Photo: View Apart/Shutterstock

What You Learn About New York (and Yourself) When You Get Hit by a Car

New York City Student Work Narrative
by Erin Ward Sep 8, 2014

I could feel the large tear in the side of my pants and my skin against the blacktop. Not wanting to immediately move my body in case something had been seriously injured, I lay on the potholed street and imagined the awkward view of my rump and 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.

He’d driven a white minivan. He tried to beat traffic by making a mid-street U-turn and turned into me instead. Now he gave an apologetic wave and some uninterpretable half-bow, and then drove away. Maybe he didn’t have insurance; maybe he had somewhere to be. Who knew?

But then I heard shouts. Drawing closer and accompanied by heavy footsteps. Similar to the sensation when you put your ear to the sand at the beach and someone nearby 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-20-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 quickly took down the license-plate number. “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, 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 you’ 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’ and runnin’.”

Vision a salty blur, I picked my bike up and half smiled. Puffed up eyes and red patchy cheeks — admittedly I’m not the prettiest nor most graceful crier. I 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 asked if I was okay. At the same time, a short, clean-cut man who must’ve been his boss came out from behind the lift. He had that look I’d seen while working as a nanny: parents on the playground picking up their fallen, scraped-kneed children. He asked 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 would be out soon.

She walked into oncoming traffic while “drunk as a deer in headlights.” “It was the liquor that saved my life. I flew 20 feet and didn’t feel a thing.

A woman emerged from the factory front with a similar look of horror, and without a nicety exchanged, wrapped an arm around me and directed me towards a seat. There were two large spools of plastic tubing sitting on the sidewalk, and they reminded me of the ones I’d seen on various trips to Home Depot with my parents. The thought of them in that moment combined with the woman still hugging me close must have overwhelmed me because my eyes began to sting again.

“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’d processed so far, to which she shook her head and patted my knee. She asked me if I wanted to go to the hospital — again I replied I could feel my shoulder and knee scraped, bruised maybe, but besides that I had hope it was more my pride that had taken the beating.

“How about we go get a beer, take some time to think it all over?”

I unexpectedly laughed, 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. She had “deserved it” — she walked into oncoming traffic while “drunk as a deer in headlights.” “It was the liquor that saved my life. I flew 20ft 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. She and her husband part-owned the electrical supply company behind us. 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’d 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’d 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 me each a plastic cup, and we had a little water and story picnic outside of their warehouse, while a small 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 where I was supposed to teach later that day. She said she’d 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 10 minutes later, I’d 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). I think I was sad to leave them; even sadder to be alone.

It sounds a bit mad to confess, but I’m glad the accident happened. And that it happened the way it did. The unpredictability of this Black Swan life means anything could happen at any time. The accident could’ve been a helluva lot worse. It allowed me to step back and realize there are some unsung heroes and noteworthy human beings surrounding me all the time, and that I should take the time to talk to them.

Getting hit immediately put the brakes on my day and shredded the anxiety of my to-do list. I didn’t plan for it. I was forced to slow down and connect with these strangers who came to my aid. I needed other people. 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 one another.

I hope to go back to see Catherine, under better circumstances of course. I should make a point to again thank her and her husband before this accident becomes blanketed by the day-to-day. Before it becomes hazier and farther away, as a line in a book underlined and meant in earnest to be returned to. I should thank them for simply being kind, for taking the time to make sure this young girl and her neon bike were okay. To listen and to care.

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