Laura L. Noah
The afternoon of May 24, 1989, Joanna, a good friend and soccer teammate, and Steve, a soccer player a grade ahead of us, were killed in a car accident. Steve drove his car from school that spring afternoon with Joanna in the passenger seat. He reportedly attempted to pass a friend’s car as they raced down a narrow, winding road not far from school. Steve lost control of his car. It flipped, crashing into a tree. Like Joanna, I was 15 with a birthday coming up that summer, except Joanna never aged beyond that day.
We went to school on May 25th: friends, classmates, teammates, teachers, and administrators. There were counselors on-site and while classes remained in session, students were allowed to leave if upset, to go to the library, the cafeteria, to walk the school grounds. I went to my first-period class and left almost immediately, choosing instead to seek out friends who had also left their classes. Like the previous day, it was gorgeous outside, sunny, perfect really, except for all that sadness.
I don’t recall what I did most of that morning after Jo and Steve were killed. I don’t think I cried. I was pretty numb. I must have talked to my friends, but mostly I imagine I listened. At some point in the early afternoon, Kim, a friend and former soccer captain who had graduated the previous spring arrived at the school. She asked me if I wanted to go for a walk. Kim was fairly upbeat by nature; someone who could make you laugh no matter the circumstances. By the time we had made it to the soccer field a short distance from the school building, both Kim and I were feeling better, reminiscing about Jo, as most everyone called her. We hardly noticed the three boys walking down the middle of the soccer field. It barely registered as we rounded the far goal just as they reached it. I’ve heard different versions of they were doing with that goal, but the one that rings most true is that they were climbing on it to hang a wreath; a memorial to Jo and Steve.
Then something went terribly wrong. One boy climbed on either side of the goal and one in the middle. As the three jumped up at the same time and grabbed it, the goal came crashing down. The two boys on the sides were able to get out of the way, but Jason, the boy in the middle, landed on his back and was hit in the head by the goal just as Kim and I turned the corner.
Jason began bleeding immediately from his mouth. Kim took off running toward the school, toward help. I collapsed on the soccer field and felt virtually nothing. I don’t know how long I was there, motionless. I knew it was bad for Jason. I was screaming in my own head, unable to help, unable to run, feeling only that I was in a nightmare and if I could just shut my senses down and feel nothing the absolute terror and pain of the moment would not touch me. I don’t remember getting up. I don’t remember the paramedics arriving, but as I wandered further and further from the scene I looked back and they were there. A friend, a boy I had briefly dated weeks earlier, came upon me, asked me what had happened as he looked toward the soccer field, caught me as I collapsed, and carried me into the school.
Eventually, they sent everyone to class. Our teacher for that period was the track and cross-country coach, sports in which Jason excelled, so he was by Jason’s side as soon as he heard what happened. We had a sub there in his place trying to force a biology lesson. It wasn’t long, however, before the announcement came over the loudspeaker for everyone to go to the auditorium.
It was small, that auditorium. We were packed in there.
The principal got up on the stage.
Jason was dead.
I don’t remember much of that moment. Others have told me that the most awful sound came out of the auditorium that day, the sound of 700 terrified screams as students pushed to get out away from the awful news. The school day hadn’t officially ended, but it was over: buses waited out front.
I had grown up with Jason who was a year ahead of me in school: a small, cute kid who was always sweet, a runner who I later ached to see pounding the neighborhood streets. Sometimes even now, it’s hard for me to believe this story is true: that Joanna and Steve preceded Jason in death, and that a sport loved by so many in our community would forever be connected to such pain.