My novel, I'd decided, would start in the winter of 1999, just as the older brother—studious, reserved—arrived home from college on break. The younger brother, having barely graduated high school, had been hanging around town for the last six months, caddying at the golf course through the summer, getting wasted with his buddies whenever they were back home, and warring with the over-protective, paranoid, grief-stricken father. Four nights before Christmas, Rory and his two best friends set off for a party in the Chicago suburbs, an hour and a half drive away.
I'd told myself I needed to write as honestly, as accurately as I could. The funerals, the candlelight vigil at the high school, the three class photos blown up on the front page of the local paper—I had all that first hand. But I didn't know the details of the accident.
I drove out to my storage shed, where the contents of our old house in Wisconsin now lived, and picked through boxes: old stuffed animals, the family crystal and china, Mom's stamp albums—Rory's wallet, keys, and Zippo, still sealed in a plastic bag. I found the accident report among Dad's papers, in a file folder he'd marked "Rory's death." I took a box of stuff back with me. At the archeologist's dining table, I spread out the pages in the folder. The report itself was brief, the legal correspondence around it endless. Some pages were filled in with a cop's tight handwriting. Others had been typed up, in all caps, by the coroner. There were references to photos of the accident scene, but none had been included. For this, I was secretly relieved.
Here's what happened: at ten-thirty on the night of December 21, 1999, Rory, Tyler, and Alex were driving along a county road in Tyler's Jeep Grand Cherokee, doing seventy-five, fifteen over the limit, enough THC and beer in all of their systems to show on the tests. The driver of the grain truck was working late. He was backing his rig across the road, lining it up with the grain silo he meant to unload in—his truck in one lane, headlights shining straight ahead, the trailer jackknifed across the other lane. When the truck driver saw the Jeep coming, he flashed his headlights, but the Jeep didn't slow down. The broadside of the trailer was lit by one red warning light, almost invisible from a distance. Eighty feet from the trailer, Tyler hit the brakes, but at a hundred feet or a hundred and twenty, the result would've been the same. The Jeep "submarined" under the trailer, tearing off the windshield and half of the roof. The cause of death was typed crookedly in its little box: "massive blunt trauma to the head, chest, and abdomen."
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