I dropped the kid off at summer school. By the time I got to the light at the intersection, I was coughing so hard I had to catch my breath. I took a sip of water before the light turned green. Better.
Thinking, I decided to call the body shop and have the damages from the accident back in May repaired. I also decided to drive and stop thinking.
I stopped at a four-way stop, waited for the car on my right to go. I let the next car go too. The driver looked like hospital staff on the way to work from her floral tunic. I was in no rush.
I looked around. No cars, my turn to go. And then there was a black SUV suddenly coming through the intersection. I was accelerating from a full stop, already committed to moving forward, but still moving slowly. No way to stop in time, but I tried.
The SUV hit the passenger-side bumper and slid to a stop by the license plate holder, a deep dent just in front of and above its driver’s-side front wheel. I looked at the other driver who was glaring at me. My arms and hands automatically raised in a WTF gesture. He couldn’t possibly have thought this was my fault. Could he?
Virus-muddled mind said to back up the car, stop blocking the intersection. A guy with long braided hair ran over shouting, “Don’t move the car! Open the door!”
I unlocked the door. He opened it and leaned in. He said, “I saw it all. Give me 50 bucks, and I’ll tell everything to the police, give my information.” I looked at him and croaked, “I don’t have $50.” Really, it came out somewhere between a squeak and a whisper. I thought about telling him about the kids, the ER visits, the hospitalizations; it must have shown on my oh-so-expressive, open-book face. He raised both hands in a calming gesture and said, “Don’t worry. We have your back.” I said, “He’s angry. He thinks it’s my fault.” He said, “No, it’s not your fault. I saw it all. He ran the stop sign.”
What to do next? Would the police automatically come? The SUV guy was walking around taking pictures from all angles with his phone, now that there was a gap between the cars. I called 911. That’s what my kids told me to do back in May when I rear-ended an 83-year-old woman trying to make a left turn into her driveway against heavy traffic. (Another long story.)
I sat in the car. The guy with the braids retreated somewhere, maybe to a patio behind a white fence where some other people, some women, were gathered. Some men gathered on the opposite corner. I guess I was an event to watch in the General Donovan neighborhood of Lawrence. I rested my head on the steering wheel.
An ambulance, I guess, arrived. I couldn’t tell what it was because it was behind me and I didn’t turn to look. Some fire department personnel arrived, inspected the bumper, and conferred. The EMTs came to the door. I might have unrolled the window to talk to them, tell them I was fine. They insisted I open the door, which makes sense. They had a job to do. They asked if I was OK again, and I croaked that I was fine, I just had laryngitis and was sick. Some wicked part of me took over and said that the other driver frightened me. I was too afraid to get out of my car.
Right. I could have punched him in the nose and broken it, easily, if I lost control. But I knew exactly where that would get me. So I stayed in the car. Was I acting? I don’t know.
The firemen got crowbars and were busy prying the bumper off my car. Wonderful. Once it was off, they told me that they were going to put the seats down and put it in the back of the van. Fine. Just dandy. I asked if I could drive the car to Newburyport, 40 minutes north, later that afternoon. The one with a mustache said I’d better rent a car. I couldn’t drive the van without a front bumper.
The EMTs decided to take my blood pressure — I called 911, they have to do something. I saw the police officer across the street talking with the other driver, who had finally pulled his car out of the intersection. He left, and she came over to take my story. I think she must have talked to the witness at some point as well, but I didn’t see that.
I told her my story, voice cracking and croaking, sometimes no more than a whisper. She took notes on a cell phone — it looked like an iPhone. I told her that the other driver glared at me so fiercely that he scared me and seemed to hold me responsible for the accident. She told me that she spoke with a witness who said the SUV driver ran the stop sign. Although he wouldn’t identify himself, she would include his statement in her report. I tell her he wouldn’t give his information because I didn’t give him $50. She says I shouldn’t have to pay someone to be a witness.
I won’t judge him. Who knows why he wanted $50? Maybe he’s out of work. Maybe he can’t work because he’s in the U.S. illegally. Maybe he’s a heroin addict or alcoholic. This is not a prosperous, middle-class neighborhood. It could be anything. It could be anything in Andover too, including heroin addiction.
While we were talking, two more drivers ran the same stop sign. The officer yelled at one of them to watch his driving. I wa baffled. Who runs a stop sign when a police officer is standing right there?
She said that I needed to pick up the accident report at the police station by five o’clock. I was coughing again and asked if I could pick it up in the morning. She thought a minute and said that she would e-mail the report to me. She told me to call her later to remind her because she would forget. I was chagrined. I tried to tell her “no, you have important work to do.” She insisted, wrote her phone number on the back of her card, and handed it to me.
It was time to go, but I didn’t know how to get across the intersection. It would have been fine if I hadn’t been so sick. I couldn’t think; I couldn’t practice. The officer directed traffic, stopping the cars that should have, by all rights, stopped at the stop sign on Franklin Street.
On the way home, I managed to safely contact the insurance company and report the accident. I was home before we finished the conversation, so I could write the claim number on a sticky note. Or maybe that’s just my distorted memory, and I didn’t make the call until after I got home. The person on the phone recommended I call Enterprise for a rental car because they would pick me up.
Eventually I got in touch with the right Enterprise location — it was the one in South Lawrence, which I had been hoping to avoid. I was a bit shy of Lawrence at that point. Someone arrived to pick me up in minutes. I climbed into the truck he was driving and off we went. It was a very nice truck, very luxurious.
As we drove back to the Enterprise office, we talked. I’m not sure why, but I explained to him part of why college textbooks have become so expensive. He was familiar with college bookstores and used books. He said he graduated college with a 3.8 GPA and very little student loan debt. Still, he wondered if the new government student loan program would help him. He said he had almost enough training to become a radiology technician. I wondered to myself why he was a driver — not even an agent — for Enterprise.
