In memory of Cory

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Having driven over 15,000 miles across the USA this year, we’ve seen hundreds of them. Crosses beside the road. Each one saying, “a life was lost here.”

Cory’s cross

It’s a sobering reminder of the risk we take every time we get behind the wheel.

In some states, instead of homemade crosses, there are signs posted by the Department of Transportation. Wyoming takes down homemade memorials and replaces them with a sign showing a dove on a broken heart. Driving by at 55 mph, the Squid Wagon’s top speed, they look a lot like the logos on portable defibrillators.

The signs in South Dakota are easier to understand. They feature a red “X” to mark the spot, and the thought-provoking words, “Why die?” In some places, there are two, three, or four of these signs together. Four lives lost here.

Doing research for this essay, I found that there’s actually a name for them: Descansos. It’s the Spanish word for a place of rest, a memorial erected at the place where someone died.

Seeing one makes me think, “Am I driving carefully enough?” But in all my life, I’ve never come face-to-face with a traffic fatality.

Until last week.

We’d just driven 750 miles from North Carolina to Florida, and after arriving at Dad’s house, we needed to take a walk and stretch our legs. We decided to look up an old friend we hadn’t seen in over 10 years.

“Are you sure you don’t want to take my car?” Dad asked. No, we assured him, we wanted to walk.

It was an OK walk, except for the lack of sidewalks. I was especially nervous about bad Florida drivers, so I waded through the mud and high grass and trash by the side of the road, to give them plenty of room.

On our way home, Barry and I were walking along holding hands. Nervously, I kept pulling him further away from US 1, over into the puddles.

And then my day was shattered by a terrible sound behind us.

I turned, and as I took in the scene, I started running back towards the intersection. All I cared about was the large man who lay in the center lane. I was pulling out our cell phone as I ran, saying to Barry “He’s not moving – he’s not moving – please, let him be OK!”

I was running, but everything was in slow motion. I took in the motorcycle pieces scattered across the road and the large white van pulling over to the shoulder, but I couldn’t figure out how it happened.

A small group converged in the middle of the road. A woman got on the ground with the prone man. “He’s breathing,” she said, her face on the pavement beside his helmeted head. Cars were passing only a few feet from the two of them, and I began waving them out to the right-most lane. A few minutes later, a police car arrived, and Barry and I left. We hadn’t actually witnessed the accident, and we didn’t want to be in the way.

I was shaking as I walked. The man hadn’t spoken or moved a limb, but his midsection was twitching in a frightening way. Was he going to be OK?

That night, I couldn’t sleep. I kept reviewing the scene, trying to figure out how he’d been hit, and how he could survive his injuries. There had been no blood, only the ominous dark stains of oil and coolant and fuel under the pieces of his motorcycle.

The next morning, my Dad pointed out a small newspaper article. A 26-year-old man was airlifted to a hospital, where he died. I turned away, tears in my eyes.

His name was Cory. He was engaged to be married in a few months, and he left behind a 7-year-old son. He was a chef at the Moorings Yacht Club.

Cory was killed by a large van that made a left turn out of a parking lot onto the busy highway. The driver must have been in a hurry, or on the phone, because Cory was hard to miss. It was broad daylight, and he had a bright orange motorcycle. He was not a small man. He wore a full-face helmet that matched his bike, despite the fact that helmets are not required in Florida.

A day later, a cross appeared at the intersection. It said “RIP Cory,” and it was decorated with red foil heart-shaped balloons. Every time I passed it, my eyes were drawn to it. Once, as I sat at the stoplight, I watched a jogger pause and look at the photos of the deceased. I felt a lurch in my chest, thinking that Cory was still alive when I saw him.

My happy vacation was subdued, impacted by the senseless death of a stranger. It was a first for me, walking by the scene of a fatal accident, and I won’t ever see motorcycles the same way.

