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Authentic Eagles: Amy McDonnell on Angels

As Boston College students, it can be tempting to hide our true selves. Embracing our individuality  can help us to understand ourselves and experience the world around us as genuinely as possible. Authentic Eagles is a series that gives a voice to the people who have experienced firsthand the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of being one’s authentic self at BC. We hope that readers are inspired to have conversations and reflections of their own, working towards being more authentic.

Amy McDonnell, A&S ’15

I was twelve years old the first time I drove a car. That’s every twelve year old’s dream, right? It’s the reason we played Mario Kart and with remote control cars. It’s the reason our 16th birthday was the best birthday ever. And it’s probably the reason I’m alive today.

It was a Tuesday night after an exhausting soccer practice. I was wearing my favorite blue soccer socks over my shin guards and had mud splashed all over my clothes—proof I was a baller. It had been a great practice and I was excited that my dad would probably surprise me with Skittles waiting for me in the car. I gathered my stuff and turned to the parking lot, only to see him stumble out of the driver’s seat door. I felt my stomach drop to my toes. Not this again.

I ran to the car as fast as I could, before the other kids’ parents could pay any attention to him. I jumped in the passenger seat, barely able to see over the dashboard, and locked my door. There were no Skittles waiting on my seat and the car reeked of stale booze and worn leather, a smell that was becoming all too familiar. My golden retriever, Bailey, was in the back trying to lick me without falling off the seat. I couldn’t even muster up the strength in my body to pet her. The terror left me paralyzed.

He started the car and pulled out of the parking lot onto Foothill Blvd—one of the busiest streets in my town. I remember looking at the clock, which read 9:04pm, and giving myself 13 minutes. It only took 13 minutes to get home from the soccer fields. I only had to survive 13 minutes. I was used to this process of counting down the minutes, of holding my breath as the miles trimmed down to the moment when we successfully pulled into the driveway. But this time was different. This time, no amount of small talk could keep him alert.

I remember turning onto Cañada Blvd and swerving between the lanes, like Mario when he hits a banana peel. Bailey was unable to keep her balance sitting in the back seat of the car. I kept my eyes glued out the window. Through the tears resting on my eyelids, I could see a red car in the rear view window to my right. The car came up beside us and the driver rolled down his window and yelled, “Hey, are you drunk or something?” I felt an intense feeling of relief when I realized someone would stop us and I could get out of the car. Surely, someone would save me. But the man sped away, and I was on my own again. I planned to jump out of the car at the next stoplight. When I couldn’t, I swore I would at the next one. And then the next one. I built up the courage every 500 feet and, without fail, chickened out when the time came. Block after block the pit in my stomach grew heavier and I turned to look over at my Dad, whose eyes were no longer open.

I did what my instinct told me to do and I lunged over to grab the wheel. My scream woke him up and he mumbled something along the lines of, “you wanna drive?” I took the wheel and left him in control of the pedals.

‘Do it just like your Stuart Little red convertible remote control car’ I told myself. I steered us down the remainder of Cañada Blvd, only having to yell once for him to slow down as we approached 50 mph in a 35 zone. 11 minutes down and we were approaching the last big intersection before entering my quiet neighborhood.

‘Just 2 more minutes, Amy.’

The light was red and cars were stopped in front of us, as traffic was passing in the perpendicular direction. The light came closer and closer and I finally realized he had no intention of hitting the brake. His eyes were closed and mouth was open, with his head tilted slightly back. I silently acknowledged that this was probably it. I looked back at Bailey, whose sunken eyes and trembling body perfectly reflected what I was feeling. I threw the wheel to the left as hard as I could and ducked my head. I don’t know what happened from there, except that the flashing lights and the sound of horns created a symphony of terror that I thought would be the last song I would ever hear.

But something, someone, guided me safely through that intersection.

And now I thank God for my angels. The only reason I made it home that night was not because of my excellent Stuart Little remote control car skills (although they undoubtedly helped). I made it home because my angels were looking out for me. And no, I don’t mean all my loved ones who had passed away before this moment looking down at me from a cloud in heaven. I mean Bailey in the back seat. I mean my mom, my sister, my brother, my grandparents. I mean my friends. My teachers. And I probably even mean my Dad, who in the right state of mind would give the world to me. It’s not a matter of religion or spirituality. It doesn’t mean that someone has to have died to become an angel. It’s all about finding guidance from the people I love most. From the people who love me the most.

The only reason I made it down the last stretch of Cañada Blvd is because every single person in my life who cared about me willed for me to make it home. Their love accompanied and protected me. Looking back now, I’m amazed by how not alone I was in the passenger seat, with a driver who might as well not have even been there.

I realize now that if I had gotten out of the car at the stoplights like I had planned to, my dad might not have made it home. Maybe the courageous thing to do was to stay in the car. To be the hands that could have saved an innocent person’s life. Regardless, no matter how alone I felt, there were so many people there with me—in spirit, guidance, and protection. It’s incredible that I get to walk through life every day with these angels by my side. Whether they are at home in California, in my dorm room in Rubenstein, or yes, maybe even somewhere in the clouds, they are always right there with me and looking out.

And life feels a little more safe now.


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