Sitting in the passenger seat of my car, leaning my head against the glass I see the trees passing by in blurs of green and brown. Music in the background is broken occasionally by the sound of my kids talking to each other in the backseat.
Everything is normal. Just another drive out shopping with my family. Until I see it. It’s marked with a name I can’t really make out. Surrounded by fake flowers, a shabby teddy bear, deflated balloons and overgrown weeds. A cross. Weather worn, it looks forgotten.
I know too well the pain that was staked in the ground there. I’m reminded of it often. In Florida they put metal signs on the side of the road instead of wooden crosses. I know this because somewhere on a road in Florida there’s a sign with my sister’s name on it.
Tiffany was my younger sister. She was 24 years old and a compassionate and community-oriented police officer. She loved her job. It was the only thing she talked so passionately about other than her 2-year-old daughter and fiancé, who was also a police officer. She was one more thing to many of us – an ordinary girl.
On a clear Saturday night in November my sister and her best friend decided to head out to the local bar for a few drinks. Just two ordinary girls having fun. It wasn’t too far from where they lived; at 2 a.m. when the bar closed they decided it was OK to drive home.
This was not a good idea, though, as they had both been drinking. Nonetheless, my sister hopped into the passenger seat. I was told that she called her fiancé to tell him she was close.
But when he arrived home from work it was still dark and the house was empty. When she didn’t answer his calls he got worried and went out looking for her. He went to the road she said she was on. It wasn’t until the sun started to come up that he noticed her cowboy hat, which lead him to the car, flipped over on the side of the road.
At first, I was right alongside everyone who questioned her judgment that night. My sister, the police officer, would never have gotten in a car with someone who was drinking. My sister, the mother, would have called for a cab because she was worried about her friend driving home. My sister, the police officer, would have buckled her seat belt when she got into the car. My sister, the mother, would have done the same for her best friend.
But my sister, the ordinary girl, thought what we all do. That nothing bad happens to us, only to others. That it was just a short ride home. But we all make mistakes, right?
That mistake is something my family, including her daughter, has to live with everyday. I’m constantly reminded every time I click my seat belt or drive by an accident. The blame that I felt toward her and her friend has faded now. I just think about how Tiffany and her friend didn’t get to learn from this mistake.
To honor their lives I choose to advocate for yours, in hopes that when you read my sister’s story that there will be one less cross and one less name on the side of the road.
Our thanks to Stacey Wade for sharing her story with us.