"The Time of Your Life"

This is a human interest feature story that I had to write for my journalism class. I wasn't originally going to post it because I didn't feel satisfied with it, but I also didn't see where I could improve it. If it wasn't for the time constraint of having to turn something in, I probably would have scrapped it all together. I guess I'm too critical of my writing because I got the story back today with a big, red "A" on the top and absolutely no corrections. Because of that, I'll post the story here.


The Time of Your Life

By Corey Inscoe

There’s a white cross perched on the eastbound lane of U.S. 64, flanked mournfully by fresh spring bouquets. Large, shaky, hand-written letters sprawl across the white cross-bar: “Kassel.”

He was a junior at Cary High School. I had two classes with him. We were both on the track team. He was an actor, comedian and one of the most liked students at the school.

More than three years ago, on a crisp, sunny spring afternoon, he was out with some friends shopping for tuxedos and prom dresses. An eighteen-wheeler barreled down U.S. 64 with its right-hand turn signal blinking slowly.

“It’s alright, he’s turning. You can go.”

Kassel Smit’s lanky runner’s frame slouched comfortably in the back seat of the 1994 Plymouth Acclaim as Katherine Hart took Kassel’s suggestion and turned left across the east-bound lane.

Kassel was wrong: the truck wasn’t turning.

The truck slammed into the side of the small car, sending it spinning to the side of the road. Kassel and 15-year-old Breann Gentz, who was in the passenger seat, both died at the scene. Hart and the truck driver survived.

Two days later I was standing outside of the Brown-Wynn Funeral Home in Cary, the tail-end of a long line that snaked through every room of the small one-story building. The viewing was supposed to end at 9 p.m.; at 9:25 p.m. I finally reached the door. The line was still all the way to the parking lot behind me.

Each room of the dimly lit funeral home showcased items from Kassel’s life: a Cary High School track jersey, a program from the last high school play, and a Boy Scouts shirt with a new Eagle badge neatly sewn on.

In the largest room there was a TV playing a slideshow with pictures of Kassel, always flashing that familiar crooked smile. I started to see myself in the pictures instead of Kassel. He was only one month older than me. Overhead, small speakers softly leaked out a popular Green Day song: “So take the photographs and still-frames in your mind. Hang them on a shelf of good health and good time.” The only other sound was the occasional sob or sniffle.

The line finally ended in a large, bright and outdated chapel. The small wooden pews with faded pink cushions formed two rows, herding the mourners into the center aisle. They were all looking at their feet as they moved to the front of the chapel, not wanting to look at the front of the chapel, understanding that only then they would know this was real.

The 16-year-old boy lay in an open casket perched at the front of the chapel and surrounded by flowers: a barrage of colors in an otherwise dull, white room. Friends and family slid past the casket, many unable to look in without bursting into tears. As I stood beside my former classmate, my strong and composed demeanor collapsed.

The rest of the Smit family ­– mother, father and older brother – stood side-by-side next to the casket as hundreds of people shuffled by, offering their condolences and telling stories about Kassel. His mother watched the seemingly never ending line stretch all the way out of the chapel with cloudy eyes and a shocked look on her face.

“I can’t believe it,” she stammered. “I just can’t believe it.”

I stood in front of her, searching for something to say, but nothing came. I had known Kassel for only three years, but I still could not put his impact on me into words. The mother, who I had never met before, reached out and hugged me. “I know,” she said. “It’s going to be okay.”

As I walked out the door at the back of the chapel, I heard the chorus of the song play again on the overhead speakers: “It’s something unpredictable, but in the end it’s right. I hope you have the time of your life.”



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