Warning: This post will be lengthy because it’s an issue that is very important to me. Recently, I’ve heard stories about young people, some younger than me, lose their lives to drinking and driving accidents in the Dallas area. I felt the need to share my experience with drinking and driving and why I have zero tolereance for it.
When I was a junior in high school, I was in a program called Shattered Dreams. Now, I don’t know where you’re from but if by chance you’re from Texas, you probably have heard about Shattered Dreams. Tons of schools do it. It’s a program that is used to show high school students the dangers of drinking and driving.
In 2010, Rockwall-Heath High School put on the production the week before prom to warn the students attending about the bad things that can happen when you consume alcohol and get behind the wheel. Instead of just going around telling students they could get a DUI or go to jail or kill themselves or kill someone else (which you’d think would be enough to scare anyone out of doing it,) a group of upper classmen put on a “skit” and made those concerns seem like they became a reality right before the student body’s eyes.
There were multiple parts to the production. The “living dead,” a mock crash and a mock funeral. The “living dead” were students who agreed to be pulled out of class, have their fake obituary read over the loud-speaker in the school, paint their face white, change into all black clothes and not speak for the remainder of the day. They each represented a person that dies every 15 minutes from a drinking and driving accident. The students who were pulled out in the morning were the strong-willed; the ones who the program sponsors knew could go all day without saying a word to their friends in class, in the hallway or even at lunch. The point was to remain dead silent. Of course, there were some students who weren’t involved in Shattered Dreams who didn’t take it as seriously. They probably thought it was dumb and would try to get the “living dead” to crack a smile or just say one word. I think at the end of everything though, deep down, we probably got to them.
I was part of the mock crash (and the mock funeral but we’ll get to that later). I auditioned for the part and presented my best acting skills to the group of teachers and parents who were acting as supervisors for the program. I’m still not sure if it was my awesome acting or the fact that my best friend, whom everyone in my little town of Heath, Texas knew I had known since birth and had been inseparable from for years, tried out as well and the sponsors knew that it could be impactful to our peers if they saw two best friends go through this together.
Weeks before the actual “crash” happened, the mock crash students set out to film the scenes that we would edit together to show the student body the day of the production. They would see everything that happened leading up to the crash. The video would end with the sound of metal colliding then they would be escorted out to the small road that ran next to the high school to see their fellow students’ bloodied bodies lying on the ground and dangling out the windows of two cars.
My group was the sober group. The car I was riding in had my best friend I was telling you about, Morgan, who was also a junior, two other juniors and a senior. We did innocent things leading up to the crash. We ate at the most popular restaurant in Rockwall called Chiloso (if you’ve never been and you are in driving distance of one in the DFW area, please go because you will not regret it) and then we went to the varsity baseball game.
The other group was the intoxicated group. Their car was all seniors. They were doing the opposite of us on a Friday night. They went to a party and even though the driver, Shanae, pledged to be sober, she ended up drinking something she thought was a normal energy drink but turned out to be a Four Loko. Of course, it made the story believable because, in reality, Shanae was a star varsity basketball player… she didn’t spend her weekends drinking at parties either and the whole school knew that. So, they came up with the *oops-I-drank-but-didn’t-know-I-was-drinking* story and it seemed to work.
When they left the party Shanae realized she wasn’t feeling so well. But she was the designated driver and these people were depending on her to get them home. “I’m fine to drive,” she thought, because she knew her friends weren’t.
So, as divine timing may have it, my sober car was leaving the baseball game at the same moment that the intoxicated car was leaving this party right by the high school. We both head towards each other on the same road and through distraction and impairment our two cars collide.
Visuals of this were what the junior and senior student bodies saw inside the basketball auditorium on a huge projector screen. Then, like I said, they were instructed to file out to the side of the road to see the mock crash. This, too, would be filmed so that later everything could be compiled on DVD (even though I don’t think anyone watched it besides the people who were actually in it).
I remember I was wearing old, weird clothes. Clothes I would never wear to school but wore because I knew they would be destroyed by fake, theater stage blood.
I remember hanging out of the car window. It was quiet. So quiet that the only thing I could hear was the breathing and soft sobs of my friends who were lying next to me in the car. I was supposed to be completely still. I remember tears running down my cheeks. No matter how fake it was, it was still emotional for all of us involved. Even when half of the school came out, it was quiet. Quiet enough so that I could hear the sirens from miles away coming to the mock crash.
