It happened last Friday at 6:12 pm. I know this because I was stopped at a traffic light, chatting with a friend on Bluetooth. The police would later ask me exactly what time everything occurred.
I saw it all. I predicted it. I willed it not to happen. But the car didn’t slow down after running a red light and making a left turn, and then the man kept innocently walking in the crosswalk, and then I saw a flash of arms or something dark fly up into the air.
More than that, I heard it, across a huge intersection of city traffic. A thump that made me start screaming, three long, crazy screams. No one could survive that. The speed of the car, the sound of the impact. The air-tight windows of my new car were shut, but the thump was unbelievably loud.
After the screams, I jumped out of my car, leaving the door open, and ran across the lanes of traffic, holding my hand up lamely, a nobody, a single mom on the way to the gym, all black LuluLemon and a white vest with no medical training, not even basic CPR.
As for the two men who leaned out of the car windows and said rude things to me, I excuse you because you don’t know any better. It’s not worth telling someone like you that I didn’t cause the accident, or if you didn’t like how fast I was feverishly calling 911, then perhaps you should have pulled over yourselves and tried to help. I wonder what you told your wives or significant others afterwards: “Oh, I saw a man hit by a car going 30 mph, and he probably died and I didn’t stop, but I DID yell shit at the woman who did.”
As for everyone else who didn’t stop, I hope it’s because you didn’t see the accident in the dark and around the corner, or because I fooled you and looked like I actually knew what I was doing.
As for me, I didn’t do the right thing either. I did manage to turn off the bluetooth on my phone in less than a minute, and I have the records to prove this, despite the ugly man yelling out of his Saab at me. I called 911 in less than a minute, and I thanked God I was standing under two road signs. I was at the exact intersection of two states, and I was able to tell the operator which side of the street I was standing on. I hope to God it was the right decision, and I believe it was. I believe the man got help faster and got to a better hospital faster on the more urban, south side of the street, in the southern state.
He was so young, and conscious. A little bit of blood was coming from somewhere around his ear. One side of his face already had a huge contusion. The windshield of the car that hit him was completely shattered. I stood over the man and tried to say as much as possible, in the fewest words as possible. I tried to stay calm for him. I sat next to this young man, sprawled on the sidewalk, and tried to think of him as a slightly older version of my son, as he asked me if he was bleeding and told me that his head hurt. I kept wondering how he was still alive. I don’t believe he moved. I kept touching his shoulder, afraid I would hurt him more, this young man in so much pain.
When an official person (unique to where I live) showed up by coincidence with lights flashing, I told her what happened and ran back to my car. I don’t know why I left, and I feel like crap about it. She seemed vaguely in charge, and I felt at the time that it was my duty to turn things over to people who knew what they were doing. At the time it seemed like I should’t stay; it would be strange or unseemly to seem too interested in the injured man on the sidewalk.
But I was wrong. I shouldn’t I left him.
I drove only two blocks before the police and fire engines drove past me towards the accident.
I was already talking to my friend again on the phone. She told me to go back. To give my name, to find out if the man would be okay. I raced back.
It was exactly eight minutes later, and he was already being put into an ambulance, and I knew I had lost the window to find out if he would be okay. More than that, I knew I left him. I know that I was in shock; I made a poor decision. I hope the “official person” had sat with him and been kind to him, but I know in my heart she didn’t and wasn’t. In talking to her for less than a minute, I knew she wasn’t the kind of person who would sit with him.
I failed this man. And when I called the police station the next day, they told me – unsurprisingly – that they don’t get updates on car accidents, I knew I would never know what happened to this man, so young and tall and polite. So far, there have been no news reports about a pedestrian death, and for that I am grateful. I wonder if he or a family member will eventually call me about the accident. I welcome it, because I want to know what happened to him.
I learned so many lessons: Slow down! Being late is better than killing someone. Never, ever run a yellow light to make a lefthand turn. Even better, slow down at yellow lights. And stop.
At any accident. pull over and try to help. Especially if no one else does so. If everyone who saw the accident on Friday night pulled over, I believe that the young man would feel the force around him. The good. And hopefully someone would know more than me about what to do.
I also learned that life is so short, and even if it seems impossibly difficult at times, it can be taken away from you in a second.
And the most important lesson: Just try to do good.