Now that it’s been a few weeks, I can kind-of-smile-a-little-bit at the memory of being hit by a car. But only kind of. And only because it is such an absurd occurrence to call to mind while doing something as ordinary as microwaving my dinner or trying to find a matching sock. “Oh yea, Erin, you were hit by a car.”
Long and dramatic (in my mind it was a black and white film which lacked sound save the intense crescendos of violins) story made short, I was on my bike in the middle of a Tuesday when a man in a white mini-van tried to beat traffic by making a mid-street U-turn and turned into me instead. I fell off my bike. He gave an apologetic wave and some uninterpretable half bow towards the splayed heap on the side of the road which was me, and then drove away.
Maybe he didn’t have insurance, maybe he had somewhere to be. Who knows. I am not mad at him and hold no grudge, but I do hope that the report I filed —complete with hand-written equally as dramatic memo on my personal stationary — will somehow lead to a just cause of action, whereby he is at least held accountable for almost running someone over with his car.
But what I really want to focus on here is how the people around me reacted. To say that I am humbled and amazed is an understatement. New York City is not known for its warmth or its Good Samaritan-ism by strangers, and the industrial section of North Brooklyn is reputed to be especially tough. And yet, amidst the barbed wire fences guarding manufacturing warehouses, auto body shops, and restaurant supply companies, there are kind-hearted and sincerely good natured folks that come out of the woodwork in times of need.
When I fell off of my bike, I was at first stunned, then angry, then embarrassed. I could feel the large tear in the side of my pants and my skin against the blacktop, and not wanting to immediately move my body save if something had been seriously injured, I lay on the pot-holed street and imagined the awkward view of my rump and my splayed legs. When I opened my eyes my nose was an inch away from a cigarette and my hand was on top of a condom wrapper. As vain as it may seem, I was immediately concerned with how I must look.
But then I heard shouts. Many of them accompanied by heavy footsteps coming at a quick pace. Similar to the sound and sensation combination you get on the beach when you put your ear to the sand and someone begins to dig. I pushed myself up off the ground. “Miss, you okay?” I felt a hand on my back as I got to my feet. A late twenty something man in a t-shirt, jeans, and work gloves stood next to me. Another man, perhaps a pedestrian strolling by, crossed the street from the opposite side with a matched look of worry. “I can’t believe he ran into you! He saw you and sped up!”
One of the men picked up a piece of cardboard from the street, pulled a pen from his pocket, and without hesitation took down the license plate number and handed it to me. “You look alright but just in case something feels off later.”
“Do you want to go to the hospital?” The other man asked. I shook my head. At this point I was biting my lip hard, trying to be strong and as nonchalant as I could muster; wanting so badly not to cry. What I thought would come out as “I’m okay just a bit shaken and stirred up,” came out as “Imma-” followed by a gasp and a sob and a waterfall of snotty tears.
“Aw it’s okay, miss, jus’ take your sweet time. Take a breath.”
“I can’t believe that sonofabitch hit you. He hit you and drove off!”
“You want some water or something? I can go get you some water.”
“He oughta be ashamed, man. Hittin’ nd runnin’.”
I picked my bike up and smiled with blurred vision and what I knew to be puffed up eyes and red patchy cheeks. Admittedly I am not the prettiest nor most graceful crier. I thanked the men and said I think I’d be okay finally communicating that I was just a bit dazed. I then tried to make a joke that I was happy to learn I was a bouncer as opposed to a breaker, at which point my new friend with the shoulder-length braids furrowed a brow and asked again if I needed an ambulance.
A man driving a forklift drove up to us and said he saw what happened and also inquired as to whether or not I was okay. At the same time, a short, clean cut man who must’ve been his boss came out from behind the lift and, approaching me with a look I’ve witnessed fathers on the playground give their scraped kneed children, asked first if I was all right, made a provocative hand gesture towards the street along with a curse to the long-gone driver, and then told me to come have a seat, that his wife was coming out.
A woman emerged from the factory front with a look of surprise and within an instant had wrapped an arm around me and directed me towards a spot right outside of the warehouse. There were two large spools of what looked like plastic tubing sitting on the sidewalk, and they reminded me of the ones I had seen on various trips to Home Depot with my parents. The thought of them in that moment combined with the presence of the woman in front of me must have overwhelmed me because my eyes again began to sting.
