When Bailey Wind lies down and closes her eyes, she is inside the SUV again, flipping over and over. She doesn’t feel impact. There’s no pain. One moment she’s in her house, and the next she’s hurtling through the air.
“It just didn’t feel real to me,” she said. “To be honest, it felt like a dream. But, a lot of it still doesn’t seem real to me.”
It’s been nine days since the 17-year-old Shaker High senior lost her boyfriend and a close friend in the crash.
One moment, the 2000 Ford Explorer sails toward Exit 8; the next it sits crumpled like an old car at
the scrapyard. One moment, Bailey smiles, her face soft and sweet; her pearly whites shine. The next moment, she’s in a neck brace, her jaw and bottom lip are swollen, her mouth is cut, she walks with a limp. Five of her teeth are missing. Three more are wired in.
One day, Shenendehowa High seniors Chris Stewart and Deanna Rivers are alive. The next, they’re not.
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Bailey doesn’t think twice about her teeth. She smiles just thinking about the fun they had that Saturday.
She and Chris were on one of their usual double dates with Deanna and fellow Shen senior Matt Hardy, watching UAlbany beat Siena in men’s basketball at the Times Union Center.
The game finished and they drove to Bailey’s home on Cimarron Way. “Elf” was playing on TV, so they had to catch the last 15 minutes of it. It was Deanna’s favorite movie.
Then Bailey packed a bag to sleep over at Deanna’s house. They all piled into Chris’s SUV — Chris and Bailey in the front, Deanna and Matt in the back — and got on the Northway at Exit 7.
“You take a left off of Exit 8 and go straight,” said Bailey, softly. “That’s her neighborhood. We were so close to Deanna’s house. We were so close.”
They were one mile north of the Twin Bridges in Halfmoon. She never saw 22-year-old Dennis Drue changing lanes, coming up behind them.
She heard Chris yell “Shit!” and everything went black. She was trapped, being told not to move by paramedics. She could hear Matt’s voice; it sounded like it was coming from outside the car.
A paramedic kept covering her face as crews cut through the metal to get her out.
“I do get these flashes where I remember a couple little things, but I’m not really sure exactly,” said Bailey, sitting inside her Latham home nine days later.
The 17-year-old Shaker senior is petite, so that while her neck is in a brace her head looks big for her body. She wears a heart necklace and a ring — “Forever and Always,” it says — that Chris gave her on their one-year anniversary.
Her home is filled with bouquets of all shapes, sizes and colors. Posters, mementos, stuffed animals, and more gifts line the walls and floor.
After the surgeons operated on her neck (she has five broken vertebrae, one of them a cervical vertebra that was badly shattered), inserted two titanium plates into her jaw and deemed the bleeding on her brain would stop on its own, Bailey learned why she never heard Chris and Deanna talking while she was trapped in the car.
“We spoke to a therapist and they told us we were doing the right thing,” said her mother, Dawn Wind. “We just wanted to get her through her surgeries.”
Bailey is glad it happened that way. She was so “drugged up” and exhausted, she said, that she understands why her parents waited three days to tell her Chris and Deanna were dead.
She had a feeling, though. The second she was conscious after surgery, she felt worried for them. And that feeling stayed with her in the back of her mind.
She and Chris began dating in November 2011. Although they attended different schools, the two were drawn to each other from the get-go. Her diving friends from Shen knew Chris, and swore that he was the nicest kid.
From their first date, Bailey was struck by how easygoing and talkative he was.
“He didn’t make anything awkward,” she said. “I just knew that I liked him. Even over texting I could tell he had an amazing personality, which I just loved. And he was so cute. He was the best of both worlds. He was good-looking and he had an amazing personality.”
The captain of the football team had a sweaty face and a goofy smile on and off the field. He loved to smile and make others smile. In a Facebook update posted Monday, his mother Regina shared that she bought him a tuxedo several months ago. It would be cheaper to buy than rent, since he had a few proms lined up to go to with Bailey.
“I told him, ‘Chris, this suit needs to last a while so please go easy on it.’ (That boy sweat just walking across the room.) I knew it was going to stink each time he wore it. He said to me, ‘OK mom…I promise I won’t do the worm in it until the very last prom so I don’t bust a seam.’ That was Chris, always enjoyed a good time out.”
Regina Stewart thanked the hundreds of people who stood in line for hours at Chris’ wake last week just to give her a hug. She spoke from a peaceful place, she said, and has yet to feel the anger that her older son Jeremy does.
“I have not felt anger yet,” she wrote. “I pray if I do that it passes through me quickly because it’s ugly.”
She wonders if she’ll write a book about Chris one day. After all, she wrote, he did some really funny stuff.
“How could he be an honor student and such a dingbat sometimes?” she wrote.
Memories and pain
Bailey has to take a deep breath when she thinks about all the times he made her laugh. She lets it all out in one breath — “Everything he did made me laugh” — before the tears start.
He sang to her in the car. His voice wasn’t necessarily, well — great. But it was always cute when he did it.
She’ll never forget the night he sang “Wanted” by Hunter Hayes to her in the car.
“I’ll remember that forever,” she said, softly crying.
Bailey openly cries, yet she is undeniably strong. She’s thankful to be alive. She’s thankful Matt, who broke his pelvis and other bones, is alive. She tries to keep her mind off dark thoughts during the day. It’s nighttime before the sobbing begins in earnest.
But Bailey was strong well before Dec. 1 — when Chris’ friends weren’t all willing to accept her into their lives, when they didn’t try to make conversation with her at junior prom, when they yelled things at her those times she showed up to his games in his No. 69 jersey.
“Deanna was a great person,” she said. “She gave me a chance. Her and Matt gave me a chance. They always just loved me for who I am and gave me a chance.”
In five weeks her neck brace comes off. She won’t have one last dance with Chris at her senior prom or one more summer before attending the University of Tennessee on a diving scholarship to play mini golf or eat ice cream with Chris, Matt and Deanna like the old days.
She thinks about getting a tattoo — “12/1/12” — to keep that last day with Chris and Deanna with her forever.