Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. Sometimes you get hit by a truck, like I did this morning.
Last night, friends invited us to join them in a sky box to watch a sporting event. Although my husband was on shift, the girls and I (feeling guilty) joined the group and enjoyed the amazing perk. Perched high above the crowds, with a panoramic view of all we presided over, I was humbled by how looming and yet small I felt. It was glorious. As the sun slowly diminished, sinking behind the surrounding pines, I gave thanks for adding such a jewel to my memory bank.
This morning ran a little rougher, it was a long night for my husband, the kids were antsy but unmoved to brave the escalating ninety degree heat, that hole under the sink needs to be addressed still…By the early afternoon, in anticipation of lunch (I mean, EVERYDAY? REALLY?)I took Little Sister with me and stopped to get gas before groceries. Going the speed limit in the right hand lane as my turn was about a mile away, I looked briefly at the Chevy pickup preparing to make a U-turn. They were stopped but then pitched forward and decided to make a go for it. There was the sound of my brakes and my hope that the Chevy would look at me perhaps, but she was looking left as her front end collided with mine.
On one of the very first times I was driving, I pulled my car out of a parking space, cutting the wheel too hard and bumped the car next to me. At less than five miles per hour, the damage was a black smudge on the other car. I started to write out a letter to the owner with my information. The man came outside at that moment and I tearfully explained my error. He laughed it off and started rubbing the smudge, which dimpled under the pressure. His wife came out behind him, yelling that I would never get away with this, the police had been called and I better not try to run. I was sixteen and had poured a smoothie in my lap (hence cutting the wheel too hard) so there I stood, crying and terrified with clumps of strawberries melting on my lap and running down my legs. The other car, a rental, was a Toyota Tercel, which I will eye suspiciously for as long as I live. I left that experience with a ticket (improper driving resulting in a crash) and a self-imposed oath to never be that guy (or his wife).
Only a few months later, I was behind a luxury vehicle, in my decidedly non-luxury vehicle – my faithful readers will recall a white 1989 Honda Accord – a coupe with oxblood pleather interior and questionably functioning air conditioning. With a slow roll right into the bumper, my car kissed the license plate. The gentleman got out of the car and made me promise that if someone ever hit me with little cosmetic damage I would do as he was going to do and wave them on their way. I would like to tell you that I committed to being an excellent driver from that point forward, never again making such a rookie mistake.
Since it is a universally accepted truth that bad luck comes in threes, I rounded out my crash history in stop and go re-routed traffic turning onto US Highway One. A step up in a 1998 Toyota Camry, I accelerated a split second too quickly and inched into the trailer hitch of a shiny red pickup truck. The driver laughed off my offer of exchanging information and said I should forgive anyone who hit me in the future with an equal or lesser offense.
A few years later, I had picked up my Mom and younger brother and sister to go out to The Cheesecake Factory (“You know I love that place”). After parking, I watched a young man trying to take out the garbage. As he lost control of the careening cart, downhill it raced until it collided with my car. We rushed over to him as he stood shell-shocked; the only thing he said was a half wail of OH-NO-OH-NO-OH-NOOOOOOOOOOOOO. The manager came out and asked if I wanted to call the police and file a report against the young man. I did not. (At retellings of this story people will ask if we ate at Cheesecake factory free of charge for all eternity, I hate to tell you they didn’t comp me so much as our strawberry lemonades). But I had erased strike two. (I felt the fines paid, canceled car insurance policy and driver’s education school paid my first debt).
So fast forward to today, when I parked and put my hazard lights on. The person made no attempt to get out and a sign spinner brokered our communication – my urging that we get out of lunch hour traffic and into the parking lot that was less than six feet from our cars. Little Sister sobbed from behind me, as I instructed her to stay in her car seat. A woman got out the truck, carrying herself with the unmistakable hallmark of shame and regret. Her eyes filled with tears as she explained she knew little English and asked what I wanted to do. Her older work truck held no evidence other than a little spec of my paint on the bumper and I watched as she sweat under her fading hair color. I turned my headlights on and as they shone I figured with a wave of my hand, my persistent karmic collision debt could be paid in full. I took a quick picture of her license plate and said it seemed fine on my end.
I consoled my daughter, who, in response to my saying “Everything is fine, honey” retorted with “How do you think Bessie-Sue feels?! Do you even care about her?! Did you even think about how she just got crunched?!?”. I should mention that I have personified my car to be a female whom I refer to as “Bessie-Sue rides again”, the original Bessie-Sue was a Lincoln Town Car my mother drove when we were young. It would be a great time to vow not to name my next car, but that is silly because I have already and he will be Frank Sinatra.
Then I called my husband. As I told him we were fine and that we’d been in a tiny accident, he was surprised (and not in the amused way) that I hadn’t called the police, that I had left the scene, that I had waved her away (though less surprised that it fell into his lap, strawberry smoothie style, when that working headlight that seemed so secured at the scene, wiggled, then dangled precariously upon my arrival home). A quick call to the local police uncovered the proper protocol (when you have already bungled things by deviating completely from proper protocol) would be to go online and fill out a personal crash (Ugh, that word again) report. I cried as I typed away and he soldered (I cannot stress how blessed I am that he is so incredibly talented at fixing broken things in the moment they are deemed unsalvageable, myself included) the headlight bracket, setting things right once again.
He left it up to me to make the call about pushing through the report. The other driver was in the wrong, yes, but I should have called the police. I should have stayed put. I went with my heart and passed on the kindness that had been extended to me, not once but twice.
I sat with the uneasiness that fogs up your happiness when you feel as though you let someone down. I cried out the frustration of being a liability instead of an asset, of wanting to be something breathlessly sought after instead of the measured exhale before composing himself once again. He reached for my hand and gave it a squeeze, telling me he loved me. I shot back by telling him he had made a poor choice (only half joking) and he reassured me by reminding me that he had expensive taste.
I am telling this story because I want to get better at storytelling and at writing. But I want to pull myself out of the trap of pity, of seeing only all of the mistakes I make and thinking that is an accurate way to encompass me. I want greatness. I want this story (the big picture one) to be one of triumph; I want to root for me as I work towards my goals. I want to be the loudest voice in the crowd when for once, I edge out my doubts and fears and finally run my victory lap.
With that I encourage you to soak up all the beauty you see, both with your eyes and with your heart. Revel in the good fortune of having someone see you as they love you. Sit in the skybox if the opportunity presents itself, watching the lights of the city dance as you take the elevator back down to real life. And for heaven’s sake, if a third person hits your car, park and call the police.