatically; some students would point to me and laugh, my friends would frown after they tried to talk to me and I stayed mute, and others were shocked by my face and pretended not to see me. In class it was more difficult than I imagined getting any work done. It was eerie that I was symbolically dead and unable to communicate with anyone around me while the other students were learning, talking, and living. At one o’clock, the car crash took place. Four other living-dead and I were told to stand in front of the dead victim, Molly Fishter, before the scene unfolded. While the rest of the accident played out, I stood with the rest of the living-dead in the bleachers.

Around 3:30 pm, we (the students participating in the program) were taken to the courthouse to watch the drunk driver Kyle Midlidge’s hearing. The parents of the deceased (Noah Gertler and Molly Fishter) spoke and gave emotional speeches pleading for the maximum sentence for the drunk driver. A victim paralyzed by the crash (Jess Schuszler) also moved the entire courtroom after showing the pain that the drunk driver’s choice had caused her and so many others. After the hearing, we were served dinner, which gave us all time to debrief and collect ourselves after a hectic day. Mayor Bob Conley spoke to us about the serious consequences our choices have, specifically choices we may make in the future while under the influence of alcohol. Mayor Conley spoke to us not only as a leader of our town, but as a concerned father.

Once we arrived at the hotel, we were given an hour or so to relax in our rooms. At seven PM, we all met together in a conference room. None of us were quite sure what the plans for the evening was until Officer Esposito and Ms. Morganthaler started passing out boxes of tissues at each table. We were instructed to writer a letter beginning with, “Dear Mom and Dad, today I died and I never got to tell you…” We were given thirty minutes to complete the unnerving activity.

The Calfee family then spoke to us about their daughter and sister, Alexis who lost her life to a drunk driver. The presentation was informal and the family allowed us to ask any questions we wished. The brother and sister discussed the pain of losing a sibling. Alexis’ best friend Brooke also spoke to us about how difficult it is to live every day without her best friend that she met in the 4th grade. One of the most painful moments was when Jaimi Calfee, Alexis’s mother, told us that following her daughter’s death, the only time she ever felt ok was when she was sleeping because when she wasn’t awake she didn’t have to think about the fact that her daughter was gone. Following the heart-wrenching presentation, the other students and I had a follow-up discussion with guidance counselors and therapists from Madison. A counselor from Project Community Pride discussed with my small group the message we learned from the presentation. Students’ opinions varied from learning how to appreciate every day, seizing life’s opportunities, showing love to family, and being a better friend. We were all emotionally and physically drained from the day’s activities so we went to sleep shortly after.

The next morning was the funeral and presentation by the Calfee’s. The students who had represented the living dead or who had been involved in the crash entered the gym pushing two empty coffins that represented the deaths of the two students in the mock crash. The Calfee’s then told the tragic story of their daughter, Alexis Victoria, to the junior and senior classes and faculty members.

The program was incredibly successful in getting the point across that drinking and driving is destructive on both a physical and an emotional level. The students involved in the program who I have talked with agree with me that the activities during two days were significantly eye-opening. Our own death is not something we usually think about as high school students. But after witnessing the pain and loss a family endured after losing their daughter and sister to a tragedy, it made us want to be with loved ones. It made us want to tell our friends how much we appreciate them and all they do for us. It made us want to make good choices to protect those around us. It made us want to live everyday to the absolute best of our abilities.