Three high school girls died today, two of them sisters. Their bodies -- tracery networks of firm and less firm tissues -- hammered into a gauntlet of steel and plastic parts inside their car. Momentum abruptly forced their delicate bodies into their unforgiving surroundings with a speed and power best described in Newtonian terms.
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Their car, which carried one girl to the hospital and three to their deaths, was stopped on Route 53 in Pembroke, Massachusetts this morning by an oncoming pick-up truck in the opposite travel lane. One can imagine loud music (or soft conversation), an off duty police officer in his pick-up maybe a quarter mile down the road, around a curve, but just a soft one. The rain was heavy at times and maybe it started with a tap of the brakes and a spark of adrenaline. The pedal was pushed urgently down; nodding heads turned very quickly and understood the danger but not the full extent of it. The brakes worked. The wheels stopped. But that thin film of water...
Today as I dropped my daughter off at school and then picked her up I thought of children. My children. Our children. I had watched boys playing in the school yard, the rain had tapered off by about 11:00 AM. One boy ran toward the school building, and stuck his feet out it front of himself in a practiced maneuver and slid on the soles of his first-day-of-school sneakers, across the wet blacktop, to a neat stop. I thought, "How does a kid learn that by age 8?" He pulled up by his friend only inches from the red brick of the school, nonchalant but proud nonetheless. It wouldn't work on dry pavement. But that thin film of water...
The rubber, you understand, just doesn't grip the pavement if the speed is too high. Oh I know its too late for lessons. Too late for "I told you to be careful." or for seat belts. Too late for practice in the school yard, with wet sneakers.
The car slides across the yellow line. The girls are scared. This might be very bad. The cop thinks, "Oh, God."
He knows how bad it is.