2600 lb Death Machine

The dull whirring of the laundry machine and the hissing and humming of our dishwasher were the only sounds to accompany me as I pitter-pattered on my Surface keyboard. It was otherwise quiet in my living room. The flame of my candle flickered at me, asking for attention, but wanting none. It was peaceful. My policy work was coming along nicely.

The peace was broken by the sound of a car horn right outside – followed by a thunk and a crunching noise. Oh my God, I thought. I know what that means. The last time I’d heard a similar noise, I’d stripped back the curtains to reveal a small VW Golf attempting to poorly parallel park, with its bumper and front left wheel up and over our curb. Though somewhat cruel on my part, I continued watching with mirth as the poor woman continued to attempt to park her car. It took her about 17 movements, edging forward, backwards, forward, backwards, but she finally got it. Don’t worry, girl, we’ve all been there. I had also been relieved to see that the only damage was to a bumper – considering the alternative.

Tonight, I jumped up and again tore back the curtains. I was met with a sight that immediately struck fear into me. There was a car in the middle of the road, and I could see a person nearby. A pedestrian had just been hit.

I ran to the door – ran back – quick, grab your phone! – the candle mocked me – I stuck one boot on – open the front door – stepped out with one boot on, unzipped, the other, a warm wool sock on cold wet pavement – oh no – I could hear someone crying – “-hit!! HIT HER!!” – omg – I tugged the second boot on – I do not have time for boots right now! shit! shit shit! – zipped them up and ran down the street.

Two women. One, older, standing there in a daze. The other, young. Age masked with tears streaming down her face, near hysteria. “What’s going on? What happened?” I tried not to show the panic as I tried to get my bearings.

“Well, she hit me! I was airborne!” The older woman told me, matter-of-factly.

The driver was in less of a cool state. She was barely coherent as she sputtered out the words. The stories overlapped.

“-looked, and there were no cars coming, so I crossed the street-”

“-came out of nowhere! I shouldn’t have come this way! I thought I would avoid the red light-”

“-came out of nowhere! And I turned, and all of a sudden she hit me in my side, and I flew up and my hand hit the windshield-”

“-this is my boyfriend’s car, I just hit a person, oh my God, I hope she’s okay, I don’t know that she’ll be okay-”

“-it’s just my hand, nothing’s broken, at least nothing that I can tell. I’m not from here, I’m just visiting family-”

“-I hit her! I HIT HER! I just hit a person!”

Why was no one else coming out of their houses? Where were my neighbours? I jumped back and forth from person to person. No idea what to say. Not entirely sure what to do. I had ran out in my sweater and my hands had started to shake, whether from the chill or from the anxiety. Neither person wanted this, neither person had left their house this evening thinking this would be the outcome. And yet there we were.

The older woman, the ‘victim’, was relatively calm given the circumstances. Perhaps stunned. We took photos of the vehicle and the license, and I emailed them to her. In between, I tried to calm the girl down. She was panicking. She was upset the woman wouldn’t sit down, wouldn’t listen to her, wasn’t sure if she would need medical help. “It’s going to be okay,” I repeated, not knowing if it was true but hoping it was. The driver’s boyfriend had shown up, and he took over calming her down before running back home to meet his brother and tell him what happened. She called the police to submit a report. I continued to check on the other woman, who had a goose egg the size of a large golf ball on her knuckle, where she had hit the windshield. The windshield looked like it had seen better days, and the cracks spread out like a glistening crystal spider web under the streetlights.

“I don’t know why she honked at me instead of stopping.”

“I don’t know why she just walked out in the middle of the road without looking.”

Sigh.

I convince them to warm up in my house. We awkwardly walk over. Hubby arrives, to see us, this ragtag bunch. Tall girl, younger, blonde hair, tear-streaked face. Older woman, turquoise puffy jacket, gray hair slightly frizzed, gingerly climbing the stairs. Me, no coat, shivering, and feeling unsure.

I want to make them tea. I want to give them a warm place to sit, a safe space to breathe, a sanctuary from whatever just happened outside. Neither is going to forget that moment when they stared into headlights and into pedestrian eyes and thought, This, this is it, this is the moment I lose everything. 

The women swap information. I ask the older woman if I can drive her to the medi center. She is reluctant, and I acknowledge that I’m very sorry, it must be weird, I am a complete stranger, but I just want to make sure she gets there okay. I doubt she wants to get in the car with the other girl.

We are leaving. The air is tense. I don’t think we know what to say. When friends leave your house, there are clear salutations – ‘Goodbye’, ‘See you later’, ‘Thanks for coming’. When someone has just hit you with their car (or you have hit someone), what do you say? ‘Hope I never see you again’, ‘Wish we’d never met’, ‘Thanks for nothing’?

In an attempt to diffuse the situation, I say, “See, 2016 really was the worst year ever!” And we laugh for a moment, forgetting about injury and insurance and remembering that we are human.

I drive the woman to the medi center. She doesn’t want me to wait, and I don’t want to intrude on her privacy. I casually ask her more about what happened, to make sure I know her head didn’t hit anything. She confirms that. But then she tells me how scared she was when she first got hit. How she was dazed, and trying to get up and get out of the way, knowing that car could move at any moment and cause more injury in the process.

I want to tell the driver that it will be okay, that these things happen. And I do. But I am lying.

When you get behind the wheel of a car, you are operating a death machine. It is not up to the pedestrian who chooses to cross in a well-lit residential area to watch out for your 2,600 lb vehicle of death hurling towards them at 50 km/h. YOU may be the one emotionally damaged, and YOU should be. For not recognizing the power you wield and the destruction you can cause. Although I feel empathetic towards both sides, and I know this was not something either of these people wanted, one person had a greater responsibility to protect the other in this situation. The thing that bothers me about this was the disclosure that the woman was driving through this residential area to avoid a red light. I understand if she could take it back, she would, but she can’t. I don’t know that I’m wrong in assuming that a person who whips through a residential area to avoid a red light on Whyte Ave is someone who speeds through said residential area. Someone without the patience of a 20 second light may be that same person without the patience to resist the glow of that notification, to take their eyes off the wheel for a moment right when that pedestrian decides to cross.

I don’t know if that’s what happened. I wasn’t in the car. I didn’t see a phone, I didn’t see a speedometer. What I did see was the terror and relief of a near miss, and an almost terribly unhappy end to 2016. It’s enough to make me drive a little more cautiously, and a little more kindly.

You cannot possibly imagine the relief I feel at watching two people walk away from that scene – because this could have ended very, very differently. Maybe someone was looking out for them both.

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