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On W. 14th I Suddenly Recall Running Into the Street to Die photo

As pedestrians, we interact with only the cars and rarely with those commanding the hunks of metal, even when we can see their faces. At me, these are usually scrunched, frustrated at my brazen disregard for traffic rules, fearful they might hit me but of course more of what that would mean for them. 

While jaywalking, I try not to make eye contact. The last time I did was at the base of a Providence hill on a day rain came down in slantwise sheets when I was sliding into the street hoping the incoming car wouldn’t stop. Well, it did --- but before that, I accidentally looked through the headlights and saw her. 

She was middle-aged, had bangs and uneven lipstick, or maybe just uneven lips. She had glasses too, or maybe she didn’t; either way, her eyes were visible. Before the (what I thought would be) impact, I watched a life evinced on the insides of my eyelids, and it was not mine. Instead, hers: the aftermath, screeching and veering, hands pressed desperately to the horn whose sound still couldn’t mask the thud of collision. A body unfurled, deliberately broken, red maybe staining her windshield or maybe shattering the glass entirely. A cinematic moment of silence, her climbing out of the car to confirm what she suspected, that two lives were over. Her, lips shaking while screaming, or maybe while wordlessly praying, a trembling throaty voice calling the police to confess what she’d done, but really, what had been done to her; maybe next phoning her partner, not yet her kids, because how could she explain? A crime, yes, but more in ways a framing. No witnesses, only a body, mine; and a car, hers.

In that moment through blinding lights and pelting rain, I saw the police telling my parents what I’d done, saw their disbelief. My mom crying immediately, months passing before my dad can at all; my clothes unfolded and refolded, old stuffed animals revived for mourning, journals scoured for satisfactory explanation and torn apart when they offer none. 

My parents, learning that setting a plate out for an only child is difficult to unlearn. Her, unfounded guilt drawing lines in her chin. My parents, thumbing through the same glossy prints until they lose their photo sheen. Her, finding solace in the way age erases, temporarily, paragraphs of the past. My parents, trying to remember; her, trying to forget. 

From both parties, blame. Sadness, of course. Some anger, too, certainly. Therapy? Well, I suspect only for her, although I recognize even familiar stubbornness can be overwritten by grief.

My parents, missing their daughter; her, resenting the dead. 

Years passed in that second before I hit lurching metal, and the impact never came.

As rain pounded on the now-motionless car, I saw her fear turn to anger as she saw what I had seen, the way her life would have unraveled if she hadn’t braked in time. I didn’t wait for a rebuke. I picked myself up and ran off, see: I was ashamed. Not because I was particularly sorry about my attempt on my life, but because in doing so I almost implicated hers. 

Still, on bad days, while I’m waiting at crosswalks, I look each driver in the eyes as they zoom by. Selfishly, almost sadistically, I toy with the thought of our ruin. If I stepped out now and died, this life would be destroyed. Or this one, or this one, or this one. And then the light changes and the cars stop. I take a step onto the pavement and keep going.

image: Aaron Burch


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