“Honey, Rick told me what happened, I was in on the phone but what really happened? This guy hit you in his car?” I gave her a quick recount of what I had processed at that point, to which she shook her head and patted my knee. She asked me if I wanted to go to the hospital to which I again shook my head and replied that I could feel my shoulder and my knee scraped and maybe bruised, but besides that I was hoping it was just my pride.
“How about we go get a beer? Want to get a beer and take some time to think it all over?” This made me laugh, and she smiled though I could tell the offer was sincere. She then went on to share with me the story of her own accident in college, though sh, informed me that she had deserved to be hit for she walked into oncoming traffic while highly intoxicated. “It was the liquor that saved my life. I flew twenty feet and didn’t feel a thing. Walked right on home with a bloody elbow and a cure for my hangover.” She gave me a wink.
I found out her name was Catherine. Her and her husband part-owned the electrical supply company outside of which we were sitting. She lived in Manhattan, had lived in her Midtown west apartment for over a decade, and it was her first day “on the job.” She laughed as she recalled the few hours of her day she had spent working, which included various trips to the coffee and bagel store and a half-hour phone conversation with her mother in Staten Island. Her husband, Rick, came out and handed me a gallon of water. He shrugged his shoulders and with a chuckle told me he had sent one of his guys to get me a water, and this is what they returned with. A whole gallon just for me. He gave Catherine and I each a plastic cup and we had a little water and story picnic outside of their warehouse, while a little tributary of blood went unnoticed as it trickled down my shin and into my sock.
We talked a little while longer and Catherine decided she was going to try the yoga studio at which I teach later that same day. She said she would likely embarrass herself, and exercise wasn’t her thing, but she needed to do something or else she’d go crazy. Just like the rest of us, I replied.
By the time I left, about ten minutes later, I had stopped thinking about what had just happened and finally caught my breath. I gave Catherine a big hug, my hands smarting in the places that had hit the gravel. I thanked her and Rick and waved to the man on the forklift. The piece of cardboard with the license plate number was still crumpled in my hand. I felt myself wanting to cry— yet again— as I walked away with my bike (it being fortunately unmarred), and I think it was because I was sad to leave them and even sadder to be alone.
It sounds a bit mad to say, and even stranger to have it written down in front of me, but I am glad that the accident happened. And that it happened the way it did. The unpredictability of this Black Swan life means that anything could happen at any time. The accident could have been a helluva lot worse. The way I look at it is that some event occurred that allowed me to step back and realize that there are some unsung heroes and note worthy human beings surrounding me all the time, and they are worth me taking the time to talk to them.
Getting hit immediately put the brakes on my day and shredded the anxiety of my to-do list, the factor that often times holds the reigns tight and directs my day. I was forced to slow down and connect with these strangers who came to my aid. I learned something about Catherine and her family and more importantly about the people in my community, my neighbors who at the end of the day are looking out for me and for each other.
Too often, and I know I sing the played out tune when I say it, I find myself able to go through my day of frantically strung together New York minutes without thinking about or talking to another person at any depth. To exist in the head space is much easier when there are a zillion things to do and places to be in a city of infinite possibilities. Reaching higher and higher for the pie in the sky is a wonderful thing, but it seems life has a way of making sure at spontaneous intervals that your feet still touch the ground—at least long enough to make sure your shoes are still tied.
For me, I needed my face to fall into dirt and my knees scratched and bruised in order to remind me that things really are okay, and look at that, they have a way of working out. A lotus flower blooming in a mucked Brooklyn alleyway.
I hope to go back to see Catherine, under better circumstance of course. I should make a point to again thank her and her husband, before this accident becomes blanketed by more bumps of grinds of the day to day. Before the current perspective which I hold in this moment in reverence of stillness and a stepping-back becomes hazier and farther away, as a line in a book, underlined and meant in earnest to return to. I should thank them for simply being kind, for taking the time out of their day to make sure this young girl and her neon colored bike were okay. To listen and to care. To be neighbors and to become friends. And then, I’ll ask them to go for a beer.