“What if it had been me?”
My 16-year-old granddaughter Natalya Quintanilla, had appeared at my door red-eyed. She’d been crying all day. The night before a friend of hers, Maria Elena Cruz, 16, had been killed in a car crash near the “Blinking Light”.
What if…” but it wasn’t,” I reminded her as I hugged and consoled her. “It could have been any of you, yes.” I said. But it wasn’t, thank God, I thought as I was taken back all those years to when my daughters were teenagers, in cars, driving or being driven.
When my daughters were that age, they along with a good friend, Maya Vargas, were traveling with their dad and his girlfriend at the time; my daughter Angelica drove his truck while he and Patricia drove in her car ahead of them. They had spent two weeks hiking and camping in the Grand Canyon in Arizona.
A tire blowout (brand new tires); my oldest daughter’s quick reflexes (she turned the truck into a cliff on the other side of the road from the drop into the canyon), and my youngest daughters decision to undo her seatbelt in the moment prior to the accident, saved their lives. Barely. Angelica and Maya sustained little physical injury, but the emotional trauma scarred them forever. Genevieve was not so lucky. An athlete and gymnast, she somersaulted out the windshield, landing on her butt, breaking her back. She was critically injured.
Angels appeared out of nowhere; and very soon she was on a helicopter to Flagstaff where after 8 hours on the operating table, the young and brilliant surgeon on duty, knitted her broken body back together.
As I flew to Flagstaff I prayed I wouldn’t lose my daughter – I had been told it was possible she could be paralyzed or worse.
We were lucky. Genevieve lived and as she rediscovered her body, she became the archetypal wounded healer; assisting others in their body awareness and healing as one of the co-founders of Shree Yoga Taos. Angelica and Maya are both mothers to teenage girls and I know that Maria’s death impacted them too.
“What if it was me?” Natalya asked. And it could have been. It could have been any of our daughters. Or sons.
Life and death are filled with mystery. A deputy fire chief who arrived on the scene of the fatal three-car crash involving country singer Kylie Rae Harris last week was unaware that his daughter was one of the victims.
Pedro Cruz, the deputy chief of the San Cristobal Volunteer Fire Department was not acting in a first responder capacity at the time and one can only imagine the traumatic experience he had. I remembered that my ex had watched his daughters’ crash in the rear view mirror.
The crash remains under investigation, but Taos Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe told reporters in a statement that “Miss Cruz was an innocent victim of this senseless crash caused by Ms. Harris.”
Harris was traveling on State Road 522 when she struck a vehicle from behind, sending her into oncoming traffic, where she collided head-on with a Jeep driven by Cruz, according to the Taos County Sheriff’s Office. The third driver was uninjured.
Hogrefe said investigators suspect speed and alcohol may have been factors in the crash. Investigators are still awaiting the toxicology report. Harris had a 2017 DWI conviction in Texas and had been court-ordered to install an ignition interlock device on her vehicle.
I made Natalya tea and something to nibble on, and talked to her as she sat at my table, grateful for my relationship with these grandkids I’m blessed with as I wondered the same thing she’d asked me. “What if…”
Let’s not forget as we celebrate all the changes Taos is ringing in – the music, the festivals, Taos Air and all the publicity and “Best Town” nominations, that we are also a community where real people live and raise their families.
Tragically, this accident happened during the Big Barn Dance weekend, where the young singer was slated to perform, and yes, it’s terribly sad that a child lost a mother, But what is more sad, is that a an hour or so before the accident, this young woman was video taping herself talking about how the trip to Taos was full of mixed feelings for her – that all her close relatives who spent time here died, and then she talked about being in an accident on this road with her dad and sister when still a kid.
Driving at night, they had hit something while she was sleeping in the back seat. When she woke with a start she asked her father what it was. He told her it was a cattleguard, but later she learned they had hit a cow.
Right before she made her instagram video she had to stop for cows crossing the road which triggered the memory. If only she’d heeded the warning. But our narcissistic, selfie-culture is so absorbed in me me me navel gazing (evidently this doesn’t stop behind the wheel), and instead of slowing down, she speeded up.
In Taos, we were still recovering from another loss to our community (also in the wake of, and prior to, festivities and music), and perhaps Maria’s tragic and much too early departure from this world, should stand to remind us all of those real families and how they are grieving these losses, and like those cows crossing the road, her memory should serve as a warning to us all, to slow down. Be mindful. In all that we do.
Nothing is more precious than the gift of life and this beautiful young girl, on the cusp of womanhood, one of our own, had her life stolen by recklessness – a trait that seems to be more and more prevalent along with gun violence, and the aforementioned narcissism that prevails in Pop Culture.
We must resist it all, and mostly we need to look at our collective need to lionize and romanticize pop stars – placing them above us, and making idols out of them – while we all know that the Gods have clay feet.
Our children deserve better.
.A Lifetime To Overcome will be playing Taos Plaza Sunday as a benefit for the family of Maria Elena Cruz.
Editors Note: The Blinking Light (although no longer there), is home to Medley (which had its roof blown off in a storm recently), and was once named The Old Blinking Light in homage to the once upon a time traffic light that was in the vicinity. Coincidently, the restaurant was at one time home to The Big Barn Dance.
*If my daughter had not undone her seatbelt, ironically she most likely would have been killed, as that side (passenger), of the truck was crushed in the crash.
Images stock files