- Caitlin M.S. Buxbaum
On the First Day of School After a Student is Killed in a Car Accident
Updated: Apr 29
By Caitlin M.S. Buxbaum
after Marjorie Saiser’s “This is What Life Does”
for M.S., in memoriam
I think of all the ways that
I have cheated death. This is
only the first thread of what
we call survivor’s guilt, life
after another’s passing—does
anyone know why luck gives
more days to some? Picture me,
chest trembling, sounding another
person’s words on a Tuesday morning
to tell a handful of teens how fleeting
heartbeats can be. Do they need reminders
of how little intention matters, how small
we are in our soft, impermanent
bodies? We all must wonder what flashes
before our widening eyes, trapped in
those final moments. That’s sad, the
snarky boy says. I imagine the shards of glass.
Paper plane flies in face, face crumples like paper.
Words fly first, then fists, the seated at a loss for words.
Accidents happen, but there are no accidents
when the blamed bleeds beneath eyes ablaze, when
faces turn to teacher, witness: the boy’s face is
rough with pain, and she’s not thinking fast enough
because other students are starting up, because
one face is swelling and one is swearing and one
is firmly saying stop and I realize it is
me telling a man to leave the classroom, me
calling the front office for backup, calling
boy-with-broken-glasses to the sink, voice
low like his, hands shaking like his, eyes low.
He goes to the nurse. I tell his friends that he
could not have been helped by them, that they could
only have redirected such senseless wrath. Only
man-once-boy holds the reins to his rage. Man
trying to heal his boyhood wounds without trial.
What do you say when someone
hands you their life story
with the words “it’s kind of sad”
spoken as a preface to
the tragedies you’ll read,
the wrong turns that led to them
becoming who they are?
Don’t say that.
I kept it academic,
to the task at hand
of organizing and
but was there something else
I should’ve said?
Don’t be ashamed.
Don’t be afraid.
Don’t give up.
This does not have to be
the end of your story.
Your life is not an essay
with one conclusion printed
in permanent ink, and you
are not some Sisyphus, doomed
to roll your past up that hill you see
when you look back in the mirror.
Write yourself out
of those paragraphs of pain,
those doldrums of disappointment,
into a new, chosen future,
in the best way
Caitlin M.S. Buxbaum is a writer and teacher from Wasilla, Alaska. She currently serves as CEO of Red Sweater Press, President of Alaska Writers Guild, and Editor-in-Chief of The Poets' Touchstone, a publication of the Poetry Society of New Hampshire. Learn more about her and read more of her work at caitbuxbaum.com.