As a child, at the age of thirteen or, perhaps, fourteen, I was hit by a car.
I survived, and that is the reason that this is a funny story. I’m vaguely aware that if I had been killed there’d be nothing amusing about it, not least because I would, dead as I would be, not be able to find much of anything funny anymore, but also because people tend to find stories about dead children “A bit of a downer.”
So I’ll state for the record that I did not die, at the age of thirteen or, perhaps, fourteen, upon being hit by a car that afternoon as I rode my bicycle through a relatively uncrowded residential neighborhood, not wearing a helmet or indeed protective clothing of any sort, and not seeing the car as it sped through a stop-light, or I did not pay close enough attention to oncoming traffic as I went through a four way stop, I don’t remember which. I do this in the hopes that this will put you at your ease as I continue relating the story to you.
I recall it vividly, my child’s body sliding across the hood of the car as my bicycle was thrown forward from it, then up and over the windshield, over the roof, and rolling down the back-end of the car to find myself, suddenly much bloodier than I had been only moments earlier, deposited back upon the pavement of the street from whence I’d came.
It was only as the car was speeding away that I realized how much pain I was in, and with hindsight I suppose that the vividness with which I felt the pain was a blessing, meaning as it did that I was probably not going into shock.
I cannot stress enough the fact that at the time I did not take the vividness with which I felt the pain as a blessing. I took it as sudden, shocking, inescapable pain that, had I been able to scream or even to draw deeper breaths than the shallow gulps I was managing, would have left me howling loudly enough to let the whole neighborhood hear it.
Which would have been useful, as if the whole neighborhood heard me screaming, one of them might have come to check on me, to see me crumpled in a bruised, torn, bloody mess in the middle of the street, and perhaps take me to a hospital for medical care of some kind.
Medical care of some kind would no doubt have been a useful thing in that moment, but I wasn’t thinking about it at the time, and anyway even if I had thought about it I couldn’t properly draw the breath to scream, so I simply lay there, drawing shallower breaths and exploring the experience of worse pain than I’d ever been in in my life, and hopefully worse pain than I’ll ever be in, really drinking the agony in at my leisure, uninterrupted, until I was ready to get up and examine the damage the impact had done to my bicycle.
My bones, I learned as I dragged myself to my feet and made my slow, shambling way to where my bike had been thrown, had not been broken, and I laughed at this, as I’d broken bones before doing much, much less. It struck me with a sense of giddy amusement that the worst physical pain I’d ever been in was happening without a single broken limb, nothing that a thirteen year old’s mind could register as “permanent” or “serious” damage to my body, in spite of the punishment it had been put through.
My bicycle, on the other hand, was destroyed, front wheel and frame bent at odd angles, spokes torn in two, handlebar bent to one side, seat missing entirely, unrideable, as though it had taken the permanent damage for me so that I wouldn’t have to, as though it had died for me, for my sins, or for the sins of the driver who’d hit me. Which was for the best, looking back at the experience there was no way I could have gotten it home in the state I was in anyway. It’s not as though I was going to get back on the thing and ride it.
I never rode a bicycle again, in fact. It’s not until I write this line that I realize that. Huh…
Instead, I limped back up the hill I’d so recently been cycling my way so carefreely down, my original destination long since forgotten, forever forgotten as I cannot now remember where I was headed any better than I could at the time, toward the safety of my home, to clean the blood out of my eyes, change out of my now torn, bloody clothes, and hopefully find bandages for the scrapes and cuts that by that point covered a significant portion of my body.
Halfway up the hill I started crying, and I was crying still by the time I got home, though by the time my parents arrived home from their respective places of work I’d more or less recovered, cleaned up and was a little bit calmer, the pain having receded a little and my mind being calmed by the judicious application of afternoon cartoons.
Ducktales, I believe, followed by Darkwing Duck, and then Astro Boy. Though I may have misremembered the order in which I watched them. Not that their order particularly matters to the flow of this narrative…
I told my parents that I’d flipped my bike over while going downhill, but not about the car, and while they expressed some small amount of annoyance that I’d left the expensive bicycle behind, when I assured them that the wheel and frame were bent beyond my ability to get the chunk of now useless, twisted metal back up the hill and home in the state that I was in, they mostly took me at my word, offering to take me to see a doctor if I thought I needed to but not pressing the matter when I told them I did not, though frankly taking the word of a thirteen or perhaps fourteen year old on the matter might not be the greatest bit of parenting that’s ever been. Still, without my mention of the car it sounded like a simple accident of the sort that the young are constantly finding themselves involved in. Kids live hard, after all, and they bounce back much easier than they’re traditionally given credit for, we really do forget how resilient the little buggers can be.
But the resilience of children to the sorts of injuries they cause themselves, interesting and important though the topic might be, is not my point.
My point is this: I am probably somebody’s night terror.
Because the motherfucker behind the wheel of that car hit a child of thirteen, or perhaps fourteen, on a bicycle, in the middle of a residential neighborhood, mid-day and sparsely populated at the time though it was, then watched that child’s body bounce off the windshield of his car, flip over the top and fall into a crumpled heap, bleeding in a pile in the middle of an empty street, before driving off, passing the child’s destroyed bicycle as he went, without even stopping a moment to go back and find out if the child was dead or alive.
And that’s the kind of thing that would give anybody with even the faintest hint of a conscience nightmares, even twenty years later. It’s the kind of thing a person might never recover from, the sort of profound moral failing that you spend your life trying to put behind you only to discover as years go by that you never properly can.
It’s the kind of thing that would cause a person to wake up screaming. And you know what? I hope it does.
I hope that doesn’t sound petty or spiteful of me, but in my own defense, that evil fuck hit me with his car and left me there like I was nothing to gather my wits up and walk, to fucking walk, back to my house. He didn’t know who I was, or how badly I was hurt, or if I needed to go to the hospital, and he didn’t know if anyone else would be by to offer the aid he refused by driving off, which NO ONE did if you recall, and he drove off like I was nothing, leaving me to die, for all he knew.
I hope he wakes up screaming every fucking night for the rest of his life, if that’s all the punishment he gets he’s gotten off easy in my opinion. I wasn’t badly hurt, so this is a funny story with a bitter tinge, but that’s not relevant, he should have stopped to check.
Anyway, in the time since then, I’ve had a rich, full life. I’ve done a lot of things and impacted a lot of people, some of you were there for parts of it, some only know me through my work, but yes, I have lived. I have the same number of stories as any man my age, and I’ve left more than my share of impressions on the people around me, but I suspect that in terms of the most vivid impression I’ve ever left, there’s some chance that it is the impression I left on the psyche of a man who’s name I never got to learn, who left me in the street to die and more likely than not to this day doesn’t know for sure if I survived.
I at minimum left a person-sized impression on the hood of his car.
I don’t know him, I can’t remember his face, I don’t even know for sure that it was a he, but if there’s anything resembling justice in this world he remembers me, and this day is burned as deeply and vividly into his memory as it is into mine.
Because all through my life I’ve struggled against my own fear that I’ll be forgotten, and I honestly would take some weird, sick comfort in the idea that this one man, much though I do hate him, will never forget me. That’s a weird thing, I know, and likely an emotionally unhealthy one, but there it is and I don’t apologize for it. I’m the one who was hit by a car; after all, I think I’m entitled to let my own weird private issues into the matter a little.
And, if the man who was behind the wheel of the car that hit me is by some strange coincidence reading this: You’re mistaken; I’m some OTHER kid. The kid YOU hit is definitely dead. Though he’d have survived if you’d just gone back to help him…