Hell on wheels

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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.

ohmygodohmygodohmyfuckingod

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.

So what?

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?

So what?

If someone else was the driver and the bike rider was one of my children, would I accept those lame-ass excuses?

No.

I need to get some sleep.

I need to be awake.

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120 volt wake-up call

Today’s lesson: Read the sign above and replace the word “game” with “life.” Life should be like a game and we should be able to gain some amusement from it, right?  Although we will be offended – campaign advertising and network TV programming guarantee that – we should be able to enjoy the show without walking away.

Seems I’ve been spending some time at the carnival lately.

First, the acrobatic feats:

 

One of our cats mysteriously fell into the neighbor’s pool. The neighbor’s yard is properly fenced. It’s not our place to judge that the pool, with it’s murky black and green water, looks like the home to this creature:

 

 

Following the discovery of our soaking wet, shivering, howling, muck-covered cat on our doorstep, we follow the paw prints to a hole in the fence at the back of our lot. A feat our dear cat accomplished by prying off the lattice work at the bottom. 

I peer under the fence to see the once sparkling, chlorinated pool next door is now a  swamp o’ horrors, topped with a thick layer of green algae. I’m not sure what series of events led our cat to plunge into the depths or how he clawed his way out. All I can think is that it’s lucky he got out.  This  is the same cat who pried off one of our heating vents in the wall and plummeted into the ductwork of our gas furnace. Clearly for him, life is a game.

Next, the fireworks:
Somehow Girl from the East managed to procure a copper penny, jam it behind one of those little button night lights plugged into the electrical outlet, and trip the circuit for our second-floor bath and office.

I was drying my hair when this happened so the sudden power outage startled me. I stepped out of the bathroom to find my baby girl on the floor just outside the door, the nearby electrical outlet blooming with black streaks.

The nightlight was blackened.

The penny melted at the contact point.

Miraculously, Girl from the East was OK.

You know those moments when you’re looking at something happening, but it’s not registering with central command? Like when you stumble upon a big, wild animal in the woods or when one of your customers at the bank pulls out a handgun and announces a holdup? This was one of those moments. All I could do was hold my girl tight and hope she was OK. She was fine. But the thought of “what if?” wouldn’t leave me for days.

We’ve had a few close calls this year. Girl from the East had the big spill and six stitches. We had the car wreck. In each case, we were jarred a little bit harder. We were forced to examine what the heck we were doing (or not doing). Some things (car accident) happen and cannot be prevented. Other things (big spill, almost electrocution) can be avoided. The trick it seems is to keep perspective and get out of the park before the scary carnies get you.

Slow lane has its bumps, too

There’s nothing like a few close calls and scares to bring a family closer together.

We’ve had quite a run in the last few months: Girl from the East’s big fall (translate: big hospital bill); the Mammogram-O-Rama (again, hospital bill); the dangerous bed recall; and finally the Smash-Up. We decided to move in the slow lane, where it is safe and quiet.

 I thought I’d take baby girl to the park to play. Within minutes of our arrival, a girl of about 9 attempted to run up one of those huge corkscrew-shaped slides, lost her grip and tumbled to the mulch below. It’s hard to call a fall like that. She landed on a soft surface, but it was from about seven feet. She was bleeding, but not profusely. 

But both her reaction (hysteria) and her caregiver’s (horror and panic) set off a wave of fear and nausea in both baby girl and myself. They refused offers of help, didn’t want me to call 911.

Instead the man whisked away the girl from the play area and into a nearby building to wash off her cuts. In the process, he left behind the other child in his care. After a little coaxing, she followed us inside the building, where I deposited her at the reception desk. As the echoing howls subsided in the adjacent restroom, the man and girl emerged.

He had calmed somewhat but the girl was still hyper ventilating and clutching at her right arm and shoulder.  After a quick thanks, the man ducked out of the building and into a waiting car that sped away. I have the feeling that guy was working on his story as they headed toward one very angry/scared mom.

The images of that wailing girl’s twisted body on the ground and the rising panic in the man’s voice as he scurried around like a trapped squirrel are hard to shake. So, too, are the what-if scenarios we’ve run through following our accident.

We were spared. LIfe is good. But it is fragile at these moments,  when powerful jolts snap us out of our zombie states of routine, boredom or simmering anger over a stew of trivial complaints.

Oops!

Remember how I said we were going to be a one-car family? How I was going to take up the cause of saving the world by walking to the grocery store and possibly saving a few spotted owls along the way? Yeah. Well, then this happened:


We were rear-ended on the highway last night coming home from an out-of-town event. In the grand picture of it all, we are so very lucky. It was the kind of accident that could have taken a very bad turn, but we were spared. Our baby girl is fine. My spine feels like a Dutch pretzel but nothing is broken. Our car sustained a butt-kicking.

I’m left with the last vision of our car, strapped to the back of the departing tow truck: bolts and bits bouncing onto the roadway as two loose flaps of plastic and metal waved farewell in the wind. I couldn’t help but bust out laughing.

WTF? You know? Here we are, with all our crap on the side of the road as we wait for a friend to pick us up and get us home. Didn’t feel so independent at that moment.