Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Butterfly Effect Interrupted

In my PTSD state,after a very long month of first world concerns-sixty five hours of flying time, amazing safari in Africa, annual trip to the Jersey Shore, countless hours spent planning husband's dual fortieth birthday parties(one was cancelled due to weather and the other's venue closed its doors unexpectedly a week before the party), constant socializing, being evacuated from Hurricane Irene, power outages,family drama, last minute back to school shopping, settling back into the school routine of getting up at six a.m. every day-I locked my keys in the running car one Friday afternoon, twenty minutes before pick up at school. Little was not in school yet, and thankfully, not in the car. She was standing next to it, holding her Strawberry Shortcake doll and a bowl of Life cereal, watching me peer angrily in through the tinted window at my wallet, cell phone and, of course, keys.
It took me a moment to figure out what to do. I am too paranoid to hide a key, so I went to the neighbor's house and rang the bell, thinking I'd call AAA and the school and be there twenty minutes late. He answered. After I'd explained my predicament into the speaker at the front door, he said "I am on the toilet, I will be down when I am done". While I thought this was over sharing a bit, I appreciated his candor and went back to stare at my station wagon idling in the driveway. It was highly possible, since he is a man, that he might not finish his business for another forty five minutes, in which time my car could have easily run out of gas. That's when I decided to break in.
I went to our eight foot gate and gave it a hard push, thinking I'd probably have to scale it somehow. To my horror/relief, it opened as if I'd uttered magic words. I realized then that the double locked bolted business that had given me such peace of mind for the last four years was total bullshit. I made a mental note to call the landlord and started looking for a way inside. Suffice it to say that I found a point of entry, a particularly spidery and gross point of entry. I'd give you the humiliating, frustrating and dangerous details, but I won't be able to sleep at night if I have shared written instructions on how to break in to our house. And for you cyber criminals who enjoy my blog-it was really, really difficult, and we don't have anything of value except a flat screen that is four years old that took three guys five hours to bolt it to the wall.Good luck getting it down.
Once I found the spare car key and loaded Little into the car, we were miraculously only ten minutes later than usual. I sped down the street to the corner and looked left, hoping that the oncoming traffic would give us a chance to make a quick right turn and get through the green stoplight on the next corner. There was one oncoming black station wagon, at first approaching at a normal speed, then slowing, then stopping at the green light. I questioned her in my head "WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU STOPPING FOR???", which translated to a very subtle shrug and benign hand gesture. Nanoseconds from accelerating, I turned my head forward and saw a girl's head disappear in front of my car as she fell off her bike and onto the street, out of view. It took me a second to realize what had just occurred, but, in a nutshell, I just hit a kid on her bike in the crosswalk.

Yay me.

To clarify, I don't think I HIT her because I didn't feel anything. I certainly didn't SEE her and probably just nudged her enough to throw off her balance as I s-l-o-w-l-y rolled into the intersection, waiting to make the right turn. Had the woman in the black station wagon not stopped, my acceleration would have surely been the catalyst for a Butterfly Effect of the worst kind. And I never got to thank her.
My first thought was "What is this kid doing in front of my car?". Unsure if Little would freak out if I got out of the car, and not wanting to risk heightening the intensity of the moment with my toddler's screams of anguish, I opened my car door and asked if she was okay. She didn't seem to be injured but was very discombobulated. She tried to pick up her back pack and very politely asked me to move back my car because the STRAP WAS STUCK UNDER MY FRONT TIRE. I tried not to vomit at hearing this, and very carefully put the car in reverse and moved back a bit, painfully aware that I was perilously close to becoming the night's news story about a panicked woman accelerating instead of reversing and ending the life of the twelve year old in front of me, with her soft breakable bones and pretty turquoise bike.
I watched for a few seconds as she attempted to right herself, which she seemed unable to do. She was so awkward and so young and trying so hard to get her bearings. The books fell, the bike fell, the backpack fell. I put the car in park, told Little that I had to go and help her and got out. With legs of rubber, I walked over and picked up the bike, apologizing profusely and asking repeatedly if she was alright. She took the bike from me, reassuring me repeatedly that she was alright. I saw no blood, no scrapes, the bike seemed fine. She kept looking at me like she wanted to get the fuck away from me. Hell, I wanted to get the fuck away from me-what kind of moron hits a kid on her bike in the crosswalk? She finally got it balanced, walked it across the street and down the sidewalk, presumably toward home.
In an adrenaline haze, I got back in the car. I drove as carefully as humanly possible to pick up my other child, Big, at school. I made each lane change, each turn, with great purpose and gave each light a three second lead as I listened to Little chatter on about something we were supposed to do later on that day."Sure, Little, if I can manage not to kill someone with my car", I wanted to say.
In a matter of seconds, my life had become a Robert Altman movie. It resumed, with soccer games, play dates and the daily grind, while I waited for either the police, or an irate parent to bang on the door and demand to know what was wrong with me. I thought constantly about the story line in "Short Cuts" where Lily Tomlin hits the kid on his bike and,unbeknownst to her, he dies hours later. I watched the news, read the local paper and waited for a corner shrine to pop up with teddy bears and religious candles. Nothing happened. I know it was an accident, but it is the kind of accident that happens to other people, and you read about it in the paper or see it on the news and shake your head in amazement, wondering how on earth it could have happened.
I saw her a few weeks later, crossing at the same intersection. I saw her bike and her long brown hair. I wanted to stop her and tell her how sorry I was again. I also wanted to encourage her to wear a helmet, but I am not sure about the etiquette of giving unsolicited advice to someone who you came very close to killing.
I definitely used up my Get Out of Committing Manslaughter Free Pass that day, and I am so unbelievably glad that I was NOT texting or drunk. My excuse is that I was truly confounded and deeply disconcerted by my own stupidity in locking my keys in running the car in the first place, and I let it get the best of me. My eternal gratitude and heartfelt thanks go out to the woman in the black station wagon. Her actions that day have affirmed what I have always believed to be true: that those annoying drivers out there who always seem be in my way,who irritate me to no end, who are the reason why my kids already know almost all of the really bad swear words? Well, those folks are really my protectors-either from myself or from what lies in the road ahead. Lemons into lemonade, I know, but if she hadn't been there......

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