‘Shotgun!’ Travis got in the front and Isaac got in behind me. They both fell asleep on the ride home. The next thing I remember is waking up in excruciating pain.’: Man shares how he chose not to remain in the ‘victim mentality’

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“It’s amazing what can change in less than a second. The future can change, the reality we know can disappear, and our identity can dramatically change. That’s what happened to me. People knew me as one of the skaters, the guy who made videos and t-shirts, one of the Lones family kids. But in one second, I became the kid from the accident. The boy whose brother died. To the prosecutor, I was the delinquent child who murdered his brother. The guy who survived the wreck that killed his brother.

For two teenagers, it was still early for a Sunday morning when Travis, my best friend, and I got up. We hopped in to my Mercury Tracer and headed out to pick up my little brother Isaac. It was basketball season for him and he had little free time, so we decided to get out early to go film for his section in our upcoming skate video. It was just another typical day for us. Hit a few skate spots, stop by the local skate shop, and get back before Travis and I had to work that evening.

Courtesy of Zachary Lones

‘Shotgun!,’ Travis and Isaac yelled out as we left the skate shop to head home. After a bit of back and forth, Travis got in the front seat and Isaac got in the car sitting behind me on the driver’s side. Both of them fell asleep on the ride home, so I skipped our typical gas station stop to grab candy and drove right past the last skate spot we were going to go to. If only I would have made either of those two stops, the rest of this story would be different.

After passing by that last skate spot, the next thing I remember is waking up in excruciating pain. My face was covered in blood, and it smelled like someone dumped gasoline all over me. Someone was telling me it was going to be ok, then it goes black. Someone threw a blanket on me. I heard metal crunching – back to black. Now I’m on a stretcher. I ask where Isaac is, no answer – black. It’s loud, sounds like a helicopter -and I black out again.

My inexperience as a driver cost Isaac his life at a dangerous intersection on the way home.

Courtesy of Zachary Lones

It’s days later when I wake up again. I’m in a bed and my entire family is around me; it feels like a dream. They tell me Isaac didn’t make it, he’s gone – I black out again. It’s Thursday now, and I’m finally awake and at a capacity where I can understand what’s going on. They tell me Isaac’s funeral will be on Sunday, but I am in too bad of shape to be released to go. My intestines were ripped and several bones on the left side of my body were broken, including my pelvis. If I could miraculously get myself out of bed and use a walker to go down the hall and up three stairs, they would let me leave. My mind was made up. I ignored the pain for the next two days and accomplished the task to be able to go to Isaac’s funeral.

Courtesy of Zachary Lones

It’s not real. They say denial is the first step and for me, that was true. The accident nearly killed me as well, so when I woke up from my surgeries, none of it seemed real. In my mind, I was convinced it was a sick joke they were playing when my family told me Isaac died. If I could just get to the funeral, the joke would be revealed. When you see someone you knew your whole life in a casket, it changes you. It convinced me people have a soul because it physically looked like him, but you can tell what you see isn’t the person you knew. This wasn’t a joke. My mind searched for alternative explanations. Maybe I’m in a coma and because he survived, he isn’t here with me. Anything seemed possible to me if it meant keeping the crushing pain of reality from setting in. I had to face the truth.

Once it was over, the prosecution charged me with Aggravated Vehicular Homicide, despite there being no drugs or alcohol in my system and no clear malicious intent. They intended to prove I killed my brother in this car accident on purpose. Over the next year, I retaught myself to walk and went to court countless times. My parents and sisters had to survive the unthinkable – one son and brother was dead, and their other son and brother had to prove he didn’t kill him on purpose! The world was trying to rip our family apart, but we refused to turn on each other. We fought back as a family. We refused to give up. We knew what man does with evil intent God can still use for good. In the end, I retained my future – probation, community service, and a loss of my license. God was with us.

Courtesy of Zachary Lones

There is no greater phrase of torture than ‘what if.’ What if we would have stopped at a gas station like I planned? What if I went 1 mph faster or slower? What if I would have set my bag in the backseat behind me instead of on the passenger side? What if it were me instead of him? When you play this game though, it stops you from taking action. It gives you an excuse to blame others, circumstances, God… but it doesn’t solve anything.

It’s not fair. This one hit me hard. Since I was severely injured as well, my mom had to care for me. In my mind, I was no longer my mom’s other son – I was just the person who killed her boy. In my mind, it wasn’t fair my mom had to take care of the person responsible for her son’s death. It wasn’t fair Isaac died when he was such a better person than me; I should have died. It’s not fair I’m 16 and dealing with this. It’s not fair the prosecutor is charging me with Aggravated Vehicular Homicide when I was completely sober and don’t meet any of the criteria for that charge. It’s not fair God lets stuff like this happen.

The thing about his story is I actually hate telling it. Not because of what it reminds me of or because of the pain. I hate telling it because it makes people look at me as a victim. People see me as a guy who went through such a traumatic experience and who deserves pity. My family didn’t endure this for pity. I didn’t come out of this to be felt sorry for. When something like this happens, we have a choice. We can let other people decide our identity and let them define the experience as something terrible, or we can choose to change the narrative.

I refuse to be the boy whose brother died or the guy who went through something tragic. My story is about denying my circumstances the ability to make me a victim. It is a reminder that terrible things can happen at any time to anyone, but we are stronger than we know and can come back. A tragedy only remains a tragedy if you allow it to. Remaining in the victim mentality is the most selfish thing I could do. I had to move on; I had to be more. Isaac’s legacy demands more of me than that. He has touched the lives of thousands of teenagers as I have shared the experience with them to help them be more careful when driving.

Courtesy of Zachary Lones

Isaac believed in people and helping others. He lived a life that showed his faith in God through the way he acted. He brought out the best in others and made you feel comfortable being your true self. Although Isaac is no longer on earth, the essence of his character is still here and alive in the friends and family members he left behind. As his older brother and the driver of the car, I have decided to make it my mission to not only keep his character alive, but to share the spirit of who Isaac was with as many people as I can. He would be disappointed if I stopped pushing to live out my fullest potential. He would expect me to help others find their potential as well. Although Isaac’s life ended that day in the car, the legacy of his impact on the world was just beginning.

The world needs more stories that see devastation as the first chapter of the book, not the last.”

Courtesy of Zachary Lones

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Zachary Lones of Bentonville, Arkansas. You can follow his journey hereDo you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

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