‘Let’s go for a drive,’ he announced across the family dining table. ‘Better get you home, it’s getting late.’ he winked.
The car was a novelty. It was part of the package, along with his good looks and a well-paying job. This was teenage love and those four wheels were our ticket to freedom. He had just turned eighteen and recently got his drivers license. On the downside he still lived at home and so did I.
The passenger seat of his father’s Corolla smelled of citrus and tobacco, his mother’s signature scent. He squeezed my hand in anticipation as I buckled up. I imagined that we too were husband and wife as he pulled away from the curb. Time in the car was our only time alone. At this hour the suburban streets were dimly lit and deserted, we were heading to our usual parking spot: a dead-end street in the middle of an industrial estate, seeking privacy in the most public of places.
‘Take the wheel, you can drive,’ he pulled over to the side of the road.
‘But I don’t know how to drive…’ I was only seventeen and I didn’t even have my learners.
‘I’ll teach you.’
On his urging and against my better judgment I took the wheel. Annoyed by my persistence he buckled up as I struggled to master the clutch and the accelerator.
‘You’re a natural, look how well you are doing.’ A few minutes had passed and I was circling the abandoned streets. I was driving, like a grown-up.
‘There’s a car behind me, shit, what should I do?’ I panicked as childlike terror surged.
‘Turn into the next street, let him go by.’
The car’s flashing headlights were blinding as the driver inched closer. I clanked through the gears trying to speed up but my unsteady pace resulted in a high beam and an unrelenting horn. The intersection was about two hundred metres away and began to feel like the finish line of a long-distance race. The adrenalin surged and desperate to get to the turnoff I increased my speed. I took the corner and panicked, the wall seemed to be coming at us. Shit, which pedal do I press?
* * *
Newspaper reports state that the teenager was with two friends in a car, believed to be stolen, which was travelling more than 100kmh through heavy fog at 3am when it veered off a bend north-east of Melbourne and rolled multiple times.
* * *
Time slowed and I felt like a small child spinning dreamlike on a merry-go-round. Screams echoed in my head like my younger brother’s when we would spin around faster and faster. Only these were not ones of joy, they were louder, frenzied but also distant. Streetlights streaked like lightning bolts captured by a camera’s slow shutter. Round-and-round; we orbited one another in an unworldly moment where we knew no time or space. Round-and-round until it ended. The dreamlike trance was shattered as I hung from my seatbelt upside down in my cocoon of crumpled metal.
* * *
Cooper Ratten, who was sitting in the back seat, was likely not wearing a seatbelt and was thrown more than 40 metres from the crash site on Glenview Road in Yarra Glen, police said. He died on the way to hospital. *
* * *
‘F***! Are you okay?’ he yelled above my screams.
Words, blood and vomit were trapped inside me, a cocktail of terror and relief yet to experience its catharsis.
‘Oh My God! I’m so f***ing sorry, I thought…’ tears spilled as I became aware of the situation, ‘I thought it was over, are you okay, you are okay aren’t you?’ I stammered while he reached over and to unclip my seatbelt. I fell to the floor, which was actually the car-roof.
‘Holy shit, Mum’s gunna kill me!’
* * *
‘This world is so cruel,’ his girlfriend wrote in a Facebook tribute to Cooper. ‘My boyfriend, now my angel forever.’ *
In memory of Cooper Ratten aged 16