The whole time the students in the mock crash knew who was going to survive and who was going to live. When we were offered a part in the production, we were all instructed to talk to our parents and see whose mom and dad would actually be comfortable with the idea of sitting through a fake funeral for their daughter or son. For some reason, my parents said yes. I think part of it was the fact that my dad is a Dallas Fireman. He’s seen the worst of the worst as a paramedic and firefighter over the last 30 years. He probably told my mom that they could handle it. After all, it was fake.
So there I sat. Hunched over with one arm dangling out of the front passenger side’s broekn window. Like I said, we knew who was going to live and who was going to die. I was one of the not-so-lucky ones in this fictional tragedy.
One fireman put his large, heavy coat over my face and body so they could use the Jaws of Life to cut off the top of the car I was in. It was just for dramatic effect but in a real life situation the Jaws of Life are used when the car is too badly damaged to get the person out any other way. I remember lying under the jacket and it was so hot and the sound of the machine was so loud. I knew it was fake and that I would be fine. But still, I was scared. My crying grew louder and I was just ready to get out of there.
They eventually got me out and put me on a stretcher. A CareFlite helicopter had just landed and it was meant for me. Three people were going to “die” and I was the only one who wasn’t supposed to die at the scene.
Side note: I know what you’re thinking…. “All of these first responders were wasting their time at some fake crash when they could be helping someone who actually needed it.” So for a disclaimer: Every emergency crew member knew if their assistance or vehicles were needed at an actual emergency that day they would not particpate in Shattered Dreams and we would have to do it without them. Thankfully, they were all able to make it because not much goes on in our little townof Heath, Texas.
Back to my story. So, they wheeled me over to the helicopter. To be honest, I was actually pretty excited. I had never ridden in a helocopter before. Once we got in the air, the guys told me I could try to sit up so I could see out the window. Unfortunately, I was so pinned down with restraints and a neck brace (like any real patient would be) that I couldn’t really see much.
The hospital is only about a five minute drive from the high school so you can imagine how short the helicopter ride was. Once we got there, they wheeled me inside into a room. The staff were exchanging medical terms with each other and pretended to perform things that would save my life which, of course, from what I’ve already explained, didn’t work.
My parents came in and I had to lie there, pretending to be dead, while they held my hands and pretended to say goodbye to their youngest child and only daughter. I do know my mom’s tears were real, though. Even the thought of that happening to me would make someone as emotional as her cry. Even though she knew I was fine and it was all an act, she was still physically upset and my dad was comforting her.
I remember leaving the hospital once all the filming was over… for us at least. A camera crew followed Shanae, the girl who was driving drunk, to the jail where she was booked for intoxicated manslaughter. They filmed her sentencing in a court room and everything.
Everyone else involved in the crash had come to the hospital to pick me up. It was strangely funny. After all of this dramatic stuff and the crying and the acting… they just drove and picked me up. Fake wounds and fake blood and all.
We all drove to the high school where we had to sneak in to get to the locker room showers. Obviously we needed to get the sticky, stage blood and fake wounds off of us. But I was supposed to be dead. They didn’t want any students to see me. We turned off our phones. We didn’t speak to anyone. And I was instructed to not let a soul (besides those involved in Shattered Dreams) see me. They wanted it to seem like I was really dead and gone and never coming back. It was more impactful that way.
So we showered and ran back out of the school unseen. Everyone that was a part of Shattered Dreams loaded into cars and we were taken to some camp grounds about thirty minutes outside of Rockwall. We would stay there for the night and have zero contact with any of our friends or family. Plus, we had a guest speaker scheduled to come join us.
None of us knew who it was going to be. We all piled into the small event center and in came a pretty blonde girl. She was in a wheel chair. She couldn’t have been much older than all of us sitting in the audience. Her name was Melissa Walsh.
Once she got to the center of the room a video started playing. The first two minutes and thirty seconds of the video below is what was shown to us in 2010. She went on to tell us every detail of that night and how her life has been ever since. The speech she gave to the class of 2012 which is shown in the YouTube video below was similar to the one she gave us.
