“Half my life ago, I killed a girl” is the frankest line of Darin Strauss’ memoir, Half A Life, which traces back to the year he turned eighteen, when a fun trip to mini golf turned into the day his life would be lived for two.
Driving in his Oldsmobile, Strauss struck Celine Zilke on her bicycle and sent her flying at forty miles an hour into his windshield.
Haunted by his memories of Celine’s death and his unwillingness to face the accident, Strauss tells a story not of the typical adolescent drinking and driving accident, but of his life after a “no-fault fatality,” a car crash where someone swerves into an automobile intentionally, and the driver is not at fault.
As he confronts Celine’s parents, the two people he hasn’t had the courage to face, he is burdened with a comment from Celine’s mother that will haunt him for the next twenty years. “‘Whatever you do in your life, you have to do it twice as well now.’ Her voice went dim. ‘Because you are living it for two people.’”
Strauss’ only encounter with Celine’s mother permanently ties his life to another’s. Celine’s would-have’s and should-have’s become Strauss’ reality throughout college, marriage, and parenting.
This is made clear when Celine’s parents begin suing Strauss for millions of dollars.
Although the lawsuit is eventually dropped, Strauss continues to be haunted by his memory of Zilke.
As he begins to express his feelings, undergoing therapy as a release, and putting pen to paper, Strauss faces his past. He writes to help others with similar feelings and experiences, and to “finally [look] hard through the window of memory, a neat square cut into the years.”
As Strauss believes, this book is not one of self-pity. Instead, it is a book that illustrates the regret and guilt felt through a life that owes itself to another.