Carin's life came to an end this Saturday morning when she collided with a vehicle during a training ride.
I want to blame someone or something. That wouldn't make this any easier to accept, but at least it would provide some reason for this happening. The truth, as best we know a few days after the event, is that it was an accident. Nobody was to blame. She was traveling downhill on a twisty road. The police report said she lost control of her bike and drifted to the opposite lane where she was struck. That may have meant the bike went out from under her on a corner and she slid into the lane. She may have come in to a corner too hot and drifted out of her lane trying to keep upright. She was riding a dedicated time trial bike she'd only owned for a few months. These bikes are great at going fast in a straight line but they corner like 18-wheelers. Maybe she was having a great ride and was just flying down the road carving the corners and drifted out of her lane. I did that driving to work this morning. Maybe more details will emerge when investigations are complete. I'm not sure I want to know them. They won't change the most important things. Carin died and there were none of the usual reasons - drugs, alcohol, distracted driving, or road rage to frame this event. There is nothing but the glassy clarity of absolute, unnecessary loss.
My heart aches for her family, especially her mother and her sister. They will have to live closest to the void created by her death, remembering the person who was there, tending the edges of that place, keeping her memory close as their lives go forward but that emptiness will always remain. My heart aches for the person who struck her and will have to live with that moment and the pain of knowing their mere presence on a road at a specific point in time ended someone's life. It aches for Carin's boyfriend who was there when it happened and will have to learn to live with the nightmare all of us who love our partners dread the most.
But I'm also filled with grief for something less defined. I've found myself in tears sitting at home, mowing the fields on a stunning Sunday afternoon, sitting at my desk staring at work I'm not getting done. I didn't know Carin very well. Our families intersected at a variety of events but Carin and her sister were just Maddie's cousins. The girls always ran off and did things together. They were kids. I wanted them to like me of course but I've been smart enough to know that Maddie's creepy uncle Jonathan was just not going to be very high on a teenage girl's list of people they wanted to know. But the last couple of years things were changing. The kids were turning into adults and athletics was knitting our families together in new and delightful ways. The Carin I saw last Christmas Eve was an interesting woman who liked to race. Joe and I were scheming to get her mother to do a mountain bike race. I would have bet we could have got her to go along too. Her sister Celeah was shooting amazing video. They were doing things that gave a shape to a future we all might have shared. That imagined future is gone and I suppose what I'm feeling is the dull, persistent grief of lost opportunities.
But I know that was wishful thinking. The future more likely would have included more engaging conversations during the holidays and maybe Carin and Celeah would have decided that I wasn't that strange. But our lives were going to arc in different directions. The loss of that imagined future doesn't fully explain why I feel so badly about the death of a 19 year old girl I barely knew. And then this morning, at about 3AM, a time when everything seems to get clearer for me, I knew what it was.
Carin was only 19 but she seemed to be so much better at living than the rest of us. She found a boyfriend who wasn't a narcissistic psychopath, no small feat for a woman her age. She found a sport that kept her fit and happy. She had the kind of engaged, loving relationship with her family, that left most of us wondering, when looking at photos of them together, if they were faking it. They weren't. She collected good memories and positive experiences the way most of us collect grudges, bitterness and resentment. She radiated an optimism for the future that even from a great distance, I could feel. I didn't know Carin well but I know this is true and I know this is why I'm so sad. Carin was a condenser of life. Someone to remind us that this is a life worth living. These people defy age. They are rare indeed. So when tears come when I think of her, they're tears I shed for all of us who now have to look to memory, when we looked at her before and were reminded of what it means to love life. But that memory will do. When I look at the picture of her holding her time trial bike, I don't see a picture of a woman holding the means of her own demise. I see a kid with a new bike. I feel that joy. I promise her, I won't let that go.