A friend’s son died in a car crash last night. An eighteen-year-old boy who had only finished his high school exams days before. It is with a heavy heart that I share this post that I wrote about the death of Cooper Ratten, the son of a famous football coach.
This post is dedicated to the my friend’s family and also to the Ratten family whose families have both lost a son, a brother and a friend.
(Excerpt of poem and eulogy, by Brett Ratten)
A picture of you
I only have a picture now,
A frozen piece of time,
To remind me of how it was,
When you were here and when you were mine.
I read Brett Ratten’s poem over and over, struggling to grasp the image of a father delivering his handwritten poem at his son’s eulogy. A father’s grief made public by his position as assistant coach of one of Australia’s favourite football teams. Only days ago a father and son continued their life with some semblance of normality, and perhaps like many fathers and sons they argued over curfews and homework, perhaps they had laughed at silly dad jokes over the dinner table as my son had with his father. Instead, yesterday another father buried his son. The combination of an unlicensed driver, speed and alcohol sealed their fate. For a son there would be no tomorrow, and a father’s life would never be the same.
The image of myself as an unlicensed teen in the driver’s seat flashed through my mind.
‘Let’s go for a drive, time to get you home,’ he said with a wink from across the family dining table.
‘Okay, thanks for dinner Mrs Chung.’
The car was a novelty. It was part of the package: his good looks, a well-paying job and now four wheels, our ticket to freedom. He had just turned eighteen and recently got his driver’s license. On the flipside he still lived at home and so did I.
The passenger seat of his father’s Corolla smelled like tuberose and tobacco, his mother’s signature scent and I imagined that we too were husband and wife. 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.’
‘But I don’t know how to.’ I was only seventeen and I didn’t even have my learners.
‘I’ll teach you.’
How much I miss you being here,
I really can’t say,
The ache is deep inside my heart,
And never goes away.
With his urging I took the wheel. Annoyed by my persistence he buckled up as I struggled to master the both the clutch and accelerator.
‘You’re a natural.’ A few minutes had passed and I was circling the abandoned streets. ‘There’s a car behind me. Shit. What’ll I do?’ Childlike terror surged.
‘Turn into the next street, let him go by.’
The driver inched closer and 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. As I took the corner the wall seemed to be coming at us. Shit, which pedal do I press?
I hear it mentioned often,
That time will heal the pain,
But if I’m being honest,
I hope it will remain.
I need to feel you constantly,
To get me through the day,
I loved you so very much,
Why did you go away?
Time slowed and I felt like a small child spinning on a merry-go-round. Screams were echoing in my head, like my brother’s when we would spin 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 were orbiting one another in this unworldly moment where we knew no time or space. Round-and-round spiralling until the dreamlike trance was shattered and I found myself swinging upside down in my seatbelt in a cocoon of crumpled metal.
The angels came and took you,
They took my friend, my oldest son,
My future life. My heir.
If only they had asked me,
If I would taken your place,
I would have done so willingly,
Leaving you this world to grace.
‘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… Sorry, I thought…’ tears spilled as I became aware of the situation, ‘I thought it was over, I mean I thought it was the end. Oh My God. Are you okay?’ I stammered, while he reached over to unclip my seatbelt.
‘Holy s**t, dad’s gunna kill me!’
‘Well, at least I didn’t. Oh God.’ The tears turned to hysterical giggles as I realised just how lucky we both were.
You should have had so many years,
To watch your life unfold,
And in the mist of this,
Watch us all grow old.
In memory of Cooper Ratten, aged 16, who died in a horrific accident east of Melbourne on 16th August 2015.