I witnessed somebody get hit by a car once. We had dashed across a section of the busy road and stood twenty feet apart in the median, waiting for a break in traffic before we could continue to the University campus.
I’d never seen the woman before, though at any time of the day, a pedestrian or two, was often perched precariously in the street median, ready to demonstrate their leap-frog abilities while cars and trucks swarmed them.
On this day, I was running late for a morning class. Perhaps she was too. I don’t think we regarded each other as we waited, except that we stood diagonally to avoid obstructing the other’s view.
To my right, I noted an opening in the traffic, and to my left, a large Buick was inching out of the campus parking lot with its turn signal blinking.
The driver and I established eye contact. Maybe that’s why it happened? He noticed the slim break in cars, and he saw me. He did not see the other woman almost directly in front of him in the median. The driver gunned his vehicle.
It’s true when people say certain moments have a way of meddling with time, slowing it down to a snail’s pace or snapping it forward quickly like hummingbird wings.
I saw the accident. My eyes captured a million abstract details at once. I saw as the hard lines of the car’s hood embedded inside the folds of the woman’s floral dress, like a knife slicing through a soap bubble.
I remember hearing all sound evaporate and the jarring scream of silence that surrounded me.
I witnessed her catapult into the air. She was flying. She was floating. She was a rag doll, both lifeless and stiff. And the yellow flash of the car’s turn signal kept blinking.
Gravity seemed to reach up and wrap around her waist, yanking her down and smashing her into the windshield. I noticed sunlight glinting off the newly formed web the size of my fist.
There was a delay as the violence of her hitting the screen unleashed the muffled sound of splintering glass and reestablished real-time once again.
She slid off the hood and crumpled to the ground.
We were engulfed before I took a step. People had bounded towards her from every direction, and someone had help her stand. There was no blood.
The woman stood in a daze, refusing help, refusing to go to the hospital, and refusing to be questioned. Then suddenly, she turned and bolted across the street towards the student union building.
And then everyone went away, just as fast, back to their own lives.
I couldn’t think straight for the rest of the day, finding myself confused about which class was next or where to locate it. I found myself watching my feet, willing them to do what they were supposed to do and take me where they were supposed to take me.
I took the long way home that day, and for a couple of weeks afterward, walking down to the corner, to the crosswalk, and cautiously stepping out onto the asphalt when the coast was completely, utterly, overtly clear.
I never knew what happened to the woman, I never saw her again, but the image of seeing her get hit by a car has never left me.
In researching my Great-aunt’s story, this car accident keeps coming to mind. The sensation of standing back a few feet, mere inches from danger and waiting for it to unfold unnerves me.
Everything about it feels like a million abstract and disjointed pieces that both fit and don’t, but I can’t seem to pry myself out of harm’s way. I can’t seem to walk away from the horror or clap my hands over my eyes to escape what I’m discovering.
I worry about what will happen after the adrenaline wears off and reality sinks in. I can’t unlearn what I’ve learned. I can’t unsee from an unobstructed view. What will happen to Glenna’s story? What about the other women’s stories connected to hers? What about my own? Will I forever be haunted by this experience? I don’t know.
I do know that in every situation, large or small, there is the potential of scarring. I suppose the trick is to analyze the risk versus the pain versus the reward, which is the horror and beauty of a life lived, even a tragic one. I need to remember something else that I know for sure—learning nothing, seeing nothing, and doing nothing is not a life I want to live.