Fact Check

Only 17

Essay by 17-year-old who died in a car crash?

Published Aug 19, 2002

Glurge:   Teen pens an essay detailing his loss of life after a car accident.

Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 2002]

Agony claws my mind. I am a statistic. When I first got here I felt very much alone. I was overwhelmed by grief, and I expected to find sympathy.

I found no sympathy. I saw only thousands of others whose bodies were as badly mangled as mine. I was given a number and placed in a category. The category was called "Traffic Fatalities."

The day I died was an ordinary school day. How I wish I had taken the bus! But I was too cool for the bus. I remember how I wheedled the car out of Mom. "Special favor," I pleaded. "All the kids drive." When the 2:50 p.m. bell rang, I threw my books in the locker . . . free until tomorrow morning! I ran to the parking lot, excited at the thought of driving a car and being my own boss.

It doesn't matter how the accident happened. I was goofing off — going too fast, taking crazy chances. But I was enjoying my freedom and having fun. The last thing I remember was passing an old lady who seemed to be going awfully slow. I heard a crash and felt a terrific jolt. Glass and steel flew everywhere. My whole body seemed to be turning inside out. I heard myself scream.

Suddenly, I awakened. It was very quiet. A police officer was standing over me. I saw a doctor. My body was mangled. I was saturated with blood. Pieces of jagged glass were sticking out all over. Strange that I couldn't feel anything. Hey, don't pull that sheet over my head. I can't be dead. I'm only 17. I've got a date tonight. I'm supposed to have a wonderful life ahead of me. I haven't lived yet. I can't be dead.

Later I was placed in a drawer. My folks came to identify me. Why did they have to see me like this? Why did I have to look at Mom's eyes when she faced the most terrible ordeal of her life? Dad suddenly looked very old. He told the man in charge, "Yes, he's our son."

The funeral was weird. I saw all my relatives and friends walk toward the casket. They looked at me with the saddest eyes I've ever seen. Some of my buddies were crying. A few of the girls touched my hand and sobbed as they walked by.

Please, somebody — wake me up! Get me out of here. I can't bear to see Mom and Dad in such pain. My grandparents are so weak from grief they can barely walk. My brother and sister are like zombies. They move like robots. In a daze. Everybody. No one can believe this. I can't believe it, either.

Please, don't bury me! I'm not dead! I have a lot of living to do! I want to laugh and run again. I want to sing and dance. Please don't put me in the ground! I promise if you give me just one more chance, God, I'll be the most careful driver in the whole world. All I want is one more chance. Please, God, I'm only 17.

Origins:   Known on Internet as "Dead at 17" and "Please God, I'm Only 17," the piece quoted above is the work of John J. Berrio of Rochester, New Hampshire. Mr. Berrio was a veteran of World War II who first made his living as a housepainter but later in life took up a career with the IRS. He died in 1997 at the age of


John Berrio was a father five times over, so he likely knew something about teenagers. He wrote his now famous offering in 1967 after a friend of his son died in a car accident.

The work found its way to a larger audience after Mr. Berrio submitted it for publication to advice columnist Dear Abby and she chose to run it in her column. It has since been included in a 1981 compilation of her offerings as one of the essays readers had often asked her to reprint, and has appeared numerous times over the years in her column, but without the two paragraphs that begin the example quoted above. Abby's sister and fellow advice columnist, Ann Landers, also periodically aired the essay in her column.

In 1992 it was fashioned into a made-for-TV movie: Please God, I'm Only 17.

Titled "Dead at 17," the piece was included in the 1997 anthology Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul.

For those tempted to ask "Yes, but is it true?", we point out very few people have penned essays while deceased. This piece is meant as an exhortation to the young to exercise caution while behind the wheel, and its being written in a first-person voice is a literary device employed to heighten its impact, nothing more.

Barbara "be a wreckless driver" Mikkelson

Last updated:   25 February 2007


  Sources Sources:

    Canfield, Jack and Mark Victor Hansen and Kimberly Kirberger.   Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul.

    Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, 1997.   ISBN
1-55874-468-1   (pp. 226-227).

    Van Buren, Abigail.   The Best of Dear Abby.

    New York: Andrews and McMeel, 1981   (pp. 186-187).

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