Staying Silent (A.K.A, How to Change a Life in Seven Steps)

Olivia M

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1. Find yourself crammed into the backseat of your best friend’s car, between the girl who smells like cigarettes and the one that texted all through dinner, knees digging into the seat in front of you and your seatbelt clacking against the window because you never bother to wear it. It’s loud and you have to scream for anyone in the front to hear you, because you hate the fact that she never lets you listen to a complete song and you just want her to pick one. 2. The middle seat in the back row is your spot, the one that marks you as part of the group but just barely, because you aren’t good for navigation or choosing music and she thinks that you eye her speedometer too often (ride with someone else if you don’t like it), but no one blames you because these are back roads and you really shouldn’t be taking turns at sixty miles an hour. You are all clinging to each other and laughing and maybe this will be one of those memories that you can look back on fifty years from now and be happy about, but it’s still sort of scary. 3. Get home late and promise your parents it was nothing, really, she just misplaced her keys, when really she took the long way on purpose and played that game where you go as fast as you can on the way up the hill and see how far you can coast on the way down. (You have started to wear your seatbelt.) 4. Jump out of the car, smile and wave even though you don’t feel like being polite, because she pulled to the side of the road and drove through piles of leaves on purpose, and even though you know it probably wasn’t that big of a deal and there’s no way you’re getting in trouble, it still makes a sick knot of guilt swell inside you, like someone had stuck their hands inside your stomach and twisted until it ached. 5. Wake up, squint at the sun streaming in through the curtains and grope for your phone, ignore the way your stomach drops when you see there are fifteen missed calls. Hear about a text halfway written and a car wrapped around a tree, imagine her head slamming into the steering wheel and how she was not found until morning. 6. “I just don’t think she’s being very careful,” Her mom had said, her face pinched with worry. You were always the one that she came too with her worries, because she trusted you to be the responsible one. And you are, for the most part, because you tug the phone from her daughter’s hand and turn the music down and make her use her turn signal, but not enough to tell her to stop. It’s that moment that haunts you now, what you said, how you could have stopped it, but you wave that concern away with the thought of how she ended up fine, didn’t she even though it was a close call and reassured yourself that you aren’t the only one who looked the other way. “She’s a perfect driver,” You had said, and even though your smile doesn’t quite fit on your face, she still believes the lie. 7. This is your fault, you think, and push that away, because it does no good now. You could have stopped it. You could have told the truth. You could have said no.