Photo by Infomatique via Creative Commons
I hit a guy on a bike today. Just a little bit, like a nudge.
The front bumper of my car tapped him as he pedaled into my path. I was stopped at a corner. I wasn’t looking forward when I lifted my foot off the brake. I was looking to my left, gauging oncoming traffic and how I could gun it to merge into the flow. I was tired and I was in a hurry.
Traffic opened. I lifted my foot off the brake.
In a split second I turned to see this man on a bike at the front end of my car, pinwheeling his arms and mouthing obscenities. In a split second my foot jumped back on the brake. My hands flew up to my mouth.
I sat there, hands held palm-to-palm in prayer, pleading his forgiveness. I watched as he jumped back on his bike, leaned forward, grabbed the handlebars, locked eyes with me and shouted words that rhyme with hunt and witch.
It could have been oh-so-much worse, I thought, as he rode away. He seemed OK.
He appeared to be homeless, a street person, with his tattered clothing, salt and pepper wild beard and skull cap. Several stuffed-to-the-brim bags dangled from the bike’s handlebars. I didn’t ask him if he was OK. I said it aloud inside the car but not to him so that he could hear me. I didn’t pull over to verify anything. I just went on my way, shaking and feeling like dirt.
My Girl from the East was strapped in her car seat in the back. We were on our way to a group playdate.
“Mama, he needed to be more careful,” Girl from the East said in her matter-of-fact way. Of course, she assumed this near-accident was his doing.
It occurred to me that she had no idea what almost happened. She has no idea how her entire life and safety were in my hands. It occurred to me that I have no idea how dangerous I am when I am tired.
As I continued on my way, I felt my heart beating in my chest, beads of sweat gathering on my temples and under my arms. I looked in the rear view mirror at Girl from the East. I thought again of the man in tattered clothing. One means everything to me; the other is a stranger. Yet both lives are so fragile, both hold equal value.
Whenever I’m on the road with children in the car, I worry for their safety. I think of the dangers as being outside of the car.
I need to be awake. I need to get some sleep.
It’s all a vicious cycle. I was distracted and careless because I was tired.
I was tired because I stayed up well past 1 a.m. getting caught up on things I didn’t get done the day before.
I was tired that day and behind because of lack of sleep the night before that.
On and on and on.
I need sleep.
Sort-of hitting someone on a bike is a big two-by-four across the temple.
Sure, I could argue the guy looked homeless and maybe a little drunk or high.
Sure, I could defend myself and say I was at a busy intersection, trying to merge into traffic, and he pedaled right in front of me. Doesn’t he know to make sure the driver sees him before going in front of a car?
If someone else was the driver and the bike rider was one of my children, would I accept those lame-ass excuses?
I need to get some sleep.
I need to be awake.