Please, drivers, slow down and be more careful. Whether it’s a motorcycle, a bicycle, a jogger, or another car, it’s a person. None of us wants to be obliterated, replaced by a cross by the side of the road. I don’t ever want to hear that terrible sound again, and I still cry for Cory, even though I never knew him.

5 thoughts on “In memory of Cory

  1. my name is sonny stanton i have just learned of your web site the man you were talking about cory is my nephew he was just starting his life. its really a shame that drivers are always in a big hurry and they go no where.
    my sister (cory’s) mom is hurting so bad. I hope that i will never no her pain.
    how ever she will never recover from this i only wish the lady that done this would of at least called or sent a card or something how can people be so crude.

  2. Meps,
    You do not know me. I live in Vero Beach and I’m a nurse. My Mom brought an editorial from the Press Journal into my office today and said, “I think she’s talking about you.” I was confused at first until I started reading–and I got to the exact words I uttered at the motorcycle accident that tragically took a young man’s life. You see, I am the woman you were talking about, the first responder on the scene. I had just pulled into Cindi’s Pet Store, parked, and heard an ominous dull thud. Looking into my rear view mirror, I saw a body sail through the air. I’m a retired Paramedic from Virginia and all my skills kicked in.
    When I first got to Cory, he had no pulse and wasn’t breathing. Then the “breaths” started–but what we were observing was Cheyne-Stokes breathing, usually signifying major frontal lobe trauma. I knew then that all I could do was hold this young man as close as I could and talk to him and comfort him. He never suffered–his handsome face was unmarked, thanks to his helmet. He was gone before the Paramedics ever got to him. The airlift that was mentioned in the newspaper was canceled. I only know of all this because we (me and two other eyewitnesses) were held on the scene for 3+ hours–being interviewed by FHP. The officer who interviewed me filled me in as much as he could.
    Your well written blog and your guest column in the Press Journal were lovely tributes to this young man. He was not alone when he died. He was surrounded by people who cared and were trying their very best to help. That says so much about a group of strangers–sadly, something that isn’t seen too often.
    Thank you for such kind words about Cory. I’m sure he would have been very touched. I think about him often as well, even though I never knew him. I’m a Mother and a Grandmother..and he was younger than my daughters. I like to think that he knew there was a Mom with him offering whatever comfort she could.

  3. Meps, first off, I’m sad that you and Barry had to experience that. I deal with the issue daily on my motorcycle commute. What I believe keeps me alive is the attitude that I am invisible to other traffic, and I’m usually correct. There’s a strong correlation of cell phone usage among folks trying to kill me (even though it’s illegal here in Washington), but, as long as I’m constantly alert and assuming that the other driver is going to do the worst thing possible, I manage to keep the risk in a realm that is comfortable enough for me to continue.

    I also acknowledge the randomness of the universe and the possibility that, despite my best efforts, I may be killed through no fault of my own. But this can happen when I’m laying in bed or doing any other activity, such as driving a car or, yes, riding my motorcycle. Everything in life involves risk, and I admit that riding a motorcycle in traffic is riskier than driving a car in traffic. However, driving a car in traffic may not be what you’d call “safe,” either. Around 40,000-50,000 people die per year in car accidents. Risk lies on a spectrum, so, for me at least, I don’t believe that cars are safe and motorcycles are dangerous.

    Please consider something: if Cory had been driving a car when he was killed, would it forever affect the way you view cars? If not, why has your view of motorcycles been altered?

    If you’re up for it, I’d be happy to take you for a ride again next time you’re up this way.

  4. You’ve provided a deeply moving tribute to someone you never knew. I’m no stranger to the violence of auto accidents or to fatalities, but you still managed to touch me in a way I thought I had become immune to. Thanks for the powerful reminder of why it is important to always drive carefully and safely.

  5. Wow. Thank you for the reminder of the importance of safe driving. I commute largely by bicycle; you have reminded me of the importance of my cycling safety measures as well as my alertness when driving cars. Awareness really counts.

    Your pain may have produced your very best writing. This is a moving piece.

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