When I was 18, I was in a car accident: a girl swerved in front of my car, I couldn’t avoid her, and she died. I moved soon afterward, and so this crash and its aftermath made up the secret I carried around for 18 years. Until I wrote Half a Life.

40,000 die on US roads every year. And with every accident, somebody walks away feeling he’s put on the executioner’s hood. That’s one reason Half a Life has resonated with so many people. But it’s not the only reason, I’ve come to realize.

When I decided to write this story—the story of me and of the girl who died that day—I don’t think I understood how universal other people would find it; I was just writing what had happened to me. But very soon, I realized this story threw huge shadows. Excerpted in GQ and on This American Life, as well as in The Times of London, The Daily Mail (UK) and numerous other publications in the US and around the world, Half a Life ended up having real valence for a great many people. I’ve received probably over a thousand emails from readers who have wanted to share their own stories: a man who blames himself because he didn’t take his mother’s threats seriously and therefore left for boarding school the day before her suicide; a number of soldiers back from Iraq and Afghanistan who are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder; people who have suffered horrible personal loss; and, of course, many car accident survivors. (more…)