Carnage is a sweet thing to watch. It’s something you can bond over, maybe with a beer and greasy pub food. Watching two men fight is primal and hideous but it can make you friends, simply for the fact that you might be rooting for the same guy to bleed. I was spending my Saturday night doing just that with my friend Matt at Ryerson’s pub. We had just ordered and were settling down to watch a UFC Fight Night. Tito Ortiz vs. Forest Griffin – I had been anticipating this fight for a week. I just wanted to see Griffin lose and run away like a little girl. I had money on this fight.
During one of the welterweight divisions, my friend Rachel called me from her room on U of T’s campus. I didn’t want to pick up the phone because the fight was so rough, so enticing, but I decided to make the sacrifice. I walked outside so I could hear her.
“Do you remember Cayley Chapman, Joi Edgar and Emma Ransom? From high school?” she asked. Certainly I remembered them; we had only graduated a year and a half ago. They were fine girls, I guess, but I didn’t have much communication with them. Rachel knew them much better.
“Sure I do. What about them?”
Rachel went on to explain that the three girls were driving to Calgary from Lethbridge on a weekend trip when their car spun out of control and drove over the median into oncoming traffic. They hit another car straight-on. There was a woman and her baby in the other car. Everyone was found dead on the scene except for the baby, saved by the car seat.
I explained to Matt that I had to leave, paid my bill and rushed over to Rachel’s. We sat in her dark residence room, browsing Facebook until 3 a.m. as the details of the accident slowly leaked via a shallow social networking website. “RIP Cayley, Joilinn, Emma” was the Facebook status theme du jour, and it seemed that everyone we went to high school with knew. Rachel was getting messages left, right and centre. “Rachel, did you hear?” “Oh my god, it’s so awful.” “I’m shocked. I’m just shocked, I can’t even believe it.” For this brief speck in time, everyone was friends and we were all in high school and we were all holding hands, no matter how far we were. I made a few phone calls to Calgary and Victoria, where I knew some of my friends were. They knew the girls, they’d be upset.
“I’m fine, I’ve had my cry,” said Molly. “I can’t believe it. But, thanks for calling, Scaachi, that was nice.”
When you realize someone that you didn’t know well is dead, there are a few choice things that happen: you think of how your friends would react if it were you, you think how you’d react if it were your friends, and you consider every regret you’ve held with you your entire life. After all, I feel like I just saw these girls in Mentorship class, annoying the hell out of me because they were pretty and popular and I couldn’t find a real reason to dislike any of them.
Over the weekend, more information was released. Finally, names and pictures of the girls came out and the rest of the country knew what Dr. E.P. Scarlett’s class of 2008 already knew. Memorial groups popped up, funeral arrangements were being made and families were making statements. And everyone was thinking, “poor Hannah.” Hannah was best friends with the three girls, and everyone who discussed their untimely death with me would wind the conversation down with, “Hannah, oh my god, she lost all her friends.”
Rachel thought that maybe them going all together was merciful. “Like they couldn’t live without each other, you know? They went as friends.” We all dig for explanations in time of grief, I suppose.
In this same time, Rachel and I figured out who the woman in the other car was, who the mother of the baby was. I feel uncomfortable revealing a name or any identity since the family has withheld the name for a reason, but the woman is related to another grad in the same year. The connection makes this accident more of a freak show than it was in the first place. Road and weather conditions were fine, they weren’t speeding and they weren’t drinking. How do you go like this?
This morning, I read a first-hand account by a woman who found the crash moments after it happened. She detailed finding one body in the middle of the road, broken bone poking out of her leg. Their cosmetics were strewn across the road and in the ditch. She found ballet flats and blush brushes and then the other two girls in the car. It was so ugly. And the photos of the car with the top ripped straight off and the front bumper destroyed. It’s lying in a ditch, with yellow and grey grass and a dusty sky. It’s so ugly.
There’s something horrific about watching a grotesque news story unravel itself before you when you already have the answers to the questions. It’s like watching the car crash in question in slow motion – you know where it’s going to go and you know it’s not ending anywhere good. The journalists must have been pariahs to the grieving families – looking for a lede, a picture, a detail on the girls that no other paper or network had. I watched interviews and read statements from girls I knew and I just hoped that the people talking to them were talking to them right.
Is this the career I’m picking? Is this the kind of work I want to do with myself? Digging into the ended lives of others, going after their family members for a quote or a close-up shot of them crying for what’s lost? I have to wonder if neglecting to report on something no longer makes it true. I don’t if reporters didn’t speak to the families, they would feel less grief. Nothing can fix this, you can only try to give them a platform.
Carnage is a sweet thing to know. It’s something you can bond over and feel with other people, because maybe you all hate that it happened to the same person or people. Knowing the premature death of a group of people is primal and hideous but it pulls people together for a disgusting and almost unwanted bond. I missed watching two guys beat the life out of each other because life had already been sucked away from four women. And everyone was friends, and I was part of it without even trying.
I don’t think I’m alone when I say I’d rather that we didn’t have to bond like this.