Sweet Sixteen – Memory to Light Day 2

August 12, 2011

I’m pretty sure my father held me when I was born, first time in his arms and said, “Beautiful. A healthy girl. You won’t date till you’re 16.”

Whenever was the first time he said it, he wasn’t kidding. Parties were off limits, too. He’d say, “If it’s a boy who called, to you it’s a party, to him it’s a date.”

In full teenage fury I’d throw back,

“So he’s dating EVERYBODY THERE?? It’s his BIRTHDAY PARTY!”

He’d say, “Don’t argue.”

Social implications

As I got older, this rule grew more difficult to abide. Two years into high school, my social life was pastoral compared to most. The rule seemed particularly Draconian in spring time, when the end of school was in the air, and people had pool parties and birthday parties and all kinds of reasons to get together.

I got close once. From the time I could remember being a girl in company of boys, I had a secret crush on my brother’s best friend from church. He was my friend too. He was in my grade. He called me up to ask me to a concert he was going to with my brother and his brother. It was set! We’d all go together. I had to call him back later to tell him I had to babysit. I did. Have to babysit. My parents were going out. And I was staying home with my nine-year-old impairment of a little brother. I would have married that guy at 20 had I gone to that concert.

But as it was, the days ticked by slowly. As spring set in and then summer leading up to the big day, the arguments got fiercer. Sweet 16 was so close it seemed a technicality. Surely Dad would relent, if not for a one-on-one date then a group of kids hanging out, or a birthday party where parents were in-house.

“What?” I’d plead after another invitation I’d had to turn down, “I’m gonna grow up all in the one night before I turn 16? Auugh!”

Turn of the heel. Flip of the hair. March from the room. His principle was crippling the point. He raised us to be mature beyond reason. His mantra for everything was, “Be wise.”

My boy

When I say “us,” I’m talking about my brother, David, a year older, our birthdays three days apart. Before I could pronounce his name as a little girl, I called him “my boy.” Now we went to high school together. We were taking the same summer school class, both of us having failed algebra the first time around. That’s right. All the wisdom in the world would not help “x” or “y” sort themselves out in an exam equation.

It was the night before my 16th. I was serene because I could see my future crackling open. I settled in to paint my toenails and get as cute as possible. I could date, like, tomorrow. It was going to be a full night of primping. David left the house with his buddies. His curfew had been extended two nights before on his birthday. Independence as a birthday present. Mine was on its way.


Close to midnight, the phone rings. I get to it first. It is the mom of David’s friend, asking if we’ve received a call from the hospital. Through a haze of sleep, I hang the yellow receiver on the wall and tell my dad what she has said. Something about…an accident…they’re okay…they can’t tell us much more…but have we gotten a call? Do we have more information?

We haven’t gotten a call. But they are okay. So that makes everything okay. Okay? We sleep-walk to our opposite parts of the house, back to bed. I wake up the minute I lay down, suddenly aware of the transaction I’d had on the phone.

In a half hour I see a red light revolving through the sheer curtain into my room. Then a knock at the door. I run to my dad’s bedroom, heart pounding out of my eyeballs. “There’s someone here!” Gawky limbs poking into in a too-small robe, knees and legs plunging through the dark to the living room. Dad answers the door in this state, me standing behind aways in the doorway leading to the room.

The end, the beginning

It’s weird to me how, in trauma, what becomes clearest in that moment are the details. Color. Quiet. Angles. Breath. I will tell you someday the details. For the purpose of this story, two people step into the room. A woman, coroner. A man, cop. He confirms my father’s name. Confirms that David Teeter is his son. She regrets to inform us that he is pronounced deceased, at 10:45pm, at the scene of a car accident on Highway 97. Identity confirmed by one Mark Tanner. “Do you know Mark Tanner?”

It is his good friend and driver of the car. They have been hit from behind, the car totaled.

That night I sleep in my dad’s room, unable to go back to mine. I wake up 16. I wonder how I feel so old and so young at the same time.


(You can read all of the Memory to Light stories in order on the side bar ––>)

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Thanks for reading Day 2 of “Memory to Light: 31 Days of Stories, August 11 – September 11, 2011.” It is an exercise in writing about loss, for the purpose of letting grief wake, live, and pass through the system. Grief is transformation. Story is transformation. Our world could use a little transformation right now. Take a peek at yesterday’s post. You are invited to join me.

P.S. A name was changed in my story today, in the interest of focusing on the story rather than the identifiable in it.

{ 1 trackback }

God, Sex, and My Divorce from Religion
May 18, 2012 at 1:39 pm

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Lianne August 12, 2011 at 7:18 pm

Moved to tears.
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Pema Teeter August 13, 2011 at 6:32 pm

Moved by you.


Ronna August 13, 2011 at 11:10 am

Oh how stories shape us…and when told, shape others’. Your courage is stunningly beautiful, Pema. And my story is different today because of yours. Thank you.
Ronna recently posted..Shame’s BurnMy Profile


Pema Teeter August 13, 2011 at 6:29 pm

Thank you for saying this, Ronna. Yes, our stories shape each other. Reason enough for the courage to let them free. Much love for your support, passion and comments.


Irving Podolsky August 13, 2011 at 12:56 pm

Loss…it comes in so many shapes and sizes. Sometimes, it’s not even about physical death, but about emotional decay. I’ve lost my sister. So have my parents. She fell into a bottomless hole somewhere in the woods and she’s not telling us where. Nor does she feel we can lift her out. We know she’s hurting. But we also know trying to help her will hurt her even more. We do not know why that is, and she does not want us to know why.

I saw this coming for years. I hurt deeply when she refused to answer my calls and letters, and then lied about her reasons. I felt betrayed, like she felt about me. I then hated her, like she hated me. Where did our love go? Where did the trust go? Why did she pull away? Why did she die on me? My parents are asking the same questions.

Thinking out of the box, I look back inside it to find shreds of reasons for her isolation. It doesn’t help to project an understanding about rejection. It still hurts. I lost my only sister. And someday, I will lose my wife to real death. I will die with her when that happens. I think about that all the time. I am the sum of my love for others. I try to love when not loved. I’m still learning to do that.

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Pema Teeter August 13, 2011 at 6:32 pm

Letting your story/comment settle in, just sitting with it and hearing your last three lines on echo.
Thank you, Irv.


dehelen August 13, 2011 at 8:11 pm

Loss we suffer in our childhood or teen years is profound loss, loss that changes us forever. You are writing about this in such a clear way that we are right there with you, Pema. Thank you so much for sharing yourself in this way. Your story opens up room for light to shine on our own stories so we can show them to ourselves.


Dave August 14, 2011 at 7:29 pm



Robyn August 18, 2011 at 10:56 pm

Oh Heather, there are not many that can share this horrific night and the days/years to follow. We all had been fairly close for so many years and being neighbors just made it all the better!

I can tell you that this entry brought it all back to me like a ton of bricks , like it did that morning. David was the first friend I had lost and at such a young age. It was too hard for all of us.

Sending you hugs! <3


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