Friday, September 21, 2018

Rearview Mirror - a short story

The song plays on the radio station. The one that makes you sing out loud and want to roll down the windows and feel the wind in your hair. She smiles as the chorus approaches. She loves emphasizing the word “STOP” in the latest Cardi B song. She briefly looks in the rearview mirror, and she sees the empty car seat. Her thoughts fade to her kids. It was 7:42 a.m. and they are likely walking into their classes to pledge to the flag. She wondered if her son would remember to bring home his P.E. clothes forgotten in his gym locker. They are likely growing a science experiment by now, she thought. She says, "gross" out loud then chuckles to herself.  Other images fill her brain as she thinks about her day and the projects on her to do list. But her mind is not free of worry thinking of the work she must do on her rental home from tenants who treated is like a rock star in a hotel room on a drug and alcohol binge. What is wrong with people she thought. To leave someone’s property is such a state of disarray and mess. She started to make a mental note of the tools she needed to take over there for a long hard weekend of back-breaking work for her and her husband.
She almost feels like she is on autopilot as she drives home, taking the same route twice a day everyday school is in. This day was no different. Except there is more than usual construction going on. It seems the roads in her town are always under construction. You can’t find a road to drive on that doesn’t have flashing lights, signs posted of people working, or those dirty orange cones to avoid hitting…or hitting if you want to have some fun.  She navigates the road construction like a child on a motorcycle arcade game. Leaning left and leaning right as she curves around the guys who carelessly walk about the side of the road like there is no impending danger to their lives as cars zoom on by at 10 over the speed limit. Even though there are road obstacles to navigate through, she still values this time to think through her plans for the day and prioritize her list. She also takes a few moments to think about all that she is blessed with, her two kids and her fantastic husband who she adores and finds a new thing to love about him each day.
Her thoughts are abruptly broken by a truck pulling out in front of her, nearly clipping her bumper. As she comes off autopilot, she breaks sharply and feels the overdue library books hit the back of her seat before hearing the thud from them dropping to the floor. She raises her hands in a “WTF” motion to the driver who waves a hand out the window. Somehow that makes it all better to her. He owns his mistake.  However, he too is cut short on distance as a rock carrying dump truck pulls a fast one in front of him; leaving us all about 15 feet short of road. As she takes a moment to look in the rearview mirror, out of habit, she first glimpses the empty car seat, briefly smiling as the image of her long, blonde-haired daughter singing a song from Mama Mia with her arms waving about in full animation like she is at an auditioning for the part. But then she notices the movement of a car. The car is traveling much too fast. Her mind racing, she looks in front of her, nowhere to go, she looks left and right and sees the construction workers carrying on, but they seem to be moving in slow motion, by the time she glances back up, her mind fills with blackness.
As she opens her eyes, she is blinded by the brilliance of the sun shining in her car; she realizes she is completely turned around, covered in blood, but feeling no pain. As she slowly comes to grip with what just occurred and assesses where she is, she sees a young girl on the side of the road, crying hysterically, she is just sitting on the concrete median. I wonder if she is hurt, but quickly realize she is the operator of the car that hit me. Her car too appears pretty mangled. She is talking but not making any sense. She is visibly shaking, and tears flow like a heavy rain down her face. I slowly crawl out of my window given my car doors are inoperable.
I yell, "someone call for help!" I walk slowly over to the young girl, and I try to find words to comfort her. People are stopping now and getting out of their cars. They run to my car and shrieks of cries come from the growing crowd of onlookers. People are running around, and it is complete chaos. Someone yells there is a car seat – was there a child in the car? “Did anyone see a child in the car,” someone yells again. For a brief moment I stopped to think, “did I drop her off, did I forget, was I just imagining the car seat was empty when in fact she was really there?” panic rose inside me for the briefest moment when I quickly recall her saying “I love you mommy” as she dropped her lunch bag while exiting my car, but was quickly helped by the traffic aid. Whew! I do remember that she was not in the car, relief welled inside me. They pull on my car doors, but without any luck, they could not get them open. I realize then that they do not know that I am on the curb with the young girl who hit me. I yell, “I am over here, there was no child.” I look at the girl and tell her to calm down; I am okay. But I am sure all of the blood on my clothing is adding to her dismay, she won’t even look at me, likely ashamed. She is mumbling something I cannot make out; I hear sirens in the distance. Oh, good they are coming now, I tell her this was just an accident, that I am okay, my kids are at school. Having been in an accident before and wishing at the time of my accident that someone took the time to calm me down too. I slowed my voice and my tone and repeated to her, “I am okay.” I did not want to be presumptuous and assume she needed or wanted a hug, but more so a calm voice of reassurance.  A person came over to her and asked what happened. I chimed in, “it was just an accident, we are both fine”, but they seem to ignore what I am saying, I would typically call these people busybodies, but I am sure they have the best intentions here. One person seemed to get more and more upset standing there, and started yelling, “I saw you on your cell phone, was it worth it,” she yelled. Another woman starts yelling, “there could have been a child in that car too!” I jumped in and said, “is this necessary – we need a calm environment right now, a lot is going on, let’s take a moment to calm down and try to process this.” I see a policeman walking toward us, and my hope was that he could calm this crowd.  Many people were running over to tell him what they saw. He waved them off in an aggressive manner with his hand and asked that they back up and give us room as he observed the scene and called in some codes on his radio to dispatch. The ambulance had arrived moments later, I started to stand and walk toward them but wanted to be there to talk with the officer in case he had questions for me too. I could share the truck pulling out in front of the truck and all that, but he went straight to her. He asked her what had occurred and she explained she did not see that traffic stopped, she was almost incoherent and sobbing loudly. He asked her if there was anyone she could call and she said, “my mom, I want to call my mom.” For a brief moment I thought of my kids, I hope they would do the same, call mom she will make it better. I took comfort in that for some reason. 
I see the paramedics come over to the officer, and he whispered something to them as they passed us and went to my car, I quickly gestured with my hand narrating and saying, “I am here, that is my car.” I repeated, “I am okay, we are okay, this was just an accident.” But then I see them pulling someone from my car. I am confused for a moment. I am unsure what is going on. I begin to walk toward the car, and as I look upon the face of the women they are pulling from the car, I quickly feel the sting of tears fill my eyes. It is me. I am being removed from my car. But how can this be, I am standing right here, I was comforting the girl, I was explaining to the officer what happened. My body is lifeless. With all the care in the world, I am placed on the gurney. Then as quickly as the blackness came in when the accident occurred, comes the total whiteness. I realize it is the white sheet they place over my lifeless body. Behind me, I hear painful screams and confusion.
My once happy thoughts quickly become sad as I picture my wonderful husband and my sweet kids. I won’t be there to pick them up today or any day from here on forward. I won’t hear my daughter’s sweet songs or recount my son’s day and all the things he forgot. I won’t hear about the comical stories my husband tells about his office life or share in how much work we have to do to get our rental home on the market for sale. I will miss his hugs. My heart fills with blackness as I come to terms with the reality I am no longer among the living.  I did not get to say goodbye to those that will likely hate me for leaving them far too early in this life. I wish I could take back all the comforting words wasted on that young girl on the roadside and send them to my kids for they will be confused and they will not understand why mommy won’t be there ever again. What was a careless act by one, quickly turns to a death sentence for another. I feel my soul lift, and I know it is my time to leave this life behind, but not before one more glance in the rearview mirror.