“Each Halloween their ghosts haunt me. The fact that I was supposed to be with them in the car that night haunts me. Dawn and I were best friends. Her beautiful smile, printed in black and white on the front page of the newspaper that morning haunts me. I should have been there. I should have went through that windshield with her. I should have died along with them all and that will haunt me for the rest of my life…” ~ From Scattered Among the Leaves
Being born the day after Halloween definitely came with perks. My birthday parties were always costumed events and I always had a big bag of candy as my birthday present first thing in the morning on my special day.
Even though I had outgrown trick-or-treating by 1986, I hadn’t outgrown partying, especially when it came to my birthday. I had long since traded in candy for drugs and alcohol, like most of my friends. We had also traded in our childish costumes for more adult ones. It was a rite of passage, much like it still is today.
That particular year, Halloween fell on a Friday and my birthday on a Saturday. My parents were in a band and were booked out of town all weekend, so of course my friends and I planned a two day, drug-and-alcohol fueled event at my house. It was the consummate party place with a fully equipped bar, pool table, sound equipment and enough room to hold dozens of partygoers.
Dawn and I had made our costumes weeks before. We were going as sexy devils, of course. The invitations were sent by word of mouth, and we expected a huge turnout. All we needed was to score the party goods, which we planned to do that Thursday night.
I suppose the shock of it all has left me with gaps in my memory, but I do remember that Dawn and I had a big fight just before she took off with the others that night. There were four of them in all. All were friends of mine, but she was my best friend and, like best friends do, we often fought over trivial things. Over the last 27 years I’ve spent hours trying to remember what exactly the fight was about but I just don’t know, and that haunts me.
My last words to her haunt me, too. They were something like, “burn in hell, you bitch!”
I’ll never forget how I found out that they all died that night. It was Friday morning – Halloween day – and, as usual, I was late to school. By the time I got there everyone had already heard the news so there was an eeirie silence in the main hall, just like there had been the day after our friend, Wayde, had been hit by a drunk driver and killed earlier that year.
“Ding-dong, the witch is dead!” I heard one girl, who didn’t like Dawn, cry out gleefully amid the hushed murmurs. She said it unapologetically, over and over and over, as I stood frozen, staring in disbelief at the newspaper someone had handed me. The smiling faces of my now-dead friends were plastered on the front page along with an article that included the words “alcohol may have played a factor”. I felt the blood leave my face and a numbness overcome me. The surrealness of that moment still haunts me, too.
“I bet she went SPLAT! when they hit that tree!” the girl laughed, and was soon goaded on by her group of friends. I would have walked over and punched her right in the face if I had been able to breathe. Instead, I stood there. I just couldn’t believe it. Dawn couldn’t be dead.
How could she be dead?
I was still standing there, alone in the main hallway, next to my locker, long after everyone had went to class. Dawn’s locker was right next to mine and I distinctly remember staring at her smiling face in black and white in my hand, then at her locker, then back at her picture.
How the fuck could she be dead?
I’ve asked myself this a million times over the years, particularly around this time of year, and the answer always comes back the same – drugs and alcohol.
It’s the same answer to why I lost nearly all of my friends from high school and why they’re not here now, to celebrate another birthday with me.
Drugs and alcohol, in one way or another, took them all. Some were murdered but most died, like Dawn, in alcohol related accidents.
Dawn wasn’t the first, nor was she the last of my friends to die tragically and needlessly. She is just the one that haunts me more than the others. I miss my friend that was and the woman she would have become, had she survived, like I did.
That last part is what haunts me the most.
Chelle B. is the author of the upcoming book, Scattered Among the Leaves, which is based on her life story. In it, she details the struggles of having been raised by an alcoholic father and an abusive mother whose neglect left her permanently disabled. You can find her at her blog, which is also entitled Scattered Among the Leaves, where she posts excerpts from her book as well as other personal and inspirational pieces. She hopes that by sharing her amazing story of overcoming incredible odds she can somehow make a positive impact on the world.