Soon he shared the answer himself: he’s a musician. He wanted to know how to get his music published. I told him the traditional way — send a demo to a record company and hope they don’t steal your material. If they like the demo, they’ll match the music with one of their artists. We talked about copyright. He told me he did some research and thought it would cost $500. I told him that he must be thinking about the fee for a trademark. Your creations are automatically copyright protected as soon as you publish them. He laughed and said I’m right. He was researching how to trademark his band’s name. I told him he should network in addition to making a demo, should connect with someone from Berkley. Later on, I remembered Bandcamp and wished I had thought to suggest that. I showed him how to write a copyright statement and gave him the sticky note I wrote it on.
Inside the office, I talked with the agent. We filled out the paperwork, I signed the contract. Then he told me the only vehicle available was the truck the driver picked me up in. I looked at the agent and said, “Oh my fucking God.” I asked a few questions about how it handled compared to a minivan. Really, it was the only option. I had to get my kid to Newburyport for a therapy appointment in a few hours.
I climbed into the truck. I checked out everything to make sure I knew where all the important controls were — turn signals, lights, etc. I was not just climbing in and taking off in that thing.
I texted my kid to say I would be picking him up on time, but in a different vehicle. I turned the key in the ignition, pulled out of the parking lot, and drove across to Rte. 28 once traffic was clear.
I’m drivin’ a truck, I thought.
I’m drivin’ a truck. I grew up in Ohio, where the most popular vehicle is the one was driving — a Ford F-150 pickup truck. And here I was driving a truck for the first time in Honda Accord-loving Massachusetts. [http://www.everycarlisted.com/drivingzone/features/america-loves-pickup-trucks-an-analysis-of-vehicular-spending-across-the-u-s]
I drove to Central Catholic High School, parked the truck in the bus lane, and waited for the kid. I saw him standing on the sidewalk looking around. His eyes skimmed over the truck and kept scanning for me. Finally, I waved wildly. I could see his eyes widen as he saw me waving from the truck. He walked over, opened the door, got in, and grinned. “What are you doing driving a truck, Mom?” I knew what would happen next. As I drove over to the street, he tuned the radio to the local country music station.
“I’m drivin’ a truck,” I said.
Was the accident good or bad? I don’t know. The truck will come in handy for us right now. We need to clear as much extra stuff out of our current house as we can. About a year ago, I concluded that my kids and I, particularly me, will be able to create a better life away from my (soon-to-be-ex) husband. We’re cleaning up and decluttering. The unnecessary stuff that we don’t want to get rid of (at this time) will go in a storage unit. Then the house will go on the market. Then I’m hoping to buy a 3-bedroom condo and get us settled in as close to the start of school as possible. It is tight, but not impossible. The truck will help transport stuff better than the van can.
The joy I experienced as my kid climbed into the truck and turned on the country music balanced the aggravation of the accident. About a year and a half ago, when my transgender boy was fighting with himself, in addition to dressing in a decidedly female, sexually provocative way, he listened to country music. We watched the Country Music Awards together and laughed at the pregnancy jokes Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood made. I watched horrified as a troop of dancers wearing very short, pastel square-dance dresses with petticoats and crinolines bounced around to Meghan Trainor singing “All About That Bass.” That one must have been a hallucination or something, even though my kids say it was a music video.
Did the accident add to the chaos and crises my kids and I have been negotiating since 2013? Not so much. I’m used to dealing with chaos at this point. I’m purposely between projects so that I can get the house ready to sell. The two-week illness has been more of a problem than the accident.
Lawrence, known for years as “The Immigrant City,” has a population that is almost 60 percent Hispanic from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. In the early twentieth century, the city was populated by immigrants from Ireland, French Canada, England, and Germany. Lawrence was a planned industrial city, and the giant textile mill buildings and canals are all still there.
The General Donovan neighborhood of Lawrence is poor. The median household income is just under $19,000 a year. [http://www.city-data.com/nbmaps/neigh-Lawrence-Massachusetts.html] There is no way to know whether my witness is single or has a family. But for a family of four, like mine, the poverty level is a little over $24,000. It isn’t the safest neighborhood nor is it the most dangerous. The crime index in Lawrence is 14, which means that it is safer than 14 percent of cities in the United States. I wouldn’t want to live there. The most frequently occurring crimes in Lawrence are assault and robbery. There aren’t all that many more rapes and murders in Lawrence than the national rate. There are about 9 crimes per square mile in Andover, where I live. In Lawrence, there are 393 crimes per square mile. [http://www.neighborhoodscout.com/ma/lawrence/crime/] Overall, home values in Lawrence are appreciating, which I know is hard to believe, but the city has been working hard to improve itself. The old textile mills are being converted to house new businesses. Some of them are being converted into loft condominiums. It is the beginning of gentrification in the area. Eventually, my entrepreneurial accident witness won’t be able to afford to live there. I have a lot of reasons not to judge him, but this is a big one.
I’m trying not to judge the other driver. He said he was moving through the intersection when I went through the stop sign and collided with his SUV. The statement in the police report is not an outright lie nor is it factual. I value objectivity. It often saves me from a tendency to question my view of reality in the face of others’ views. If I had run a stop sign, I would admit it and accept the consequences. Other people have other values, make other choices. I accept that, and I’ve learned that my acceptance is not an endorsement or agreement. Apparently, my insurance company didn’t agree with him either. They did not pay his property damage claim, and they waived my $500 deductible.
As for me, I’m feeling better. My voice is coming back. My mind is back on line. I can practice again. Follow the out breath, label the mental chatter “thinking.” It’s time to move on.