After meeting Melissa I was in such a weird mood. She was such a normal girl. It really made me understand that it could be any of us. It could be me.
The next day we headed back to the school for the mock funeral. There were three actual caskets there for each of us that died. That really freaked me out. Mine was surrounded by pictures of me with my friends and family and things like my favorite stuffed animal (yes I still slept with a stuffed animal and still do), my cheer megaphone and my letterman jacket.
Have you ever thought about your own funeral? It’s a morbid thing to admit but I know I have. I’ve thought about who would come and what people would say. Would there be a lot of people there? Would they be as sad as I would hope for them to be if I was gone? I had thought about it plenty of times before and that day I got a pretty good glimpse. I wasn’t supposed to be in there for it because they wanted it to seem like I was still gone. But who would miss their own fake funeral, right? I put on black jeans and a black hoodie and zipped it almost all the way up. I snuck in and sat down in a corner where no one would see me unless they turned around.
My best friend, Morgan, who I told you was in the crash with me, was the one to give my eulogy. It was so real because she truly was my best friend. We had known each other since birth. Our moms were best friends and were pregnant with us at the same time. I was born only two weeks and two days before Morgan. So hearing what she had to say about me filled my heart but also broke it. She could hardly finish her thoughts she was crying so hard.
Of course, I’m sitting in the corning trying to hold back loud sobs because of all the nice things she had to say about me. I also just couldn’t help but think, “What if this was actually real?” Look how sad everyone is. And even though this particular incident wasn’t my fault, any of us could have been the one to make the mistake that Shanae made.
It was two of the hardest days of my life. I wasn’t a good actor, I was completely out of my comfort zone, I didn’t get to speak to my parents or my boyfriend and I had to act like I freaking died. It was tough. But still to this day, it’s one of the smartest decisions I’ve ever made.
I didn’t really drink in high school. I never really went to parties. It just wasn’t my thing. We spent our nights at the movies or driving around town listening to music, stopping for a Sonic drink every hour before prank calling people all night instead of going to bed.
Once I got to college that definitely changed. I joined a sorority and started going out and drinking every weekend. Don’t get me wrong: I love a good time (still do) and I didn’t think there was anything wrong with how my friends and I were acting (and still don’t). We were being young, college students. I don’t think anyone could blame us for that.
The one thing that I never tolerated in college – from myself, my friends, or anyone who was around us – was drinking and driving. Thankfully, there were always designated drivers (who were mostly pledges that were assigned shifts from the fraternities they were trying to earn a spot in) swarming campus every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night. Thankfully, most fraternity houses and bars were in walking distances so we could have easily made it places on foot. Thankfully, it never happened to any of us. I like to think my experience with Shattered Dreams contributed to that, even if just very little. I was ok with being that girl who said, “No, you’re not driving and neither are any of us,” even when it annoyed people.
Now, at 24 years old, living in Dallas, still enjoying fun times out with my friends, I still don’t tolerate it. And neither do any of my friends.
Back in the day it might have seemed alright to “just have a few” and drive. It may have even seemed a little cool. I’ve actually heard many people say, “I’m a better driver when I’ve been drinking.” Well, to those people I say: You’re drunk. Literally, you are.
These days, it is so easy to order an Uber or a Lyft that no one has a valid excuse for getting behind the wheel. I even know of some bars in Texas that will reward you with coupons or a free meal if you leave your car in their lot after a night of drinking. Yet, still, I hear stories of beautiful young people being killed because some selfish person decided it was easier for them to drive themselves than to order an Uber or a Lyft or call a cab or a friend. I wonder how easy their lives are for them now? Knowing that they murdered another human being who did not deserve to have their life cut so short.
Maybe if they had met Melissa and heard her story, sat through their own funeral (however fake it may have been), or if they would have thought, just for a second, about the consequences that one decision could bring, those people who paid the ultimate price would still be alive today.
Like I said in my first post on here, I have no clue who will read this or if anyone will read this. But, if you are reading this, do not drink and drive. I don’t care how many times you have heard it. I’m telling you again. Order an Uber… call a cab… get your car towed… get a ticket… because I guarantee you those things are all cheaper than the price of your life or someone else’s.
*hops off soap box*